This simple marinade is the only steak marinade you need. Bold claim, I know, but once you try it you'll understand why (and hopefully agree!). Even though it is a classic Thai beef marinade for the grill, the flavour is not distinctly Asian. It's just really fantastic, bold flavours that would pair well with any meal, and any side dish; Thai or not.
Thai Marinade, Universally Delicious
The main stars of this marinade are oyster sauce and soy sauce, with just a touch of sweetness added in. This combo creates intensely umami flavours that compliment the beef perfectly - and the little bit of sugar is the secret to balancing the salt and giving you those smokey-flavoured grill marks. These sauces are Asian, but they have relatively neutral flavours that won't make you go, "woah, SO Asian." So they will not clash with say, mashed potatoes.
This is also endlessly customizable, so that if you do want it to have a distinct flavour of any particular herbs or spices, you can totally add them to this base marinade. So use what's given as the base ratio, then get creative from there!
What is "Crying Tiger"?
"Crying Tiger" is the way the steak is served. You might have seen this name on Thai restaurant menus, or maybe it was Tiger Cry, Weeping Tiger, or some variation on that theme. This is a direct translation from the Thai name "seua rong hai", which refers to a marinated grilled steak, sliced thinly and served with the ultimate dipping sauce for grilled meats: nam jim jeaw. Sticky rice is usually served as a side.
Technically crying tiger calls for a specific cut of beef; the brisket. There are many stories explaining the origin of the name, but the one I like best is that the brisket is so chewy even the tiger cannot eat it ... so it cries!! How sad! But the chewiness is why the steak is always very thinly sliced.
Nowadays people make crying tiger using other (better) cuts that don't involve any tears or jaw pain (and I don't recommend you use brisket for this), but really the most important thing here is the marinade; the dipping sauce if you want something very Thai.
More classic must-try Thai recipes for the grill
FAQ About This Marinade Recipe
You can use an additional 1 Tbsp of soy sauce instead of the 1 ½ Tbsp of oyster sauce. You can also buy vegetarian oyster sauce which is usually labeled as "vegetarian stir fry sauce" and it should have a similar consistency to oyster sauce.
Yes! You can add another 1-2 teaspoons for a sweeter, more teriyaki-ish flavours. Or you can reduce it to 1 teaspoon if you prefer it less sweet, though I suggest not omitting it altogether because it helps with getting those nice grill marks.
Marinated steaks, especially one with sugar like this one, are better suited for the grill. If you pan-sear, the marinade will more easily burn with full contact with the hot oil. So without a grill, I recommend doing a quick sear on the pan just to get it nice and browned, then finishing it off on a rack in the oven.
Yep! This definitely works with pork, chicken, lamb, and any other meats you would grill.
Have leftover steaks? Try using them in these recipes!
Thai Marinated Grilled Steak with "Jeaw" Dipping Sauce (Crying Tiger)
Nam Jim Jeaw Dipping Sauce
- Any cut of steaks you like for the grill will work. Keep in mind that for marinated steaks, you want to stick with something thin. I'm using flatiron in the video, but flank, skirt and hanger steaks are examples of great cuts for the grill.
- Sticky rice is a classic accompaniment to Thai steaks, but these would go with any sides, Thai or not.
FULL VIDEO TUTORIAL
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- To make the marinade, pound the black pepper in a mortar and pestle into a powder, then add the garlic and pound into a fine paste. Add all remaining marinade ingredients and stir to mix well.½ tsp black peppercorns, 2 cloves garlic, 2 Tbsp soy sauce, 1 ½ Tbsp oyster sauce, 2 tsp sugar, 1 Tbsp lime juice, 2 Tbsp neutral oil
- Place the steaks into a dish just big enough to hold them in one layer, or put them in a freezer bag. Add the marinade and move the steaks around to ensure they're thoroughly coated.1.5 lb steaks
- Marinate the steaks for a minimum of 3 hours and up to overnight. Bring the steaks out 1 hour before grilling so they will not be too cold and will cook more evenly.Note: Marinated steaks, especially ones with sugar like this, are better suited for the grill. Pan searing is fine but the marinade will more easily burn with direct contact to the hot oil. So without a grill, I would recommend doing a quick sear on the pan just to get it nice and browned, then finishing it off on a rack in the oven.
- Grill the steaks to your preferred doneness. I like grilling them on high heat with the lid open to ensure they have nice grill marks. See the video above for more grilling tips.
For the Nam Jim Jeaw dipping sauce
- In a small bowl, combine the tamarind, fish sauce, lime juice and palm sugar and stir until the sugar is mostly dissolved. Stir in the shallots and the chili flakes and set aside while you make the toasted rice powder; don't worry about any undissolved sugar chunks.2 Tbsp tamarind paste, 1 Tbsp fish sauce, 1 Tbsp lime juice, 1 Tbsp palm sugar, 2 Tbsp minced shallots or chopped green onion, ½ teaspoon roasted chili flakes
- Make the toasted rice powder: In a dry skillet, add the rice and toast it over medium high heat, stirring constantly, until the grains are deep brown (see video for the colour you're going for). Pour onto a plate to cool, then grind in a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder into a mostly-fine powder.1 Tbsp uncooked jasmine or sticky rice
- Close to serving time, stir the sauce; the sugar should now be completely dissolved, and if there are a few stubborn chunks, they can be easily smushed with the back of a spoon. Stir in the toasted rice powder and cilantro or mint.3 sprigs cilantro or mint