Any good cook will tell you that soups are a labour of love. Generally, they take time and a little bit of effort, but like any thing that is worth waiting for, they are absolutely heartwarming. Soups, especially noodle soups, are my go to bowl of comfort. I love the combination of textures (solid and liquid, squishy and firm), the slurping, the messiness, the fun, the satisfaction.
But, the thing about good soups is that they can be elusive. Sometimes you don’t even know they exist. Case in point: bun bo hue, a spicy Vietnamese noodle soup that is absolutely addictive. Before Mike, even after eating countless bowls of Vietnamese noodles, I’d never heard or come across it.
When we started going out, Mike told me that bun bo hue was one of his favorite soups growing up. He took us out for a couple of bowls of BBH (as Mike and I lovingly call it) and I was addicted. I’ve been wanting to make BBH ever since. BBH isn’t quite as popular as pho and I’m not quite sure why. It might be because it’s from Central Vietnam or it might just be because it hasn’t yet made its way into the spotlight. But, if you look for it, you can find BBH specialists. There’s even a place down in San Diego that has a BYOP (bring your own pot) so you can bring home enough BBH for your whole family and then some.
BBH is spicy, sour, salty, and sweet all at once. The beef and pork based orangey broth’s main flavour is the delicate herbaceous of lemongrass. The rice noodles, are cylindrical and round, slippery and firm. The brisket is tender and the garnishes add the freshness you expect when eating a bowl of Vietnamese food.
I based this recipe off one I found in Charles Phan’s Vietnamese Home Cooking. I left out some bones and garnishes (I didn’t do the traditional cabbage, banana blossoms, perilla, or blood cubes) but it was still an incredibly tasty bowl of noodles. Mike and I slurped it up three days in a row and when we were done, we wanted more.
It was Mike’s birthday yesterday and this noodle soup is what I ended up making for his birthday dinner. I think noodle soup is the perfect way to celebrate the person I love most in this world. After all, love is like soup: warm and cozy, nourishing and filling. Love is the crook of your best friend’s arm as you fall asleep at dawn, bursting into laughter together over nothing at all, long lingering walks talking about everything and nothing. Love is the big things, the little things, and everything in between. Happy birthday baby!
Bun Bo Hue Recipe: Vietnamese Spicy Lemongrass Noodle Soup
adapted from Charles Phan’s Vietnamese Home Cooking
- 2 pounds oxtail, cut into 2- to 3-inch pieces
- 2 pounds beef shank bones, cut into 2- to 3-inch pieces (ask your butcher to do this)
- 2 pounds pork neck bones
- 1 pound beef brisket
- 8 lemongrass stalks
- 8 quarts water
- 1 1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon annatto seeds*
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 2 large shallots, sliced
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1/4 cup finely chopped lemongrass
- 2 teaspoons shrimp paste*
- 2 teaspoons fish sauce, or to taste
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- fresh rice noodles (round)
- Thai basil
- sliced green onions
- Lime wedges
- white onion, thinly sliced
In your largest pot (make sure it’s big enough to fit the bones and water to cover by 1 inch) bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Carefully add in the bones and boil for 3 minutes. Remove the bones and pour out the water. Rinse the bones under running water. This is to force out impurities and will make it so you’re skimming your broth less and will ensure a clearer stock.
When the bones are rinsed clean, return them to the pot (make sure you wash the pot first) and add in the brisket.
Cut the lemongrass stalks in half and discard the leafy tops. Bruise the remaining lemongrass and add it to the pot. Add 8 quarts of water and bring to a boil over high heat. When the stock comes to a boil, turn the heat down so it’s at a simmer. Skim off any scum as needed.
After 45 minutes of simmering, prepare and ice bath. Check the brisket to see if it is cooked through. Remove from the stock and poke it with a chopstick; the juices should run clear. (If needed return to the stock and cook for another 10 minutes.) When the brisket is cooked, plunge into the ice bath until cool. Remove from the ice bath, pat dry, wrap tightly and refrigerate.
Continue to simmer the stock with the bones for another two hours, skimming as needed. When the 2 hours are up, remove from the heat and scoop out the bones and set aside. Carefully strain the stock through a fine mesh sieve into another large stock pot. If desired, skim off the majority of the fat and then set the pot to a simmer over medium-low heat.
Cool the bones and remove the meat from the oxtails, set aside and reserve in the fridge. Discard the bones.
With a mortar and pestle, grind the red pepper flakes and annatto seeds into a coarse powder. Heat up the oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the ground red pepper flakes and annatto seeds and cook, stirring, for 10 seconds. Add the shallots, garlic, lemongrass, and shrimp paste and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes more, until the mixture is aromatic and the shallots are just beginning to soften.
Add the contents of the frying pan to the simmering stock along with the fish sauce and sugar and simmer for 20 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning with fish sauce and sugar as needed.
Get ready to plate! Arrange the basil, lime wedges, sliced green onions, and onion slices on a platter and place on the table. Thinly slice the brisket against the grain.
Cook the noodles according to the package and then divid among deep soup bowls. Top with brisket slices and a bit of oxtail meat. Ladle the hot stock over the noodles and beef and serve immediately, accompanied with the platter of garnishes. Enjoy!
You can find annatto seeds and shrimp paste at Asian grocers. I’ve also seen annatto seeds in Mexican food stores. The seeds add the red color as well as a nutty, peppery-sweet flavor to the stock.
PS – Mike really is the best husband. The other day, we went on a long rambly Tokyo walk with what I thought was no destination in mind. Eventually we ended up at a giant grocery store. (He totally planned it!) Sounds like a strange destination, but this man really knows what I love – shopping for groceries/looking at food :) Love you boo!