These days there’s plenty of talk about working the whole animal — snout to tail — onto the menu. But what about the whole plant? For this week’s Market Report, we take a trip to the Hollywood Farmers Market to talk with chef Shawn Pham about cooking with cilantro roots at Simbal in Little Tokyo. Pham sources his cilantro from farmer Kong Thao because his stalks come with roots attached.
Rather than discarding the roots, Pham grinds his down with garlic, salt and white peppercorns in a stone mortar, using a pestle to break up the tough root fibers. The resulting cilantro root paste has an aromatic, herbaceous quality that balances the other pungent ingredients in his Heavenly Beef marinade. Traditionally, this Thai dish calls for “[leaving] it on the roof of your house for two days after you marinate it” to intensify the funk, though you won’t see Pham’s fermenting on the roof of Simbal.
Instead, he suggests flash-frying the meat in a small amount of dry-aged, rendered beef fat for an extra layer of umami-rich flavors. That works for us. Try his recipe for Simbal’s Heavenly Beef below.
Chef Shawn Pham’s Heavenly Beef
Yield: Makes 2 servings
1000 g beef sirloin, cubed
20 stalks cilantro root
130 g garlic, minced
1 tbsp white peppercorn
10 pinches salt
15 oz Thai sweet soy sauce
850 g palm sugar
2 cups coriander seed, lightly crushed
50 g dry-aged beef fat
Fresh cilantro leaves, for garnishing
Mortar and pestle
Wok, for stir-frying
Make the paste: Using a mortar and pestle, pound the coriander root together with the garlic, salt and white peppercorns into a fine paste.
For the beef: Cut the beef sirloin into ¼-inch cubes and transfer them to a bowl. Rub the coriander root paste onto the beef cubes.
In a separate bowl, mix the Thai sweet soy sauce and sugar until the latter dissolves. Now add the Thai soy sauce mixture to the beef and mix with your hands to evenly coat the cubes. Cover the beef and marinate in the refrigerator for 3 hours.
Remove the beef from the refrigerator and rub the crushed coriander seeds onto the beef cubes. Reserve and set aside.
Render the fat: Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350ºF. Dice the beef fat and spread it out in a single layer on a baking pan. Render the fat for approximately 30 minutes, until what is extracted turns golden and liquid.
Stir-fry the beef: Heat your wok on high and add the rendered (liquid) beef fat. Next, add the beef cubes and flash fry until their exterior is evenly seared. Do not overcook. The interior should remain tender.
To serve: Transfer the Heavenly Beef to a plate and garnish with fresh cilantro leaves.
Heavenly Beef photo (top) by Camellia Tse/KCRW.