Spicy, fiery red, and murky, the appearance of bún bò Huế is almost the antithesis of it’s better known Vietnamese soup counterpart, phở bò, which is valued for it’s clarity and pure clean flavors. Although both have beef as it’s main ingredient, it would be a gross injustice to call a spicy version of pho. It’s an entirely different animal altogether with flavors stewed from the marrows of both beef and pork bones along with stalks of bruised lemongrass. The clear broth is then infused with a spicy and wonderous medley of red annato oil, crushed chile peppers, more lemongrass, along with a generous dollop of pungent minced fish paste. If you’re not already salivating by now, you should be. Ladled over thick rice noodles, common toppings include sliced beef shank, ham hock, cooked pork blood, pork patties called chả Huế, and finally plenty of fresh herbs. Hungry yet?
If you’re from Huế , you’ll just call it bún bò, but anywhere else in the world, you’ll call it bún bò Huế. We just call it pure goodness. You can make this goodness in your own home and it’s not that hard to do. The two main steps are making the broth and seasoning spice. Although the entire process might take about 4-6 hours (sometimes we simmer the broth overnight), the amount of time active cooking is minimal as you’ll see in the video.
Since we always make a huge pot (32 qt) of bún bò Huế, friday or saturday evenings are favorite times undertake this ritual so we can invite friends and family to enjoy over the weekend. Also, a little work goes a long way. The spice mix used to flavor the broth can be kept refrigerated for months to satisfy a bún bò Huế craving any time. To save time, we use a pre-package mix and supplement it with our own spices. Use this recipe as a guide, if you’re using a much smaller pot adjust your ingredients accordingly for smaller portions.
Bun Bo Hue Recipe
Yield: Serves at least 15 large bowls
32 qt pot
6 lb pork bones
6 lb beef bones
3 lb beef shank
14 qt water
1-2 lbs sliced ham hocks
1/4 cup salt
1/4 cup sugar
3 tbs fine shrimp paste
10-12 stalks of lemongrass, using only the white and green ends, bruise and tie together in bunches
1/4 whole pineapple (fresh if possible)
1 yellow onion, peeled
3/4 cup oil (grapeseed or olive oil)
3 tbs annatto seeds
1 packet of bún bò Huế seasoning
2 tbs minced garlic
2 tbs minced shallot
1/4 cup minced lemongrass
2-3 tbs chile pepper flakes (adjust according to your taste)
3 tbs fine shrimp paste
bun bo hue noodles, cooked al dente according to directions and drained
precooked pork blood
cha hue or cha lua
sliced banana blossom (see this post on how to prepare)
fine shrimp paste
clean the bones: In large stock pot, add the pork and beef bones and enough water to cover. Bring to boil and immediately dump out the water and bones in a clean sink, wash the pot and then rinse the bones, placing them back into the pot.
broth: Add bones, water, beef shank, pork hock, lemongrass, pineapple, onion, shrimp paste, salt, and sugar and bring to boil. With a fine mesh strainer occasionally remove any gunk that rises to the top. Then reduce the heat to lowest setting to simmer. The pork hocks should take about 45 min-1 hr to cook--when the skin is tender, remove and set aside. The 3lbs of beef shank takes roughly 3 hrs to cook. To see if the beef shank is cooked, poke a chopstick into the center, it should slide in with minimal pressure. If there is no blood oozing out, then it's done. Remove and place in water bath to avoid discoloration and set aside until ready to slice.
After removing the hocks and shank, continue to simmer the broth under low heat partially covered for at least another 1 hour (roughly minimum of 4 hours total--but you can simmer longer and overnight even) to get all the sweetness from the marrow bones. At this point, you can remove the bones, pineapple, etc. and strain the broth if you like. Otherwise, you can leave the bones in and scoop around it. Season broth to taste with additional shrimp paste and or salt/sugar.
spice mix: Steep the annatto seed in hot oil until it becomes amber red, and remove from heat and strain and discard seeds. In large saute pan on medium, heat the anatto oil, add garlic, minced lemongrass, minced shallots, and seasoning packet. Saute a few minutes until the mixture becomes fragrant. Remove from heat and mix in fine shrimp paste. Allow to cool and transfer to storage container. This lasts for months.
accompaniments: Slice beef shank thinly, cube pork blood, slice the cha. Prepare the noodles, shred the cabbage and banana blossom, rau ram, etc.
putting it all together: Add the spice mix to the broth according to your level of desired spiciness. You can now season the entire large pot with the spice mix according to your taste, or do what we do, season only the amount of broth you're going to serve and adjusting the level of spiciness to your guest's tastes. Ladle over prepared bowls of noodles and enjoy.
Cooks Notes: If you're making this in the evening, after removing the shank and hock, you can leave the pot on the lowest heat setting to simmer the bones over night. But please use caution and never do this if your pot is too small and broth is close to brim!
Just a few notes on the beef shank and the noodles. The shank is a tough cut because of abundant tendon and sinew, but that’s precisely why it’s good. We like the meat of the shank soft but tendon still chewy so we cook our 3 lb tendon roughly 3 hours. It’s not often found in regular markets so get this at your Asian market. The rice noodles for bún bò Huế is also much thicker, just smaller than your banh canh or udon noodles. It should be cooked al dante, firm and just slightly chewy and not mushy soft. Recently our favorite pot to cook noodles for soups and pasta is the Bialetti 5 qt pasta pot. We love the functionality: it’s nonstick interior, heat resistant handles, and lock lid strainer. But it’s also gorgeous and it has a vaunted spot on our stove next to our cherry red le creuset for everyday use such as making canh. We’re happy to say that the nice folks at Bialetti will be giving away a 5 qt pasta pot to a lucky reader in favorite color (also comes in tourquoise and purple!) To enter:
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Contest ends Sunday 1/1 at midnight! Winners will be selected randomly and notified by email. Thank you everyone for entering, the winner is Tudo!
Disclosure: We were provided the pot to test, but the opinions are our own.
Before starting each meal, the Vietnamese will say “moi” (adding kinh makes it more respectful) to each other, inviting friends and family to enjoy the meal. So enjoy our bún bò Huế recipe, and..
This is our contribution to the final Delicious Vietnam, hosted by Anh of Food Lovers Journey. It’s been a great two year run, check out all the previous posts for a great collection of Vietnamese recipes from around the globe!