1, To make the marinade, in a shallow bowl large enough to accommodate the beef, combine the cornstarch, sugar, salt, pepper, fish sauce, and soy sauce and mix well. Add the beef and use chopsticks or your fingers to coat evenly. Set aside to marinate while you ready the bowls.
2, To make the salad mix, in a large bowl, combine the lettuce, cucumber, bean sprouts, and herbs and toss well. Divide the salad among 4 noodle soup–sized bowls and top with a layer of noodles.
Put the bowls near the stove. Place a plate nearby for holding the elements of the stir-fry as you cook them.
3, To stir-fry a large quantity of meat successfully on a home kitchen stove, it is best to work in batches and then bring them together at the end. In a wok or large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and stir-fry for about 1 minute, or until slightly soft and fragrant. Add the garlic and stir-fry for about 15 seconds, or until aromatic. Transfer to the plate with a slotted spoon.
4, Raise the heat to high and add another tablespoon of oil. Add half the beef, spreading it out into a single layer. Let it cook, undisturbed, for about 1 minute. When the beef begins to brown, use a spatula to flip and stir-fry it for another 1 to 2 minutes, or until it is still slightly rare. Transfer to the plate holding the onions and garlic. Repeat with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and the second half of the beef. When the second batch is just about done, return the onion and garlic, first batch of beef, and any accumulated juices to the pan. Stir-fry for about 2 minutes to heat through and finish cooking the beef.
5, Remove from the heat and divide evenly among the bowls. Top with the peanuts and shallot. Serve immediately with the sauce for diners to dress and toss their own bowls.
The base of raw vegetables, herbs, and noodles may be crowned with many other bold-flavored toppings. Here are my favorite variations:
Rice Noodle Bowl with Grilled Chicken (Bún Gà Nướng): Omit the marinade and the stir-fried beef. Prepare ½ recipe of the marinade used for Grilled Garlicky Five-Spice Pork Steaks, add 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cover, and marinate in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours. Grill the thighs over a medium fire on a charcoal grill or a gas grill. Let cool briefly, then slice and divide evenly among the bowls. Garnish and serve as directed.Vietnamese Vermicelli Bowls (Bún Thịt Nướng)
: Omit the marinade and stir-fried beef. Prepare ½ recipe of the marinade used for Grilled Garlicky Five-Spice Pork Steak. Cut 1 pound pork shoulder across the grain into strips about 3 inches long, 1 inch wide, and a scant ¼ inch thick, add to the marinade, cover, and marinate in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours. Grill the pork strips over a medium-hot fire on a charcoal or gas grill. Divide evenly among the bowls. Garnish and serve as directed.
Rice Noodle Bowl with Grilled Pork and Shrimp (Bún Thịt Tôm Nướng): Proceed as directed for Rice Noodle Bowl with Grilled Pork (above), but add 12 large shrimp, peeled, deveined, and coated with oil, salt, and black pepper to the grill with the pork. Divide the pork and shrimp evenly among the bowls. Garnish and serve as directed.
Rice Noodle Bowl with Grilled Lemongrass Beef (Bún Thịt Bò Nướng Xả): Omit the marinade and stir-fried beef. Prepare Grilled Lemongrass Beef Skewers and divide evenly among the bowls.
Garnish and serve as directed.