If you find yourself in the imperial city of Hue, Vietnam, don’t miss a bowl of a local favorite, bun bo Hue, fragrant Hue beef noodle soup. On his “Parts Unknown” travel show, the late, great Anthony Bourdain sampled bun bo Hue on a fishing boat and deemed it the “greatest soup in the world.” He offered the following recipe to make at home when you find yourself missing Vietnam.
Bun bo Hue
Yield: 6 quarts
Excerpted from Secrets of the Red Lantern: Stories and Vietnamese Recipes from the Heart by Pauline Nguyen, recipes by Luke Nguyen and Mark Jensen
¼ cup shrimp paste
2 cups hot water
4½ pounds pork leg meat, skin on
4½ pounds shin beef
2 cups Asian fish sauce
3 white onions, sliced
4 cloves garlic, bruised
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cinnamon stick, lightly pounded
4 whole cloves
2 tablespoons cracked black pepper
¼ cup kosher salt
4½ pounds oxtail
2 lemongrass stems, bruised
1 bunch scallions, white stems lightly crushed, green part finely sliced
2 small bunches mint
2 tablespoons sugar
2 lemons, quartered
1 pound fresh bean sprouts
1 pound thick rice vermicelli, cooked per package instructions
Shrimp Paste and Chili Sauce (see recipe below) for serving
Dissolve the shrimp paste in the hot water and leave to steep for two hours. Strain the liquid and reserve, discarding the sediment. Marinate the pork leg and shin beef in 1 cup of the fish sauce for one hour.
Stir-fry two of the sliced onions and the garlic in 2 tablespoons of the oil until soft and translucent. Wrap in a piece of cheesecloth along with the cinnamon, cloves and black pepper, and set aside. Add 12 quarts of water to a very large stockpot with the remaining fish sauce, kosher salt, and oxtail, and bring to a boil. Skim impurities from the stock as they rise to the surface. Once boiled, decrease the heat to a simmer, and skim constantly for 30 minutes.
Put the shin beef, pork leg, lemongrass, the white part of the scallions, half the mint, and the cheesecloth bag in the pot and return to a boil. Decrease the heat to a slow simmer and continue to cook for 1½ hours, skimming regularly. Carefully remove all of the meat from the stock and set aside.
Add the shrimp paste liquid and sugar and continue to cook at a slow simmer for one hour or until reduced by half. Strain the soup through a fine sieve layered with cheesecloth into another saucepan and allow to cool. The broth can be stored for three days in the refrigerator or frozen for up to three months.
To serve the bun bo Hue, allow 1⅔ cups of stock per person and bring the amount of stock to a boil. Slice the shin beef and pork leg into ⅛-inch-thick slices. Place a handful of vermicelli noodles into individual serving bowls and layer three slices of beef, three slices of pork and one oxtail in each bowl over the noodles. Put 2 teaspoons of the Shrimp Paste and Chili Sauce on top of the meats and top with the boiling stock. Garnish each bowl with some onion rings and slices from the green part of the scallions. Serve with lemon wedges, mint, and bean sprouts on the side, plus fresh sliced chilies (optional), pure fish sauce, and extra Shrimp Paste and Chili Sauce for dipping.
Shrimp Paste and Chili Sauce
Yield: 1 cup
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup ground garlic
2 lemongrass stems, finely chopped
¼ cup chili flakes
½ cup chili oil
2 tablespoons shrimp paste
Place a saucepan over medium heat, pour in the vegetable oil, and fry the garlic until light brown. Remove the garlic from the oil and set aside. Add the lemongrass and chili flakes to the oil and fry for two minutes, until lightly browned. Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the chili oil to stop the cooking process. Add the fried garlic back to the oil along with the shrimp paste and mix well to combine.
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