Saturday, 20 September 2014

Recipe Review: Bun bo Hue

From Noodle! by MiMi Aye

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.

selection of meat before cooking. Pork bones, pork hock, shin of beef, oxtail
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.

ingredients lemongrass, palm sugar, shrimp paste, onion, ginger, pineapple
Lemongrass, and lots of it. Also pineapple, onion, ginger, sugar and shrimp paste
One thing that gave me some concern was the shrimp paste. Four tablespoons of the stuff. It's an ingredient I treat with something between caution and terror being so very pungent and frankly waaaay too fishy for comfort. But if I've learned anything from MiMi's recipes it's to shut the fuck up and do as you're told. So I did.

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
So after a considerable period of lounging on the sofa saying things like, "Gosh that's starting to smell good" and, "Ooh I just got a big whiff of lemongrass" and, "Bollocks - I've just remembered I meant to save half that oxtail for something else" we eventually haul ourselves up to see what we've got.

Sorry but it actually was pulled
The recipe says to slice up the pork and beef but so very tender was it that I just gave it a Paddington hard stare and it basically dismantled itself. Perhaps that meant I'd overcooked it but it was so delicious I couldn't give a monkeys.

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


  1. Yes, Mr. Robot, "the trauma of Grandmother's cookery." For me, it was my father-in-law, who was a great gardener and really loved fresh good food, but had grown up on a farm with the absolute rule that nothing "edible" should be wasted. I grew up in a family that lived on casseroles and spag bol, so I couldn't begin to choke down the fat and gristle that was served up at Gib's table. This fussiness amused him no end, so there was no hiding the odd bits--clean plates! I think the worst, though, was the turkey soup he made after every holiday family gathering--not just fat and gristle, but little tiny bones from the turkey's spine and neck. Yeah, probably a good source of calcium, but I had to try to get my two children to smile happily over Grandpa's special soup and try to hide the bones. Your soup sounds wonderful and yes, the cook does need real bones for a stock and where the hell are they? Regards, Kate in Oregon

  2. Hi Kate, lovely to hear from you again. Hope all is well with you.

    So sorry to take so long to reply - it must seem terribly rude. We still haven't got the notifications sorted out. I suspect Mim has done something to the email but don't tell her I said that!

    That sounds, um, challenging! My grandmother was of the wartime generation, when "that's too grim for words" simply wasn't an option. I'm still haunted by the time I'd first learned - and then used - the phrase "pigswill", which didn't end well. As an adult I'm ashamed of that, but as an adult who cooks I kind of stand by it....

    There are so many foods I still can't deal with (RHUBARB! ANYTHING BUT RHUBARB!) because of that childhood awfulness. I'm sure you've heard the many many jokes about the English and what they do to cabbage and sprouts. I'm here to tell you they're all true!

    I'm minded to make a project of recovering those foods my Gran made dreadful - I'm sure there'd be a lot to gain from it. Except rhubarb.

    Take care


    1. Pete, let me send you a recipe for a rhubarb cake. If that sounds dreadful, I won't hold it against you--we all have our preferences. You can also make it with cranberries, to get the same sort of tartness. Let me know, and I'll get it to you.