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Crying Tiger Beef (Suea Rong Hai)

My husband, being British, likes to take the piss. So when I announced that dinner was crying tiger, he glanced over at our plates and said, “So steak and cucumber, eh?”

Well, sure, there is steak. There are refreshing cucumbers, too.

But like with most Thai food – I’m looking at you, pad thai – it’s never as simple as it looks.

In fact, I’d describe crying tiger as ‘next-level steak.’ It will revolutionize the way you think about steak. Once you’ve had it, you’ll never be able to eat steak again without wondering where the extra flavor is. You’ll miss that crying tiger dipping sauce like a lost limb.

It’s impossible not to. We’re talking about tender, juicy, crazy flavorful pieces of steak dipped into an addictive sauce that is the holy trinity of spicy-tangy-sweet flavor.

And here’s the best news – despite the flavorful complexity, it’s not difficult to make.

Why is the Tiger Crying?

This delicious steak and addictive sauce combo goes by the catchy name ‘crying tiger’ (aka suea rong hai, เสือร้องไห้) or even ‘weeping tiger.’ Whichever version you prefer, one thing is certain: this tiger is sad.

But why? What’s going on with the tiger? Why is there a tiger involved at all?

Here’s the truth: nobody knows. But theories abound. Here are a bunch…

It’s the dipping sauce

Crying tiger dipping sauce is best with a generous heap of chili. That level of spice is probably more than a tiger is used to. Thus, there are tears.

It’s the beef

The story goes that back in the day, crying tiger steak was made using a cheap, tough cut of beef that was so rigid, even a tiger would struggle to eat it. Resulting, of course, in a sad tiger. This one has some plausibility because sua rong hai was originally made using brisket, which isn’t the most tender unless cooked slow and low for a long period of time.

Or maybe the opposite...Another theory is that crying tiger beef has always been made with the tenderest cuts of beef, which meant all the tiger got were the leftover tough bits. Again, crying ensues.

It’s the way it’s cooked

Yet another explanation is found in the way that the melting fat drips from a grilled beef. If one squinted and reached deep into one’s imagination, those fat drippings could almost look like tears.

Can you see the tears?

My favorite theory is one that I consider the best story, one in which everybody – both human and tiger – get some delicious beef. The story goes that back in the day, people would stumble upon the remnants of cows that had been eaten by tigers. And the people would take the leftover cuts of meat – brisket, in particular, to create a delicious, flavorful steak.

It was dubbed crying tiger because the people imagined the tiger being filled with regret at having left the flavorful, nutritious cut of meat behind.

Which version appeals to you most? Great, that’s the one you’re going with.

What Beef to Use for Crying Tiger?

Suea rong hai is not exclusively Thai. Like the delicious ping gai grilled chicken, it’s a Lao and Isaan (in Northeastern Thailand) food. Traditionally, it was made using brisket. It’s sliced very thin, rubbed with salt, and then seared on a charcoal grill. It’s served hot and consumed before it has a chance to get chewy.

But here’s the thing: you don’t have to use brisket.

Like so many recipes, crying tiger has become so popular that there are as many variations to it as there are tigers in Thailand (not even 200, at last count, which is enough to make a tiger weep).

So feel free to use your favorite cut of steak. Ribeye or sirloin are my go-to as they’re both great mid-range options and delicious.

Fillet steak (aka tenderloin) or even filet mignon are meltingly delicious options, too. Even flank (aka bavette) is good.

The only thing that really, really matters is that you cook it at least slightly rare and never forget that dipping sauce.

Crying Tiger Ingredients

Crying tiger steak is just two parts: the meat, marinated in yummy sauce + an even yummier dipping sauce. You can serve it alongside greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, or even on top of a salad. Let’s break down the parts and go over some ingredients and substitutions.

Crying Tiger Steak

For the steak, you can use any cut of steak you want – ribeye, sirloin, tenderloin, flank, and so on.

As for the marinade, they’re all ingredients you’re likely to already have if you regularly cook Asian recipes – you’ll want oyster sauce, soy, sauce, fish sauce, lime juice, brown sugar, minced garlic, and white pepper.

Crying Tiger Sauce

The crying tiger sauce is a Thai chili sauce called nam jim jaew (น้ำจิ้มแจ่ว). It’s a simple sauce but the flavor is wonderfully complex. One of those sauces that hits every tastebud at the same time.

It’s sharp and sour, thanks to the fish sauce and lime juice, sweet and tangy from the tamarind, smoky and nutty with the addition of toasted rice powder, fiery and spicy from the chili, with a bit of sweetness from the honey or palm sugar mixed in.

It is the best thing ever. To the point that I’m not ashamed to say that I dip almost everything in it.

And when you consider what goes into it, it’s not too surprising why it is so very delicious. Here’s what you’ll use:

  • Fish sauce
  • Lime juice
  • Tamarind paste
  • Toasted rice powder
  • Honey or palm sugar, coconut sugar, any brown sugar

For spice, you can add dried chilis like Thai chili, crushed red pepper flakes, or even Aleppo or Kashiri chili if you want a not-so-spicy chili flavor. You can also go fresh – I’ve added chili peppers, bird’s eye chilis, even Jalapeno. It’s all good.

For extra flavor and garnish, you can also add cilantro, shallots, green onions, and even tomato.

How I do it is prepare the main base of the sauce – fish sauce, lime juice, tamarind paste, rice powder, and sugar – and then serve the garnishes and spices on the side so everyone can make their own crying tiger dipping sauce, like so…

All the of the ingredients are easily found in any Asian market. If you make a lot of Asian food, you probably already have the likes of fish sauce and tamarind paste in your pantry. The only exception is toasted rice powder (khao khua). They do have it on Amazon so that’s an easy go-to.

Or you can make your own. I’ll show you how to do it – effortlessly! flawlessly! – in the recipe instructions below. If you already have a stash of toasted rice powder, you can just skip that step.

Let’s get to making some delicious crying tiger steak…

Crying Tiger Recipe

My version of the crying tiger recipe has a marinade but very little marinade time. You can definitely skip the marinade and just salt the beef instead. But I’ve tried it with and without. I always end up missing that extra flavor. So if you want, you can skip the marinade. I recommend you don’t.

Marinade the Beef

Mix together oyster sauce, soy, sauce, fish sauce, lime juice, brown sugar, minced garlic, and white pepper in a bowl. Add the beef and coat to cover.

Let it sit on the counter while you prepare everything else.

Make the Crying Tiger Sauce

The crying tiger sauce is incredibly easy to make, especially if you already have toasted rice powder. Even if you don’t, though, it’s still pretty simple – there’s just an extra step.

If you already have toasted rice powder, simple combine the following into a bowl:

  • 2 tbsp thai fish sauce
  • 5.5 tbsp lime juice
  • 2 tbsp tamarind paste
  • 1 tbsp toasted rice powder
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • dried chili flakes or fresh chili, diced or sliced

If you don’t have toasted rice powder, you’ll want some. It adds so much deep nutty flavor and texture that the nam jim jaew would not be the same without it. It’s a pretty simple process, too.

Make Toasted Rice Powder (Khao Khua)

Here’s what to do:

Add a handful of dry, uncooked Thai sticky rice on a dry pan. If you don’t have sticky rice, use jasmine or even Japanese glutinous rice.

Give the pan a gentle shake so that the rice is dispersed in an even layer and turn the heat to medium-low.

Slow toast the dry rice, regularly shaking and tossing the grains so that the grains can toast evenly.

Don’t let it burn! If it looks like it’s getting scorched, turn the heat down a bit.

After slowly toasting for about 10 minutes, the grains should turn a nice, golden brown. You can stop here if you’re short on time but I recommend you don’t.

Another 10 minutes of gentle toasting will get you a much more intense nutty flavor. If you want that, keep toasting and shaking until the grains are a deeper golden brown and there’s a popcorn aroma in the air.

Transfer the rice to the mortar, food processor, or blender to let it cool down to room temperature. Don’t grind it right away as the powder will be sticky. Let it cool.

Grind the rice into a coarse powder – not too fine! – using a mortar and pestle, a spice grinder, or a food processor. Pulse so that the powder doesn’t end up too fine a powder.

And that’s it!

Garnish the crying tiger sauce with sliced or chopped shallots, green onions, cilantro, tomatoes and you’ve got yourself a helluva dipping sauce to dig into.

Cook Crying Tiger Steak

Heat up a skillet over medium-high heat for a couple of minutes so that it’s fired up and ready to go. I’m using a cast iron so I heat it up for at least 5 minutes before putting the steaks on. If you want to check whether your pan is hot enough, heat it up and then drop some water on it. If it sizzles on contact, it’s hot enough.

And then sear your crying tiger steak to the level of doneness that you like:

  • Rare to medium-rare? Just 2 to 3 minutes on each side
  • Medium-rare to medium? About 3 to 4 minutes on each side
  • Medium to well-done? Around 4 to 5 minutes on each side

Now you have a delicious steak that you want to bite into but let it rest for 5 minutes before cutting it up.

That’s the perfect amount of time to prepare the vegetables you’ll be serving it with.

Clean and Cut the Cucumber

While you wait for your steak to rest is the ideal time to slice and dice some cucumber and wash the lettuce you’ll be serving alongside the crying tiger steak.

Slice and Serve

Slice the crying tiger steak into thin slices and plate. Serve with salad, lettuce, and/or cucumber. Enjoy!

crying tiger

Crying Tiger Beef Recipe (Suea Rong Hai)

Tender, juicy, crazy flavorful pieces of steak dipped into an addictive sauce that is the holy trinity of spicy-tangy-sweet flavor. And only 20 minutes to make.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Thai
Servings 2
Calories 594 kcal

Ingredients
  

Crying Tiger Steak Marinade

  • 1 lb sirloin steak
  • 1 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • ½ tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp white pepper

Crying Tiger Dipping Sauce (Nam Jim Jaew)

  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 5.5 tbsp lime juice
  • 2 tbsp tamarind paste
  • 1 tbsp toasted rice powder
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • dried chili flakes or fresh chili, diced or sliced
  • cilantro, shallots, green onions, tomato for garnish and flavor

Instructions
 

Marinade the Crying Tiger Steak

  • Mix together oyster sauce, soy, sauce, fish sauce, lime juice, brown sugar, minced garlic, and white pepper in a bowl.
  • Add the beef and coat to cover in marinade.
  • Let it sit on the counter while you prepare the everything else.

Make Crying Tiger Dipping Sauce

  • Combine fish sauce, lime juice, tamarind paste, toasted rice powder, and honey in a bowl. Add dried chili flakes or sliced fresh chili if you want spice. Add sliced or chopped shallots, green onions, cilantro, tomatoes for extra flavor and garnish.

Make Toasted Rice Powder (If You Need It)

  • Add a handful of dry, uncooked Thai sticky rice on a dry pan. If you don’t have sticky rice, use jasmine or even Japanese glutinous rice.
  • Give the pan a gentle shake so that the rice is dispersed in an even layer and turn the heat to medium-low.
  • Slow toast the dry rice, regularly shaking and tossing the grains so that the grains can toast evenly. Turn the heat down a bit if the rice looks like it's burning.
  • Continue to slowly toast and shake the pan for about 5 to 10 minutes – the grains should turn a nice, golden brown. You can stop here if you’re short on time but I recommend you don’t. Another 10 minutes of gentle toasting will get you a much more intense nutty flavor. If you want that, keep toasting and shaking until the grains are a deeper golden brown and the kitchen smells like popcorn.
  • Transfer the rice to a baking pan to let it cool down to room temperature. You don’t want to grind it straight away as the powder will be sticky. This only take a minute or two.
  • Grind the rice into a coarse powder – not too fine! – using a mortar and pestle, a spice grinder, or a food processor. Pulse so that the powder doesn’t end up too fine a powder.

Sear the Crying Tiger Steak

  • Heat a skillet over medium-high heat for a couple of minutes so that it’s fired up and ready to go.
  • Sear the crying tiger steak to the level of doneness that you like:
    Rare to medium-rare? Just 2 to 3 minutes on each side
    Medium-rare to medium? About 3 to 4 minutes on each side
    Medium to well-done? Around 4 to 5 minutes on each side
  • Let it rest for 5 minutes while you slice and dice some cucumber and wash some lettuce.

Slice and Serve

  • Slice the crying tiger steak, plate with the cucumber and lettuce, add rice, serve and enjoy!

Notes

What beef to use? Crying tiger was traditionally made with brisket. But you can use ribeye, sirloin, fillet steak (aka tenderloin), filet mignon or even a good flank (aka bavette). Use the cut of steak you like. 
Substitutes for the dipping sauce? Every ingredient in the crying tiger dipping sauce is important and I don’t recommend substitutions. If you need a vegan substitute for the fish sauce, go with equal parts soy sauce and rice vinegar.
The only parts that are totally customizable are honey and chili flakes. Sweetener was not traditionally used so you can choose to skip it altogether. If you like it a little sweet, feel free to substitute honey for palm sugar, coconut sugar, brown sugar, white sugar, or even agave. 
Ditto for the chili flakes. I never add any to my kid’s dipping sauce. For my own, dried chili flakes – Thai chili, crushed red pepper flakes, Korean gochugaru, and even Aleppo pepper has been delicious. Dicing or slicing fresh peppers is great as well. 
Most crucial tips for success? Even a little marinade time really ups the flavor or the beef and leaving it on the counter while it marinates to bring it closer to room temperature will help it cook more evenly. 
Oh, and always remember to preheat the pan so it’s hot enough to sear the steak as soon as you put it on. 

Nutrition

Calories: 594kcalCarbohydrates: 30gProtein: 49gFat: 32gSaturated Fat: 14gPolyunsaturated Fat: 2gMonounsaturated Fat: 15gCholesterol: 138mgSodium: 2993mgPotassium: 893mgFiber: 1gSugar: 20gVitamin A: 67IUVitamin C: 17mgCalcium: 64mgIron: 5mg
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