Vietnam was a country where America was trying to make people stop being communists by dropping things on them from airplanes.
~Kurt Vonnegut

Ursa major is a visible “constellation” (actually, an asterism — a prominent pattern of stars often having a title yet a tad smaller than actual constellations) which is seen in the northern hemisphere.  Fairly linear roads lead to Polaris, a yellow-white super giant and the brightest cephied variable star that pulsates radially and forms the very tail of ursa minor. Take a gander at the Alaska state flag to get a general feeling of how to envisage Polaris.

Both ursa major and ursa minor resemble ladles, pans, cups or bowls even though they tend to be translated as the “larger and smaller she-bear(s)” likely due to their northern latitude locations or some zany look at the Big Dipper picture.

On spring and summer evenings, ursa major and minor shine high on in the sky while in autumn and winter evenings, the asterism lurks closer to the horizon.  If one travels from lines of the Merck (β) to the Dubhe (α) stars of ursa major (from the outer base to the outer tip of the pan) and then go about 5x that distance and, Polaris, the north star, will be notably recognized. Polaris, and other pole stars, are relatively steady and stable.

Ursa Major was catalogued by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy in the 2nd century. Polaris has often been used as a navigational tool having guided sailors, ancient mariners, even escaping slaves on underground railroads.  It is circumpolar, meaning that it never sets in the north or never disappears below the horizon.  However, given that the Earth’s axis moves slowly, and completes a circular path at some 26,000 years or less — so, several stars take turns becoming the pole star over eons.


½ C nước mắm Phú Quốc (fish sauce)
2 T nước măn chay pha sản (chili soy sauce)
1 lime, zested
1/2 C fresh lime juice
3 T light brown sugar
2 T fresh, local honey
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
jalapeños, stems and seeds removed, minced
1/2 C ginger, peeled and grated or finely minced

1 flank steak (about 2 lbs)

Rice noodles, just cooked al dente

Sesame seeds, for serving
Mint leaves & cilantro leaves, chopped, for serving

In a small bowl, combine the fish sauce, chili soy sauce, lime zest, lime juice, honey, brown sugar, garlic, jalapeños and ginger. Pour the mixture over the flank steak in a ziploc bag in the frig and let marinate overnight.

Light the grill to medium high, and wipe the steak with a paper towel.  Cook until done, about 3-4 minutes per side for rare to medium rare. Transfer steak to a cutting board and let rest for 10-15 minutes tented in foil while simmering the leftover marinade.

Thinly slice steak across the grain on a bias (perpendicular to the grain) and serve over al dente cooked rice noodles gently drenched with reheated marinade. Garnish meat with sesame seeds and mint leaves and cilantro leaves.


Seared Hanger (L’Onglet)

February 25, 2010

The only time to eat diet food is while you are waiting for the steak to cook.
~Julia Child

Divine, succulent bistro fare at home. For those ever busy beings, this is peerless cuisine à la minute.

Hanger steak (onglet) is a beef cut which “hangs” from the diaphragm, below the ribs of the steer, which is essentially an extension of the tenderloin. Not surprisingly, it is silken and has a chewy tenderness which finishes with a savory and subtle almost offal-like flavor. Kidney contiguity?

Often called the “butcher’s piece” (la pièce du boucher), as there is only one hanger per steer, the butcher would often quietly pocket it home rather than offering the cut for sale. Onglet is usually butterflied by slicing the meat transversely through the middle. It should be quickly seared, only to medium rare, to avoid toughness—both rare and medium are just out of bounds. Exquisite just standing alone, there is no need to over adorn.

Hanger steak has always enjoyed immense popularity elsewhere: France (onglet), Britain (skirt), Italy (lombatello), Spain (solomillo de pulmon), Mexico (arrachera), to name a few. Only recently garnering some celeb status in the States, luscious hanger may no longer be subjected to that heinous act of being ground into hamburger. Almost makes a grown man cry.


2 hanger or flank steaks, about 1/2″ thick
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 T extra virgin olive oil

2 T unsalted butter, divided
3 medium shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 T high quality red wine vinegar
1/2 C dry red wine

1/2 T tarragon leaves, finely chopped
1/2 T parsley leaves, finely chopped

Heat a large heavy sauté pan or skillet over high heat, then add the olive oil for about 1 minute. When the oil is hot and shimmering, season the steaks with salt and pepper, slip them into the pan, and brown evenly, turning as needed, until medium rare, about 2-3 minutes per side, and longer for medium. Transfer the steaks to a heated serving dish, tent, and set aside to allow the juices to retreat back into the beef. (Please heed my nagging advice to take into account that the meat will continue cooking while at rest.)

Place the same pan over medium heat and add 1 T of the butter and the shallots. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, for 3 to 5 mintues, until the shallots are softened but not colored. Add the vinegar and cook until it evaporates, then add the wine. Bring the wine to the boil and allow it to cook down until it is reduced by at least half. Remove the pan from the heat and swirl, whisk in the remaining 1 T butter. Then, stir in the chopped tarragon and parsley.

Carve each steak across the grain on the bias into thin slices. Drizzle the warm shallot sauce over the meat and serve promptly.