Bún Bò Huế is a popular beef noodle soup originating from the ancient imperial capital of Vietnam. The soup has a great combination of salty, sweet, sour and spicy with a strong citrus fragrance. This soup is served with a plate of condiments including various herbs, vegetables and rice vermicelli noodles. To get the right balance of flavors require boiling pork bones and beef shank with lemongrass and fermented fish sauce for hours. Spicy chili oil is added to the broth during the process to add a kick. Bún bò in Huế is not the fiery spicy broth that most people associate with in the US. It is a generally mild and complex broth. The spiciness is added according to people’s taste afterward. This is my mom’s recipe that she learned from a famous Bún Bò Huế vendor in Huế.
Difficulty: Medium / Servings: 8 bowls / Time: 3-4 hours to prepare
1/4 cup of ruoc (shrimp sauce)
6 quarts water
1 lb boneless eye round roast beef
4 lb. pork small knuckle
3 lb pork leg chop
2 lb beef shank
2 lb pork leg bone
2 large yellow onion
1 large green chili pepper (korean green pepper)
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon of fish sauce
4 tablespoons of rock sugar
6-8 scallions / green onions
6 small red chili peppers
1 lb. of lemongrass stalk (equivalent to 2 bunches / 6 stalks per bunch)
a bunch of cilantro for garnish
1/3 cup of ground red pepper to make chili oil (I like to use the Korean ground chili as it is slightly sweeter)
ground black pepper
4 cups of chicken broth or water to supplement the evaporated broth during the cooking process
A. Prepare the fermented fish paste / rouc:
In a bowl, add 1/4 cup shrimp sauce to 4 cups of water. Stir to incorporate and let the mixture sit for at least 1 hour. Allow the sediment to settle to the bottom. The goal is to get the “clear” water infused with shrimp sauce for the broth. (This trick came from a famous noodle vendor in order to make a smooth and not pungent broth).
B. Prepare the bones:
Boil a pot of water, add the pork bone, knuckle and beef shank and boil the meat/bones for approximately 5 minutes. The goal is for the boiling water to clean any impurities out of the meat before using them to make the broth. If the pork skin has some hair, use a tweezers and pluck it out.
Once the impurities float to the top, dump out all of the bones into a clean sink and rinse.
In a large bowl with clean water, add 1 large spoon of salt and wash the bones in the salty water. This will help cure any smell.
C. Prepare the broth:
In a large stock pot, boil 6 quarts of water.
Prepare the ingredients for the broth:
Rinse the lemongrass stalk. Cut off the end of the lemongrass and discard. Cut the stalk into 3 sections and tie together with a string.
Add the meat and bones to the boiling water and let it boil for 30 minutes. Skim the impurities that float to the top.
After 30 minutes, add 2 tablespoons of salt, 4 tablespoons of rock sugar and lemongrass to the broth. Continue to boil the meat and bones and skim any impurities.
After another 30 minutes, turn the heat to medium to simmer. Add 3 cups of clear “shrimp sauce” water to the broth. Make sure not to stir any sediment up. Let the broth simmer for 40 minutes.
25 minutes into the 40 minutes boiling session, season the broth with the following:
1/2 teaspoon of ground pepper, 1 whole peeled onion, 1 Splenda packet (in place of MSG or you can add 1 teaspoon of MSG), 1 tablespoon of regular sugar, 1/4 cup of fish sauce
After 40 minutes, turn the heat to low. Add 4 cups of low sodium chicken broth to the stock so the stock level is back to the original line. (*Normally one would add water to the stock to replace the liquid that has evaporated during the cooking process. My mom likes to add low sodium chicken broth instead to create a richer broth.)
Season the stock with 1 tablespoon of fish sauce, 1/4 cup of chili oil (see step D below) and 3 white portion of the scallions
Remove the beef shank and rinse with cold water. Let the meat rest for 15 minutes before thinly slicing the meat. Set aside.
Thinly slice raw eye round beef and set aside in the fridge until you are ready to serve.
D. Prepare the chili oil (do this while the broth simmers):
In a small pot, add 1 cup of corn or vegetable oil and heat on high. Add 1 stalk of scallion to the oil. When the scallion starts to brown, turn off the heat and take it off the stove. Let the oil cool for 1 minute.
Add 1/3 cup of red chili powder to the oil and stir. Do not let the chili powder burn.
Using a strainer, strain the oil into a bowl and discard the chili powder. We will only need a small portion of this oil for the recipe, store the rest for later use. This oil will last for weeks in the fridge.
E. Prepare the condiments (do this while the broth simmer):
Cut each lime into 8 slices and dice the green chili pepper. Take the stem off the red chili pepper.
Thinly slice the red cabbage. (*Bún Bò Huếis traditionally served with a plate of thinly sliced banana flower (bap choui non). Since that is hard to get in the US, use red cabbage for the crunch.)
Rinse bean sprouts and mint.
Garnish: Rough chop the cilantro and thinly slice 1 yellow onion. Dice the scallions.
F. Boil noodles (do this while the broth simmer):
Boil water in a pot big enough to submerge the noodles. When the water boils, add vermicelli noodles. Add a few teaspoons of oil so the noodles do not stick together.
Once the noodles are translucent and al dente, strain and rinse with cold water.
A trick to cook noodles faster is to soak the noodles in cold water for 1 hour. The noodles then will be cooked within 12-15 minutes.
Add a handful of noodles to the bottom of the bowl.
Add a few slices of beef shank and 1 pork knuckle per bowl. (Normally there is also clotted pig blood but we did not include this since it is hard to find in the US supermarket).
Thinly slice the beef round and add some slices into a ladle and dunk it in simmering broth. Pour the broth into the bowl. (*Do not put that broth back into the pot as it will ruin the broth later). The raw beef should be cooked by the hot broth.
Fill the bowl with the rest of the broth and serve with a plate of vegetables. Top the bowl with red cabbage and bean sprouts.