Lok lak is a Cambodian stir fry that features fried beef nestled atop a crisp medley of fresh veggies and finished with a helping of savory, peppery gravy. This stir fry is ubiquitous in Cambodia, and you’ve likely tasted it if you’ve ever traveled in the Kingdom of Wonder (or Vietnam, where it’s better known as “shaking beef”). There, any restaurant catering to foreign tourists is bound to have lok lak on the menu. The dish is quick and simple to prepare and it lacks some of the more “offending” traditional ingredients that so many foreigners balk at, like prahok or kapi.
For us, lok lak is a go-to weekday meal precisely because of its simplicity, easy preparation, and satisfying, creamy, savory taste. So whether you’re looking to make a quick, delicious homemade dinner, or are just dipping your toes into Southeast Asian gastronomy, lok lak is an excellent choice. All you need to create this stir fry is some tender beef, fresh lettuce, crisp cucumbers, ripe tomatoes, onions, and a handful of common seasonings readily found in any supermarket.
Cambodian Lok-Lak Beef Recipe
- Large skillet
- Butcher knife
- Cutting board
- 1 lb Beef any tender cut
- 5 cloves Garlic
- 1 tsp MSG
- 1 tsp Fish sauce
- 1 tsp Soy sauce
- 1 tbsp Oyster sauce
- 1 tbsp Vegetable oil
- 1 tsp Sugar
- 1 Onion red or white
- 1 stalk Green onions
- 1-2 Tomato depending on size
- 1-2 Cucumbers depending on size
- 5 leaves Green leaf lettuce
- Clean the garlic, crush it with the flat side of a butcher knife, mince it, and set aside in a small bowl.
- Wash the meat and cut into 1-inch beef cubes, then put aside.
- Wash the lettuce, pat it dry with a paper towel, and lay the leaves on top of the plate on which you'll serve the dish. Next, cut the tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions into thin slices and place on top of the lettuce.
- Chop green onions and set aside (do not add to the plate).
- Heat 1 tablespoon of cooking oil in a large skillet over high heat, the add the minced garlic. Fry the garlic until golden, or approximately 30 seconds.
- Add the beef to the skillet and stir it.
- Place the soy sauce, fish sauce, MSG, sugar, and oyster sauce to the skillet, and mix everything together.
- Continue to fry, stirring (or shaking the skillet) often. For medium rare, fry the beef for about 5 minutes, or 10 minutes if you prefer the meat well done. You should see the gravy appear at the bottom of the wok.
- Place the meat over the "salad" on the serving plate, sprinkle the green onions on top, and serve with rice.
Best cut of beef for lok lak
You need a tender cut of beef for this lok lak recipe. That said, you don’t need to splurge on a filet mignon. Cambodian families readily use flank steak, sirloin steak tips, sirloin strips, and other cuts when making this stir fry. These cuts are less expensive, but with adequate marination and a good cooking technique, they should be sufficiently tender and not too chewy.
How to stir-fry the beef so it’s tender
Follow the two tips below to make sure that your lok lak beef is tender:
- Cut beef against the grain: Cutting the beef against the grain shortens the muscle fibers and makes the beef less chewy.
- Don’t overcook the beef: Overcooking beef causes the muscle fibers to become more firm. Consequently, the meat becomes more difficult to chew.
Does the beef get softer the longer you cook lok lak?
Some cuts of meat get softer the longer you cook them, while some cuts toughen up. If the meat you’re using for shaking beef has lots of connective tissue, you will need more cooking time to break down the tissue and make it tender. Cuts with lots of connective tissue include round steak, flank steak, and chuck steak. Fry the beef longer if you’re using these cuts.
On the other hand, fattier cuts of beef can toughen when overcooked. These cuts tend to have less connective tissue and more fat and include tenderloin, sirloin, or rib-eye. If you’re using the aforementioned cuts for this lok lak recipe, adhere to the cooking times we’ve listed in the recipe to prevent the beef from becoming chewy.
Best dipping sauce for lok lak
The best dipping sauce for lok lak is a mixture of lime juice, black pepper, and salt. The zesty and savory dip perfectly balances that sweet, slightly charred beef. To make the sauce, you can squeeze juice from a single lime, add a teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of black pepper, and a pinch of MSG; then, mix everything (enough for four servings).
That said, you can also dip your lok lak beef into Teuk Trei Koh Kong — the classic Cambodian spicy dipping sauce that goes pretty well with any type of meat.
Why is lok lak called “shaking beef”?
Lok lak is sometimes called “shaking beef” because of the frying method, in which you shake the pan when you cook the beef. However, don’t let this seemingly fancy frying method deter you from trying out our recipe. If you’re a novice chef and doubt your skillet-shaking skills will suffice, don’t fret: Stirring the beef with a spatula will do the trick.
Is Cambodian lok lak the same as Vietnamese shaking beef?
No, Cambodian Lok-lak is not exactly the same as Vietnamese shaking beef. Vietnamese Beef Bo Luc Lac is similar to its Cambodian equivalent. For example, both black pepper beef versions are served over a bed of lettuce leaves that are traditionally topped with cucumbers, tomatoes, and raw onions. However, the Vietnamese version often comes with watercress leaves, whereas its Cambodian counterpart leaves watercress out. Also, while the Cambodian lok lak is traditionally made with beef, the Vietnamese version can be made with chicken or shrimp as well.
We hope you’ll enjoy this lok lak recipe! Have you made it already? Or, have you made this dish with a different method? Let us know in the comment section below!