Cookbook:Rice Noodle and Beef Soup of Hue (Bún bò Huế)
Bún bò Huế is a popular Vietnamese soup noodle dish which originated in the old imperial capital of Huế.
Ingredients for broth:
- 1 kg beef shank with cartilage – sliced into 2mm thick pieces. Ask your butcher. Chop the shank slices into various shapes of about 4cm x 4cm.
- 2 medium sized pigs feet – fresh, cut into 1 cm pieces. Discard the feet themselves
- 4 tablespoons Huế shrimp paste
- 1 small onion – finely chopped
- 2 stalks of lemongrass – chopped into 5-inch pieces
- 1 kg rice noodles – a noodle resembling spaghetti No 5. is preferred
- Nước mắm
- Red pigment powder – non-spicy for colouring
- Chilli powder
- Vegetable oil
- 1 bunch of cilantro – stems discarded and leaves chopped
- 1 bunch of Italian (flat leaf) parsley – stems discarded and leaves chopped
- 1 medium onion – finely chopped
- Limes - cut into wedges
- Fresh Chilli peppers
- Bean sprouts
- Banana blossom - thinly sliced
- Shrimp paste
- A large stockpot - 8-10 litres
- A large mixing bowl - 2.5 litres
- A small frying pan
Start by preparing the shrimp paste. In a large bowl, 2.5 litres, add shrimp paste and slowly pour in cold water while vigorously stirring the paste. Keep adding water and stirring until you’ve almost reached the rim of the bowl. Don’t let it spill over. Let the paste mixture rest in the bowl for 1.5 hours, to allow the mixture to settle.
Note: Shrimp paste is essential to this dish and cannot be considered Bún bò Huế without it. Different types of shrimp paste can be found all over Vietnam. Some are of better quality than others. Some purists believe that only Huế shrimp paste is acceptable for this dish as it is smoother and of superior quality than other pastes, which can have trace amounts of sand in them. Unfortunately, it can be hard to find outside of Vietnam, so an "inferior" paste may be substituted.
Sauté the small onion in 3 tbsp of oil until golden brown. In your stockpot, combine the cooked onion and pigs feet with 2 litres of water. Slowly bring it to the boil over medium heat. Add lemongrass and SLOWLY and CAREFULLY pour in the shrimp paste mixture making sure to only add the clear liquid not the silt that has settled at the bottom of the bowl. To the residual shrimp paste, add another litre of water and stir. Again, wait until the mixture has settled before adding it into the stockpot. Simmer the stock for 20 minutes.
Add the beef and occasionally skim the broth to ensure you get a nice clear liquid. Cook for another 20 minutes, checking the beef to be sure it’s not overcooked. Add fish sauce and sugar to taste to achieve a nice balance between salty and sweet.
While the broth is cooking, heat some oil in a pan and add the red pigment. Cook until the pigment is blended with the oil. Add to the stock. Repeat the process with the chilli powder.
Combine chopped parsley and cilantro leaves with the uncooked medium onion.
If you are using fresh noodles, simply add boiling water to heat them up. If you’re using dried noodles, soak them in boiling water until they are soft then dip in cold water to stop the cooking process. Do not over cook them or you’ll have mush. Dried noodles have already been cooked.
In a large soup bowl, place a handful of noodles, top with a handful of the parsley/cilantro/onion mixture, and ladle on generous amounts of steaming hot broth, ensuring there are several pieces of beef and pork.
You can add a squeeze of lime and chopped fresh chillies if you like your food extra spicy. It is also common to add a small dollop of shrimp paste to the soup, but those unfamiliar with the taste may not like it.