Hailing from Isan in the northeast of Thailand, Suea Rong Hai (เสือร้องไห้) literally means "crying tiger." The name is steeped in conflicting folklore, but what's not in dispute is the addicting combination of succulent grilled beef with a spicy Thai BBQ sauce called Nam Jim Jaew.
Traditionally made with brisket, the beef is infused with endless umami thanks to the marinade's magical combination of fish sauce and oyster sauce. In my version, I add garlic and ginger, which cranks up the flavor and renders the beef tender and juicy.
After being grilled and sliced, the Crying Tiger Steak is served with a festive dipping sauce that will set your taste buds ablaze in a parade of textures and tastes, like nutty bits of crunchy toasted rice, umami rich fish sauce, tangy lime juice, fruity tamarind, and fiery chili flakes.
Why This Recipe Works?
- The balance of salty and umami fish sauce and toasty rice, with tangy lime and fruity tamarind, creates an addictive balance of savory, salty, sweet, sour, and umami tastes that is addictive, making this far more versatile than a simple BBQ sauce. It's a spicy Thai dipping sauce that can be used for almost anything such as vegetables, fish, or even noodles.
- Toasting glutinous rice until it is golden brown gives the Nam Jim Jaew a nutty flavor that's similar to rice crackers.
- Ginger is not a traditional ingredient in the Crying Tiger Beef marinade, but it contains an enzyme (zingibain) that is an effective meat tenderizer, which is why I like to add it.
- Oyster Sauce - This savory-sweet condiment is super rich in umami and enhances the overall savoriness of the beef. My favorite brand of oyster sauce is Megachef. It only contains a handful of ingredients besides oysters, and has a balanced taste that boosts the flavor of the beef without getting in the way.
- Fish Sauce - Known as Nam Pla in Thailand, this salty and flavorful fermented fish sauce is a primary seasoning in both the Crying Tiger Beef and Nam Jim Jaew sauce. It's brimming with umami and a foundational flavor in Thai cuisine. For fish sauce, I like both Megachef and Red Boat brands.
- Garlic - Garlic adds a fragrant kick to the beef and is the primary aromatic in the Crying Tiger marinade.
- Ginger - Ginger isn't a traditional addition to Crying Tiger sauce, but I like to include it because it contains a proteolytic enzyme called zingibain that breaks down the connective tissue in the meat, rendering it super tender.
- Beef - Any tender cut of beef used for steak will work here. I used a Wagyu sirloin for this recipe, but hangar steak, skirt steak, and tenderloin are all great options. Because the marinade and sauce are so flavorful, you could substitute other types of protein like chicken, pork, lamb, or even tofu. Just keep in mind that you'll need to adjust the cooking times depending on the type and thickness of the protein you use.
- White Pepper - This gives the steak a subtle heat and warm aroma that goes well with the spicy sauce. I like to grind the pepper onto the steak after it's cooked so it doesn't burn. If you don't have it or don't like the flavor of white pepper, black pepper will work.
- Glutinous Rice - Toasted and ground, it lends a nutty flavor and unique texture to the Nam Jim Jaew sauce. It's not quite the same, but if you can't find it, you can toast other types of rice.
- Lime Juice - The tangy and bright acidity balances the salty and sweet flavors of the steak sauce. If you're in a pinch, lemon juice will make a suitable alternative, though it won't taste quite the same.
- Tamarind Paste - This sour and fruity ingredient adds depth and body to the sauce. It's best to prepare your own from dried tamarind pods, but it's also available in jars and may be labelled tamarind paste or tamarind concentrate. If you can't find it, you can substitute two teaspoons of tomato paste.
- Sugar - Thai cuisine is about balancing the five tastes (salt, sour, sweet, bitter, and umami). Sugar helps to balance out the tartness of the lime juice and the saltiness of the fish sauce. I recommend using a minimally processed sugar like palm sugar, or evaporated cane sugar because they have a caramel flavor. Regular sugar or honey can be substituted if you like.
- Chili Flakes - The heat in this spicy Thai steak sauce comes from dried chili flakes made from roasted Thai chilies. If you can't find them, you can substitute other spicy chili flakes, such as cayenne pepper flakes or Korean gochugaru. Be sure to adjust the amount of chili flakes to suit your tastes. You can always add more, but you can't subtract the flakes once added.
- Cilantro or Mint - Fresh herbs such as cilantro, culantro, or mint add freshness and herbaceous notes to the sauce.
- Scallion - Green onions not only add a burst of color to the sauce, but they also add a marvelous onion flavor.
- Shallot - I also like adding minced Thai shallots to my Nam Jim Jaew. They add a nice crispy texture along with some sweetness. Regular or sweet onions will work if you can't find Thai shallots.
How to Make Crying Tiger Beef
The first thing you want to do is to make the marinade for the Crying Tiger Beef. Mix the oyster sauce, fish sauce, garlic, and ginger together in a small bowl. This combination not only seasons the meat but will also tenderize it. Slather the marinade all over the beef steak and allow it to marinate for at least half an hour or overnight. If you marinate it longer, take it out of the fridge 30 minutes before cooking to bring it to room temperature. This helps the steak to cook more evenly.
Now it's time to cook the crying tiger steak. Heat a grill pan or cast-iron skillet over medium heat until hot, enough to sizzle but not so hot that it will burn the steak. Lay the steak diagonally on the grill, first at the 10 o'clock position and then at the 2 o'clock position before repeating on the other side. This technique creates a crosshatched grill pattern, and ensures even cooking by allowing the heat to penetrate the meat uniformly. Careful timing is essential here; cooking a 1-inch thick steak to medium-rare takes about 5 minutes. Lower the heat to prevent burning if the steak starts browning too quickly.
Once the Crying Tiger Beef is cooked to your liking, transfer it to a cutting board and allow it to rest for 10 minutes. This resting stage lets the juices redistribute throughout the meat, maintaining its moisture and flavor. Then slice the steak as thinly as possible against the grain using a sharp knife. Finish the steak off with a grind of white pepper, and then sprinkle with some extra toasted rice powder. Serve your Crying Tiger Beef with vegetables like cucumber or cabbage, and don't forget the flavorful Nam Jim Jaew sauce.
How to Make Nam Jim Jaew (Thai BBQ Sauce)
To prepare the Nam Jim Jaew, toast the glutinous rice in a dry skillet over medium heat until golden brown. Maillard browning enhances the taste of the rice, while creating a nutty flavor similar to rice crackers. Dry roasting will cause the pan to get extremely hot, so do not use a pan with a non-stick coating.
Once the rice is golden brown, you can grind it into a coarse powder using a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder. You want the powder to resemble coarse sand, which creates a nice crunchy texture.
Next, add the fish sauce, lime juice, tamarind paste, sugar, chili flakes, cilantro, scallion, and shallot to a bowl. Measure 2 teaspoons of your toasted rice powder and combine with the other ingredients, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. This mixture creates the perfect balance of savory, salty, sweet, sour, and umami flavors.
This versatile Thai chili dipping sauce works with meat, vegetables, seafood, or even fried tofu.
Serve it With
This Crying Tiger Beef with Nam Jim Jaew Sauce is a robust and flavorful dish that can be a meal on its own paired with a variety of veggies to dip in the sauce and some steamed sticky rice, jasmine rice, or Riceberry. If you want to make some other Thai dishes to go with it, consider serving it with a refreshing Green Papaya Salad and a noodle dish like Pad Kee Mao or Pad See Ew.
Other Thai Recipes
Crying Tiger Beef
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- 8 grams garlic (grated)
- 8 grams ginger (grated)
- 400 grams beef steak (no more than 1-inch thick)
- white pepper (to taste)
Nam Jim Jaew
- 12 grams glutinous rice
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- 1 tablespoon tamarind paste
- 1 tablespoon evaporated cane sugar
- 2 teaspoons chili flakes
- 10 grams cilantro (or mint, chopped)
- 10 grams scallion (chopped)
- 16 grams shallot (optional, minced)
- Mix the 1 tablespoon oyster sauce, 1 teaspoon fish sauce, 8 grams garlic, and 8 grams ginger together in a small bowl and then slather all over 400 grams beef steak. Let this marinate for at least 30 minutes. If you marinate for longer in the refrigerator, take it out of the fridge 30 minutes before cooking to bring it to room temperature.
- For the Nam Jim Jaew, toast 12 grams glutinous rice in a dry skillet over medium heat. Shake or toss the pan constantly to brown the rice evenly.
- When the rice is golden brown, transfer it to a mortar and grind it into a coarse powder using a pestle. You can also use a spice grinder, but let the rice cool first and be careful not to grind it too finely.
- Add 3 tablespoons fish sauce, 2 tablespoons lime juice, 1 tablespoon tamarind paste, 1 tablespoon evaporated cane sugar, 2 teaspoons chili flakes, 10 grams cilantro, 10 grams scallion, and 16 grams shallot to a bowl. Measure 2 teaspoons of your toasted rice powder and stir the Nam Jim Jaew together until the sugar has dissolved.
- Heat a grill pan or cast iron skillet over medium heat until hot but not scorching. If you are using a grill, lay the steak diagonally on the grill at the 10 o'clock. Let this cook until you have grill marks (~1 ½ minutes)
- Turn the steak to the 2 o'clock position without flipping it over and press down on any parts that aren't making contact with the pan.
- Continue cooking the steak for another minute until it has developed a crosshatched grill pattern. Flip the steak and then repeat the grilling process at 2 o'clock and then turn it to 10 o'clock. Lower the heat to prevent burning if the steak starts browning too quickly. Grilling a 1-inch thick steak to medium rare will take about 5 minutes.
- When the Crying Tiger Steak is cooked to your liking, transfer it to a cutting board and let it rest for 10 minutes before slicing it.
- Slice the steak as thinly as possible against the grain using a sharp knife.
- Grind white pepper on the sliced steak to taste, then sprinkle with some extra toasted rice powder.
- Serve your Crying Tiger Beef with vegetables (like cucumber or cabbage) and the Nam Jim Jaew sauce.