Lok lak is a Cambodian celebratory dish that consists of tender cubed steak drenched in a savory tomato sauce. You’ll always see it plated with the beef encircled with crisp romaine lettuce and sliced bright red tomatoes. Once the lok lak is served, everyone takes a piece of lettuce and adds the sauced beef, tomato, and rice inside, then spoons the pepper lime sauce on top. Lok lak is for a special occasion, but it’s also easy enough for a weekday meal.
Lok lak is one of my favorite dishes that my mom would make. Every time it appeared on the dinner table, I knew it was because we had guests visiting or she wanted to show us extra love that day. Make this next time you want to impress guests or tell your loved ones how much you care.
A French-Inspired Recipe
You’ll find lok lak in Cambodia and Vietnam. It’s a French-inspired dish, and the inclusion of tomato sauce and beef are signs of that. Lok lak is also called “shaking beef” because you have to constantly move the beef around the pan to get an even sear on all sides of the meat.
The Best Cut of Beef for Lok Lak
The hero of lok lak is the steak. It is crucial that you pick a cut of beef that has some marbling, but stay away from beef with large pieces of fat. The beef is cut into small cubes and cooks really fast, so it doesn’t have much time to render out the fat.
When I make lok lak, I like to use a New York strip steak or ribeye. If you use ribeye, remember to trim off any large pockets of fat.
Using Oyster Sauce in Lok Lak
Traditionally, oyster sauce was made by simmering oysters and water in big basins until it became a dark, thick sauce. Sometimes, soy sauce was added for extra umami. Now, oyster sauce is made with sugar, salt, cornstarch, and oyster essence. Aside from adding it to lok lak, you can use oyster sauce in a variety of dishes such as beef wraps, fried rice, soups, or in marinades.
My favorite brand of oyster sauce is from Lee Kum Kee. You can find a variety of oyster sauces at specialty stores or online. When I buy oyster sauce, I like to keep it in the fridge after opening.
A Sour, Spicy, and Salty Sauce
When you make a dish from Southeast Asia it is very important that the dish has sweet, spicy, salty, umami, and sour flavors. This flavor profile creates a balanced dish that feels complete on your palate. The sauce for lak lok contains salt, sugar, pepper, garlic, and lime. It rounds out the flavor of the beef by adding sour, spicy, and salty notes.
How to Serve Lok Lak
When you are ready to plate lok lak, place fresh crispy romaine lettuce leaves on the outer edge of a large circular plate. Then slice large tomatoes and overlap the slices with the lettuce so that the tomatoes trace the edges of the lettuce. Next, put the meat in the middle. Top everything with fragrant slices of scallions. Serve your lok lak with pepper lime sauce and jasmine rice.
More Easy Beef Recipes
- Beef Bulgogi
- Easy Beef Pho
- Carne Asada
- Beef Lettuce Wraps
- Steak Teriyaki
Make the marinade:
In a medium bowl, whisk together the oyster sauce, tomato paste, fish sauce, cornstarch, salt, and black pepper.
Marinate the beef:
Place the cubed beef in a small bowl and add 2 tablespoons of the marinade. Add more marinade 1 tablespoon at a time if the meat doesn’t look well coated (not soaked). Add the garlic and the whites of the scallions. Mix until well combined. Marinate for 10 minutes.
Add water or stock to the remaining marinade:
Add the water or low sodium chicken stock to the remaining marinade, stir to combine, and set aside. You’ll add this to the beef as it’s cooking.
Make the lime-pepper sauce:
Combine the salt, sugar, black pepper, lime juice, and garlic in a small bowl. Set aside until ready to serve.
Cook the beef:
Place a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the oil. When oil is hot, add the steak to the pan, reserving the marinade left in the bowl.
Cook, shaking the pan continuously, so that the beef is seared on all sides, 4 to 5 minutes. Once the steak is almost to your liking, add the rest of the marinade to the pan. Stir to coat the steak with the marinade. Cook until the sauce thickens, 2 minutes.
Remove from heat and set aside.
Plate the lok lak:
Place fresh crispy romaine lettuce leaves on the outer edge of a large circular platter. Overlap the tomatoes with the lettuce so that the tomatoes trace the edges of the lettuce. Add the beef to the center of the platter. Finally, top everything with the remaining sliced scallion greens.
Serve the lok lak with the pepper-lime sauce and hot jasmine rice.
To eat, create a lettuce wrap and fill with meat, tomatoes, rice, and lime-pepper sauce.
Refrigerate any leftover meat, sauce, and fresh vegetables in separate sealed containers for 3 to 4 days.
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