Simplest Beef Curry

beef curry recipe

I’d read a rather head-scratching review of a book that I was very fond of from the day it landed in my apartment. Burma: Rivers of Flavor is a cookbook that has been haunting me ever since I opened it up and leafed through the pages. It was written by Naomi Duguid, a seasoned cookbook author who traveled throughout the country before the change in political climate. She travelled by foot, bike, train, boat, and whatever, culling recipes from home cooks, market vendors, and restaurateurs.

Before I got the book, I didn’t know much – actually, I did’t know I knew anything – about Burmese food, aside from my meals at a so-so restaurant when I lived in San Francisco. But her book reveals much of what had been hidden from Westerners for so long. And before I even took a knife to a shallot, I combed the pages thoroughly, getting completely wrapped up in her journey and cultural observations as she coaxed out the recipes, presenting the nuances of a somewhat particular style of cooking.

shallots Thai Mortar and pestle

I also loved the subtitle of the book “Rivers of Flavor”, which I thought was brilliant and conveyed the ebb and flow of ingredients, like chiles, fried shallots, and lime, that run through Burmese food. The reviewer questioned having pictures of Burma in a cookbook. (Hmm, pictures of markets, farmers, street food, and Burmese ingredients?) But I was enthralled, and was also happy because I could rustle up all the ingredients in Paris to try some of the recipes, which isn’t exactly a hotbed of Burmese cookery. In fact, the most exotic ingredient is fish sauce, which is available in any Asian market – and even well-stocked supermarkets.

deep-fried shallots for beef curry

I found her book a glimpse into a culture that I, and many others, know so little about. And started bookmarking recipes, including this beef curry recipe, which I made the other day. I liked it because it called for nothing more challenging than shallots, chile powder, turmeric, garlic, fresh ginger, and fish sauce, all of which I happened to have on hand. I just needed to run out and get was a pound of beef (which I don’t keep on hand), which my local butcher was happy to supply me with.

golden egg curry

Another recipe I have bookmarked is Golden Egg Curry, where the author says “The smooth egg whites blister and firm up into an attractive golden crust”, which, as you can possibly guess, is something I need to make. And the Chicken in Tart Garlic Sauce sounds like a mix of flavors that are right up my alley, with plenty of lime juice and garlic livening up the stir-fried chicken.

beef curry recipe deep-fried shallots of beef curry recipe
turmeric for beef curry recipebeef for beef curry

I’m not a big beef eater in general, but it was interesting to make this curry. As the title implies, it’s a dish that’s both simple in technique and in flavor. Unlike a complex, rich, liquidy Thai curry, which so many of us are used to, the resulting Burmese curry is simply chunks of tender beef and sweet shallots, braised in its liquid. But I was happy to be able to explore a dish, and a culture, in my kitchen. And can’t wait to get cracking on those eggs next.

Simplest Beef Curry with Shallots

Four servings (as part of a main course)

Adapted from Burma: Rivers of Flavor (Artisan), by Naomi Dugiud


This is, indeed, a simple curry – not just in preparation, but in the results. Naomi Duguid advises to serve this curry with stir-fried bitter greens or rice, to compliment the silky shallots. I’d should add that this curry is portioned to be part of a meal, so if you plan to serve four people with it, make sure you have something to accompany it. Also, as she notes, Burmese cuisine isn’t as spiced or as highly seasoned as Thai and other cuisines, and condiments are added to the dish by diners, at the table. Some hot sauce, extra deep-fried shallots, chopped toasted peanuts, or even some powdered dried shrimp, would be nice to offer guests.

To make deep-fried shallots, heat some oil and add a generous handful of finely sliced (peeled) shallots – about 1/2 cup, cooking them in a few inches of hot oil until deep golden-brown, then scoop them out and let them cool on a rack or paper towel until crisp. They can be stored in a jar for a few days if you want to do them in advance.

  • 1 pound (450 g) beef stewing meat, cut into 3/4-inch (2 cm) pieces
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger (peeled)
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 3 cups (.75l) water
  • 2 teaspoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons fried shallots (see Note)
  • 8 small shallots, peeled and left whole
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chile powder

1. Mix the beef pieces in a bowl with the salt and turmeric, massaging the salt into the meat. Cover and chill for an hour.

2. Mash the ginger and garlic together in a mortar and pestle, if you have one. (If not, just chop them together until they’re as finely minced together as possible.) Heat the oil in a large open saucepan or wok over medium heat, then add the garlic and ginger and cook for a few minutes, stirring, until they’re soft and fragrant.

3. Turn the heat up to high and add the beef and cook, stirring and pressing the beef pieces against the side of the pan, until they’re cooked on all sides. Add the water and fish sauce, stir a few times, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, partially covered, for 1 hour. If the water evaporates during the cooking, add more so the pan isn’t dry.

4. Stir in the fried shallots, then add the whole shallots and chile powder. Cook with the lid ajar, stirring frequently, until the shallots are soft and the meat is tender, and the liquid is thickened – about 10 minutes or so.


Notes: If you don’t want to deep-fry the shallots, I would imagine that if you just cooked them in some oil in a skillet, until they were deep golden brown (stirring them constantly, and keeping an eye on them), they would work just as well in this recipe.

There is a recipe in the book for making Burmese-style chile powder. When I made this, I used Korean chile powder.

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Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Ribs

60 comments

  • This sounds lush. Will try deep-frying the onions. Mmmm, onions. Best vegetable ever.

  • That is gorgeous looking! I’m a pescatarian (I know, I know…) and I was wondering if this book would have many land-animal-less options (or possible adaptations). I pretty much want to buy it for the curried eggs alone!

    • Hi Natalie: Am not sure what a pescatarian is, but there are quite a number of fish-based and vegetable recipes (tamarind-pumpkin curry, okra stir-fry, etc) – although many of the recipes are seasoned with fish sauce. You might want to take a look at your local bookstore and see the book, or use the “look inside” feature on Amazon to see if the recipes are appropriate for your diet.

  • Thank you, David for remembering me the book. I bought it after our visit to Burma last autumn. Yes, the food was not easy part of the journey. The taste of it is quite chalenging: mostly fishy and fat (I can remeber the markets with fish in different state of decay). Nothing in common with other Southasian cuisine.
    But, of course this way food was extremely interesting. The best we had was in Yangoon, in the restaurant serving traditional dishes, that we found thanks to recommendation from “Food and Travel”. Usually they serve curries in very small bowls with a big pan of rice on the table.

    I enjoy Your blog very much.
    Your longtime fan from Portugal (originally from Poland)

  • Would the Burmese restaurant in San Francisco that you went to be Burma Star?

  • I guess the fried shallots make the dish? I do keep beef (almost) at all times, and this is simpler than my other curries. The one with the blistered eggs I´ll be waiting for!

  • Paula: Yes, fried shallots (and their oil) seems to be an integral part of this cuisine. There are instructions in the book for making the shallots, and the oil. You can also buy them already fried as Asian markets, since they’re a popular seasoning but I’ve not tried them. If you do make the eggs, let me know how they turn out – they sound so good!

  • That egg curry recipe seems pretty good – egg curry should be way more popular than it is. It is a perfect dish that goes with everything!

  • Fried shallots are of tantamount importance in South East Asian cuisine. They are lovely condiments for noodle dishes, spicy fried rice, even on savory steamed egg custard! It lends a smoky fragrant flavour to the dish and nice contrast in texture too. I love Burmese cooking, thanks for bringing this cookbook to my attention!

  • Wow, this looks easy enough even for me, someone from Paris’s Trailer Park!

  • I’m glad I stopped by your blog to read this. So simple but looks so delicious! That particular egg curry is popular in eastern India too. But I’d never have thought of describing the fried (boiled) eggs in those words. So beautifully described

  • I got this cookbook from my goddaughter for Christmas and it is wonderful, if just for the pictures alone. David, I can tell you first hand that the chicken in tart garlic sauce is divine! Anything with lime juice in abundance is right up my alley. Have yet to make the golden egg curry, but will try that this weekend. Lovely pictures!

  • Thank you for reminding me of this great cookbook I bought a few months ago! Even though I read it with great interest, I haven’t cooked anything out of it so far. But I shall have a go at it this weekend! This recipe looks great and I remember bookmarking many others that I wanted to try. I have been making a lot of Vietnamese recipes, I guess it’s time to try some Burmese ones now!

  • Caroline and Claire: I was surprised to read the write-up by the person who implied there were ingredients that were hard-to-find. Sitting at my desk, just leafing through the book right now, the oddest things are Sichuan peppercorns, fresh ginger, chiles, and broccoli rabe (which admittedly, I can’t find easily in Paris.) But am glad you like the book as much as I do & I think it’s just lovely to read and leaf through.

  • This book has been on my wish list ever since I looked through it last fall at a local bookstore. I was immediately taken with the beautiful photography of Burmese life and landscapes.
    And I have another cookbook by Naomi and her ex about flatbread. Burmese cuisine seems to be little known here but I’ve heard it is fabulous tasting. My SIL brought it to my attention after she ate at a Burmese restaurant in San Francisco, Burma Star. She came home raving about a salad that had fermented tea leaves in it — apparently an ingredient that is almost impossible to get
    here(welooked everywhere). Thank you for your review and the wonderful recipe, I’ve got to try it. You always make recipes seem very approachable and do-able.

  • These recipes sound intriguing–with such simple ingredients! We are now in Paris for the entire month of May, staying in an apartment in the Marais. Not our first time, but nonetheless…wow!! Have our Navigo passes and are ready to ride. Any place really special we shouldn’t miss? If you need a break from recipe and cocktail testing, dinner’s on us!! Love your sense of humor!

  • I have this cookbook as well, but I have yet to make a dish from it. You have inspired me to try this weekend. I love Burmese having had a restaurant near me for a few years. I have since moved and cannot wait to crack this book open. David, we have the same palettes because I think your The Perfect Scoop book is the bible on ice Cream, I have recently become addicted to “The Lebanese Kitchen” which is the bible on lebanese (in my opinion!) and now this!
    Love your site, your newsletter, your facebook feed and of course, your books. Oh and YOU! :)

  • Hi David…looks so yummy…what is the cut of beef called in french for stewing beef? and is chuck steak the same thing?

    thank you..

    • Butchers usually just call it boeuf pour bourguignon – I don’t know if it’s the same exactly as beef chuck, buy any stewing beef would work. (It would likely also work with lamb or pork stewing meat, not too lean.)

  • Do love that you needed to go out for the beef! Sounds so comforting as I sit in my MN kitchen watching the snow fall.

  • I’ve wanted to try Burmese food. This sounds like a delicious way to start. Thanks for the recipe.

  • Your blog today reminded me that I have been flirting with buying this book, so I went directly over to Amazon and ordered it! Thank you, David.

    I will bet the restaurant in SF was Mandalay, which I believe is still there. Burma Star did not come along until quite a bit later. I always preferred Nan Yang which used to be in downtown Oakland, and moved to College Ave. in North Oakland.

    Your Lebanese blogs were stellar, loved them.

  • Thank you so much for reminding me this morning of the magnificent trip I had up the Irawaddy back in 2009. I took countless photos of temples and people, but equally as many of the many dishes I enjoyed. Our meals were beautiful, even street food, and delicious. I will look for this book.

  • Well you make a convincing argument David because you have just made me look up that book. I think all South Asian cuisines are interesting in their own way and I’m sure Burmese cuisine is similar to Thai, Vietnamese, Laotian, etc. but I imagine it might be a little less influenced by them because Myanmar was closed off for a long time? Either way the beef curry looks great, can’t wait to make this and just eat it with plain white rice.

  • david – so sad that you had bad burmese food in SF.. you should have tried the restaurant on California st…So much better than the other place.

    Really appreciate this review. I have the book and have been waiting to dive into it – seemed like it was a book which deserves full attention (and a long cup of tea).

  • This sounds like a great recipe. I’ve heard about this cookbook many times now, and can’t wait to purchase my own copy!

  • Curry is so different from all the flavors I grew up with in Italy, that I could never eat it everyday – but I find myself craving it for special occasions! I like both the Indian and Thai versions, and recently discovered Japanese curry. A friend bought me a package from a famous little shop in Tokyo and it was so delicious. I will try your recipe next!

  • A pescetarian is generally someone who doesn’t eat meat but does eat seafood (pesce being ‘fish’ in Italian).

    That being said, this recipe sounds delicious! I’ve never found a premade curry spice mix that I really like so I’ll have to try this combination of ingredients some time instead.

  • I just found the book online at my library. Look forward to picking it up.

    I am wondering if this simple and delicious-sounding recipe would work with some rather tasteless boneless pork loin chops I bought. Looked lovely. Zero flavor. Our pork is just too lean these days.

    The chops are at least 1″ thick so would work into cubes v. nicely. What do you think?

    Thanks…

  • Oops. Just read up the thread to your post, David, about pork being OK but “not too lean”. May try it anyway.

  • Being one of the ‘unfortunate’ (I’m not complaining) who is burning her mouth on just the mention of chili, I see a wonderful opportunity to just adapt the recipe w/o the chili powder, resp replace with more herbs and stuff I know I can eat and digest. Sounds honest and quite wonderful.
    Am just now back from a short trip to see friends in Devon / UK – brought the ones who love cooking bags of French echalottes and a whole French garlic – they LOVED it! Simple things – great stuff.

  • David this looks amazing. Thanks for sharing. I am very happy this dish is so simple, and I have nearly all the ingredients on hand, besides the fish sauce. Is it possible to make it without fish sauce? Would the recipe be just less salty and less acidic? Could I sub in some sea salt and apple cider or red wine vinegar instead?

  • http://www.mumhouse.com/ is a good source in london/europe for burmese delicacies like lephet (tea leaf to make delicious lephet thoke) and young ginger (to make gin thoke). they ship anywhere.

    if you get to burma, try and get invited to someone’s house to eat. that is when the penny will drop. or go to shan state and eat.

    burma: rivers of flavor is fundamental for us non-burmese to learn about burmese cuisine.

  • I usually buy jars of deep-fried shallots in our Chinatown but often find they are already getting a bit stale. Probably not a big turnover.
    However, at my last trip to Ikea, I discovered deep-fried onions…..fresh tasting and delicious.
    Once home, I looked more carefully on the label, only to discover that they came from Poland!

  • Natalie, I’ve had Indonesian curry-like dishes made with tempeh, the Indonesian staple soya food. Have you ever eaten that? Of course the flavour profile of Indonesian food – even very different from island to island, and different parts of the larger islands – is very unlike Burmese food. Indonesian food also uses a lot of shallots, which I love.

    David, between the “Indochinese” shops (often Sino-Vietnamese or Sino-Cambodian, as here) and the many South Asian ones now found in Paris from Passage Brady to La Chapelle, you should be able to find most of the seasonings. I’d say a decent substitute for broccoli rabe would be Gai Lan, a Chinese and Southeast Asian variety of broccoli.

  • Natalie & lagatta à montréal, I’m Indonesian and can tell you that we can also subs the meat with tofu (usually fried) or tempeh. :)

    Sadly, there’s no Indonesian restaurants here in Dallas and sometimes I’m just too lazy to cook Indonesian foods because of all the long process.. or maybe that’s just my mom’s way lol.

    Fried shallots sold in Asian stores are usually stale and no longer crunchy. Although I found 1 brand (can’t remember what it is but it’s with an orange lid) that is pretty good and crunchy.

    I’ve never had Burmese foods and I don’t think we have 1 here but that Burma Star in SF is on my lists to visit the next time I go to SF.

  • Oh forgot to add, we have that golden egg curry too although we don’t call it curry :)
    We fried the boiled eggs and cook it more with chillies rather than curry ingredients. In fact, we can buy the spices in a jar for this egg curry in Asian stores.

  • Love love love an egg curry, and always tickled by the name of the Thai version of the boiled and deep-fried eggs – son-in-law eggs. Why? The skilled restaurant chefs manage to keep the yolks runny and the outside crisp. How? So many terrific egg curries across south-east Asia from Indonesia’s richly spicy egg sambal to south India’s luscious coconutty eggs moollee. When?

    Fish sauce – re previous comment – there isn’t really a substitute. Blachan (terasi) are dried prawns in a block, but a shop that has Blachan will also have fish sauce. Have substituted soy sauce in a couple of recipes when cooking for especially nice vegetarian friends, but not recommended.

    David, love it that you’re into Asian food, loved your Lebanon posts. When are you going to India? Would love to read your reaction to the sub-continent and the fabulous food there

  • This looks very delicious…love the spices. Have never used fish sauce (embarrassed to say)…perhaps it’s time to venture out of my comfort zone. Also, this book sounds interesting.

  • Just a heads up for anyone looking for Burmese food in the SF Bay Area: the place folks have been mentioning is not Burma Star but Burma Superstar! (http://www.burmasuperstar.com/), and they’ve got three locations: one in SF on the northwest side of town, one in Oakland’s Temescal neighborhood (on Telegraph just about two and a half miles south of UC Berkeley), and one in Alameda. Their signature dish is the Tea Leaf Salad, which apparently uses fermented tea leaves direct from Burma.

  • The only burmese dish which I have eaten and love, is khao suey…a lovely dish. Noodles in coconut broth, with veggies and or meat. And many topping such as deep fried shallots, deep fried garlic, sliced up bolied eggs, fried baby shrimp and greens of the spring onions …which one can help themselves to at the table…Am sure it would be in the book. If so, do give it a try!
    Its great for a dinner gathering too!

  • As Auckland has a large Asian population, fried shallots are easy to come by. I’m not normally a fan of pre-prepared ingredients but this is an exception I’m happy to make, especially as shallots are fiercely expensive here. (No idea why.) They’re very good and a lot easier than frying your own.

    Curses, my Lebanese cookbook has only just arrived and now I want a Burmese one!

  • We have a local caterer named Burma in Ya Belly and it’s really good. Now I know where to get a cookbook and try some of this myself. Thanks, David.

  • Jé & Gavrielle: I’ve never bought those already-fried shallots in Asian markets for that reason, but in the US (and I think in France) the supermarkets sell fried onions. They’re canned, so they may be fresher-tasting, although it’s been a few decades since I’ve tried them!

    Sandra: I had plans to go to India a couple of years ago, and they never were realized, unfortunately. Someday I may get to go –

    lagatta: I usually shop at the stores in Belleville and know where to get most of the seasonings and so forth, but it’s hard to find stewing greens at the markets like broccoli raab, rainbow chard, and kale (although a few farmers are now growing it – for les américains…and a few French converts!) But I’ve yet to find certain Asian greens, like pea shoots, and I’m not sure why since there is a very large Asian community in Paris.

  • This recipe sounds simple and delicious. I think I’ll make it tonight. There are some Asian stores at Place Maubert Mutualite where I should find the chili powder. Do you mind telling me what’s on the label of the Korean chili powder you bought so I can ask for the same thing?

    • I don’t think it really matters what exact brand you get, since most are similar. But here are some pictures of the packaging. Happy shopping!

  • Naomi Duguid is brilliant! In total awe of her accomplishments world wide
    It’s great yr talking about her here.
    Thanks Carolg

  • This sounded great and also, somehow, familiar; then I realized I’d read about this cookbook on another one of my favorite food blogs, Tipsy Baker: http://www.tipsybaker.com/2013/01/burma-earnest-summation.html#comment-form.

    I’m assuming you know (about) Jennifer Reese and if you don’t you should check out her sidebar on “shelf essential” cookbooks ;)

    Off now to fry some shallots. Yum!

    • Thanks, that was an interesting assessment of the book. It’s certainly more than just a collection of recipes; it’s a document of a certain place, and a certain cuisine, one that is still a mystery in many ways to most of us. This is one of those books that I just loved reading and flipping through the pages. I only made one recipe and I am agreement about the portion size (which I mentioned the author said “serves 4″ and she rightfully advises serving with other things.) I will be trying the other recipes that I mentioned, and probably the Shan Tofu -which remind me of French Panisses (!), since that sounds so intriguing.

  • Curries are just the most flavourful, most complex dishes. I simply love eating them and cooking them. Yours look awesome.

  • We had this for dinner tonight – fantastic and darn easy. Thanks for the recipe.

  • I just recently found your blog and really enjoy your posts. This was the first recipe I have tried from your postings and have to say that it was a huge success with my husband and 4 daughters, ages 12 to 20. I served the beef, which was very tender, on top of rice and stir-fried broccoli slaw. I sprinkled the fried shallots and chopped peanuts over the beef. It looked as good as it tasted! This recipe is a keeper.

  • Omg this looks so good!

  • If you like egg curry you should also try kedgeree. It’s the perfect curry comfort food; can be eaten for breakfast or lunch.

  • Found the kouglof at Vandermeersch–wow! You’re right, the best!
    Wondering if you might consider mentioning in your posts about unique places, the Metro stop closest to each venue? It seemed the stop at Daumesnil would have been ok, but walked what seemed forever! Then I passed the one at Michel Bizot and the light bulb came on over my head. All in all, still worth it!

  • David, I made the egg curry, replacing homemade harissa for all the garlic and red peppers. The fried eggs are so good and quite a fun thing to make! Very easy too, they fry in no time. These are probably the middle eastern alternative to huevos rancheros. I had just made a quick bread with olive oil and sharp cheddar… man, the best brunch in a long time. Thanks for suggesting these!

  • I am going to try this curry (with greens – yum). It is nice to have suggested sides that a Burmese person might eat alongside.

    I have two of Naomi Duguid’s (and her ex’s) cooking books. An Asian flavors book and a baking, both are lovely. The pictures, stories and solid recipes give you a full picture of what you are cooking. Seriously lovely books for those times when you set the cookbook in front of you to day dream. They changed my rigid thinking of bread baking and taught me to love it again.

    Thank you for sharing about the Korean chili powder. I was wondering while reading and there you were reading my mind. Yikes.

  • This looks so beautiful – and this looks so similar to the kind of food we make at home (I am from Pakistan) and the style of frying eggs that is mentioned we use that to make a potato egg curry (a good hearty meal but without meat)
    There’s this dish which is really popular here – everyone knows it as being burmese as origin but don’t know how it came here – its known as Khousey/Khoausey/khaow suey – chicken noodle soup would be a literal translation but that cannot do justice to the depths of flavour. It’s make your own style dish – noodles make the base of the dish, and there’s a coconut curry which can be either thick or thin (depending from region to region), then you mix your meat (chicken or beef) and there’s a wide list of condiments (ranging from boiled eggs, spring onions, dried shrimps, potatoes, corriander, onions, chilli powder & other spices and definitely some crisps/chips to top it all) that you add and mix it all up and then eat.

  • This looks amazing. I might try it with lamb. :)

  • Good to see another mortar & pestle enthusiast, such an underestimated, under utilized kitchen tool. We love it so much we have written a whole book about it! Not difficult really as you could probably write 10 books on Mortar & Pestle recipes and still not scratch the surface. Like you we recommend buying something big and solid at the Asian grocers, by far the cheapest and best.