Back when we first started to date, I made a meal for my husband and I included a couple of food challenges, just to see if he would eat them. One of those items was natto, Japanese fermented soybeans, which have a slimy consistency and an aroma that charitably could be called assertive, but most people would say is closer to unwashed feet. What? It’s one of my favorite things. I know, you’re thinking you’re lucky I didn’t date you. But lest you think I’m an awful person, I did include some dishes that I love but are more of a crowd pleaser, such as this Beef Tataki.
Traditionally, beef tataki is a small block of good quality steak, seared only on the outside, and then sliced very thin, and served cold with ponzu sauce for dipping. But when I was a kid, my mom would make beef tataki where you had similar flavors but it was served hot. It’s a simple dish but it has all of the qualities that people love: seared meat, a flavorful sauce, some pungent and spicy garnishes to give it zing, and a little bit of fresh spinach for color, variety, and visual appeal. This beef tataki is so popular, it’s been on our restaurant menu for over 20 years.
My version is streamlined for home chefs, and delivers intensely savory meaty goodness. The hardest, or most tedious, part is trimming and slicing the beef. Then, it relies on a marinade quickly whisked together from pantry staples, and then the hands on part is done in less than half an hour.
Marinade for Maximum Flavor
I typically use skirt steak for my beef tataki because it is a popular cut in South Florida and I prefer it to flank steak for Asian stir-fry dishes. I love its chewy texture, robust flavor, and it really stands up to an assertive marinade. But you could also use ribeye if you’re feeling particularly posh or any other cut that you enjoy.
The trademark of tataki is very thinly sliced meat. This helps it absorb the flavorful marinade as well as quickly cook. First I cut the skirt steak, which is a long and thin cut, into 3 lengths. And then I thinly slice each length against the grain. Cutting against the grain slices through the meat’s tough fibers, resulting in a more tender bite. It’s not paper thin, like traditional tataki, so it imparts a more flavorful and beefy mouthful to each bite.
Once you have combined the marinade ingredients and the sugar has dissolved, pour it over the beef. Then use your hands to really make sure each piece is coated with it. If you are squeamish about handling raw meat, you can use gloves. Then cover with plastic wrap, pressing down so there are no pockets of air, which will discolor your meat.
You can marinate the beef up to a day ahead; just keep it in the fridge. However, if you are doing this all in one go, leave the beef at room temperature while you prep everything else.
Prep the Garnishes
For those who like a little spicy bite with their beef, I make a quick daikon radish chili garnish. Daikon is a giant, white radish that is often used in soups, salads, braises, and stews in Japan. It can be a little more spicy or mild depending on when it is grown and it has a tremendous shelf life in the fridge.
Daikon is probably one of the most common vegetables in a Japanese household due to its versatility. Any leftover daikon can be tossed into salads, added to stir-fries, or substituted anywhere you would use a common red radish. I just peel then grate the daikon radish, stir in the chili paste, and set aside. Just two little ingredients, but this garnish is a flavor bomb!
Scallions are a traditional tataki garnish. I like to slice them into thin matchsticks. Then I soak them to remove some of their raw bite and to keep them crisp.
Let’s Get Cooking!
Once the meat is marinated, and the garnishes are ready, beef tataki comes together very quickly. First I quickly cook the spinach just until wilts. Then I remove it to a serving platter, making a bed for the meat.
Then I quickly sear the beef in two batches so I don’t overcrowd the pan. This takes just a couple minutes per side, and less if you want it really rare.
When the meat is done, I quickly deglaze the pan with the mirin, soy sauce, and water. Make sure though to scrape up all the yummy bits on the bottom. Then I add the rest of the sauce ingredients, the rice vinegar and fresh lemon juice, and pour over the meat.
Then top with the garnishes, and dig in! Serving with rice is never a bad idea for soaking up all of the delicious sauce.
If you make my Beef Tataki, we want to know! Leave a comment, and tag us in your pics @funkyasiankitchen, show us the goods!Print
Traditional Japanese Beef Tataki!
- 1 3/4 lb skirt steak (you can sub ribeye or sirloin)
- 10 oz baby spinach
- 2 Tablespoons neutral oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
- 3 Tablespoons oil
- 1 Tablespoon sugar
- 1 Tablespoon water
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- ¼ cup mirin
- 4 Tablespoons water
- 2 Tablespoons seasoned rice wine vinegar
- 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice (half a lemon)
- 1 2-inch piece of daikon radish
- 1 tablespoon chile paste
- 3 medium cloves garlic minced
- 2 scallions
- Prepare the beef: Trim excess fat off of the skirt steak and then cut the meat into 3 inch pieces. Now slice the skirt steak into thin 1-1 ½ inch pieces against the grain of the meat. Place the meat into a bowl.
- Mix the marinade ingredients: Combine the soy sauce, sugar, water, baking soda, and oil in a small container and mix until the sugar is dissolved. Pour the marinade over the sliced beef. Mix the beef thoroughly so each piece is coated. Set aside while preparing the other ingredients or cover and refrigerate if using later. The beef can be prepped a day or two ahead of time.
- Peel the daikon radish and then grate it finely. Mix the radish with the chili paste and set aside.
- Rinse the scallions and then trim the top and bottom. Cut the scallions into 2 inch pieces and then thinly slice so you have matchstick-like pieces. Put the scallions in a bowl of ice water for 10 mins and then drain and set aside.
- Heat a large skillet over high heat for 2 minutes. Then add 1 tablespoon of oil and the spinach. (It will make a loud sizzling noise when the spinach hits the pan). Quickly stir the spinach until it just starts to wilt, about 10 seconds, season lightly with salt and pepper to taste, and place on a deep platter.
- Wipe out the same skillet with a paper towel and lower the heat to med-high. Add ½ tablespoon of oil and half the skirt steak to the skillet and cook undisturbed for 1-2 mins. to let the meat brown. Flip the meat and cook to desired doneness, another 1-2 mins for medium.
- Place the meat on top of the spinach and then repeat with remaining oil and beef. Drain off any oil from the skillet and return the pan to the stove.
- Add the soy sauce, mirin, and water to the same pan where you just cooked the beef.
- Turn the heat to medium-high and simmer the sauce over the heat for about 1 minute, scraping any brown bits that are stuck to the bottom of the pan.
- Add the rice vinegar and lemon juice and take the sauce off of the heat. Pour the sauce on top of the meat. Garnish the dish with grated radish, scallions, and the minced garlic. Serve immediately.