A deliciously spicy and fragrant Vietnamese beef noodle soup with lots of fresh herbs and garnishes.
For the soup broth
For the satay
To blanch the bones
To make the soup broth
To season the soup broth
To make the satay
USING SHRIMP PASTE
I prefer to use only a tiny amount – enough to give a salty and funky kick, but not so much that it takes centre stage. If you are new to using shrimp paste, I also recommend that you only start with a small amount in this recipe. Otherwise, for seasoned shrimp paste lovers, you can add up to 1 tablespoon (or more) of shrimp paste to this broth. Each person can also add shrimp paste directly to the bowl of soup for more punch.
For Bun Bo Hue, try to find thick round vermicelli noodles. They should almost look like thick dried spaghetti, but white in colour. Some Asian brands even indicate “Bun Bo Hue” on the packaging. At a pinch, regular thin vermicelli noodles will work too.
HOW MUCH BROTH PER PERSON
For a generous serving, I like to give each person approximately 600 ml (about 2½ cups or 3 large ladles) of broth. This should give the cook an idea of how many noodles per serving, keeping in mind that the noodles will absorb some of the broth once added, and you want enough broth in the bowl for some slurping action.
MAKE IT WITH BEEF BONES
You can substitute the oxtail for beef short ribs. In which case, you could leave out the beef brisket as the short ribs will provide plenty of meat for the dish. Alternatively, use a mixture of oxtail and beef short ribs; the bones in the short ribs add additional flavour to the broth, and if you choose meaty short ribs, you can serve the meat with the soup later. When choosing oxtail, I prefer to use small to medium pieces, especially if you plan to serve them as part of the meal. However, for Bun Bo Hue, you will still need the pork trotters which give a distinct sweetness and flavour to the broth.
SEASONING THE BROTH
This is perhaps the trickiest part of the recipe if you are a novice cook. Knowing how to balance the flavours in a recipe takes practice, and how you like your broth will be different to how others like it. If you cooked your broth at a slightly higher temperature than I did for 3 hours, more water would evaporate during cooking, and your broth might turn out more concentrated, thus requiring some diluting with water at the end. Similarly, different brands of fish sauce vary in saltiness. But if you have followed the above recipe to the letter and you think the broth is still missing something, don’t be afraid to add a dash of MSG or crumble in a beef stock cube. Vietnamese home cooks do this all of the time!
HOW TO STORE THE BROTH
The broth keeps well in the fridge for several days and will turn jelly-like once cold. If you have made a large batch, you can freeze the broth in freezer bags. I recommend freezing the broth without the satay added, and to make the satay fresh when you want to defrost the broth.
All of the components of this dish should be kept separately in the fridge.