by: Mr Robot
For some reason I got it into my head that this beef & lemongrass delight was called Bun ho Hue rather than Bun bo Hue so I fear I've been saying something absolutely dreadful for the last fortnight. So in the finest tradition of men everywhere - I'm deeply sorry for whatever it was I said.
I wouldn't have persisted with my error quite so long were it not such an involved dish: I'd planned to cook it last week but given the vast array of meat needed, I had to put a special order in with the butcher (who did us proud as always) and try to control my impatience.
|Crucial to any good recipe: vast amounts of MEAT|
Pork bones, shin of beef, pork hock and oxtail all get simmered together for about 3 hours to make a wondrously rich broth served over noodles. Simple eh?
Well kind of, but there's plenty of other stuff going on - not least 12 stalks of lemongrass (basically clearing out Asda's supply for the week) - along with onion, ginger, garlic and pineapple. Supposedly rock sugar too but all I could find was palm so that had to do.
|Lemongrass, and lots of it. Also pineapple, onion, ginger, sugar and shrimp paste|
And of course I needn't have worried. Not only is the shrimp paste distributed in several litres of liquid (I'd kind of over-ordered on the meat!) but the hours of simmering cooked out the fishiness to leave an intense savouriness. A bit like people say anchovies will, only they lie.
In fact it was a fascinating process. Early on the smell (and an unwise tasting) was pretty grim and I feared we'd end up with a horrible waste, in every sense. But as the afternoon wore on it just smelled better and better.
This is a recipe that demands faith of its followers, yea verily and they shalt be rewarded.
|A big pot o' love|
|Sorry but it actually was pulled|
At this stage I did take the opportunity to remove the bigger lumps of fat and strip the oxtail from the bones. I've no doubt this would give any self-respecting Vietnamese person the shudders but I'm still dealing with the trauma of my Grandmother's cookery so believe me, it was for the best.
From there it's very simple - pile noodles, meat, broth and garnishes in a bowl and start grunting.
|Do not forget the trimmings|
As with so many of these recipes though, the garnish isn't some optional extra - it's vital to the overall balance of the dish. So far we have a bowl of complexity but huge - in fact challenging - richness. You need something to balance that out: in this case lime, blanched onion, chilies and coriander leaves give acidity an freshness and take the whole thing up a level.
In fact Mrs R commented that my laying thin slices of lime on top of the warm broth caused the lime scent to rise above the bowl making the whole thing more aromatic. Naturally I feel quite smug about that even though I'd only done it to look pretty. Remember that then.
I should also have had beansprouts on there but due to the delay getting my meat in, they'd gone a bit manky, which was a shame because they would have given a nice textural difference. As it was the only crunch was from the onions and of course I didn't want to overdo those.
Overall this is a lengthy operation - a good four hours start to finish - but it's quite undemanding and most of that time is your own. Given the quantity and variety of meats I'd consider this an Occasion dish, for which a 4-hour simmering one-pot is ideal, and could see it making a great alternative for those jaded by the Christmas turkey. Because what you get after all that time and very little effort is something rich, fragrant, complex and comforting - it felt like a real treat on a miserable grey weekend.
Update: Mercifully the recipe makes a HUGE quantity and after accidentally losing a whole day to the pub, I can testify that it's a wonderful restorative for the filthily hungover...
As ever, if you were hoping to blag a free recipe here you’ll be disappointed – we don’t do that. These cooks need to make a living just like anyone else. However you can buy a signed copy of the book direct from MiMi's website, and isn't that much better really?
All images (c) PP Gettins