Monday, January 31, 2011

Vietnamese Crab Noodle Soup (Bun Rieu Cua)

Soup is customarily served for breakfast in Vietnam. Phó, as it's known,
translates as "your own bowl," since it's one of the few meals where the
food is not passed around and shared. Phó are big bowls of steaming
noodle soup, with raw meat or seafood and any number of other
ingredients added at the last minute, like bean sprouts, cilantro, basil,
chili peppers, lime slices, and green onions, that all cook in the broth
while it's brought to the table. Phó can be spiced with fish sauce (nuoc
chili-garlic sauce and hoisin sauce, which are served on the side
in small dishes.

Small soups, by contrast, are served as first courses, and generally 

don't have noodles. They're served in small portions and are called Sup. 
The famous Sup Mang Tay, or Crab and Asparagus Soup is in this category, 
as well as Sup Nam Trang, a wonderfully complex soup of crab, shrimp, 
and dried white fungus.

Finally, the class of soups known as Canh are generally served family
style, out of one big bowl, and are then often spooned into smaller
bowls at the table with rice. They are generally light, and can be served
as a first course to whet the appetite. These include Canh Sa Lach Soan
(Watercress-Shrimp Soup), Canh Chua Tom (Hot and Sour Shrimp and
Lemongrass Soup), and Canh Chua Ca (Hot and Sour Tamarind Fish Soup).

While staying at Six Senses in Ninh Van Bay, I enjoyed Bun Rieu Cua, a
Vietnamese Crab Meat and Noodle Soup, for breakfast one morning. 

It's wonderfully flavourful and could also be served for lunch or dinner, 
as a main or soup course. One garnish that I noticed was served 
with many Vietnamese dishes, was Fried Shallots. They are sprinkled 
overtop soups, Pho, noodle dishes and even inside fresh spring rolls, 
and add a mild crunchy texture to otherwise mild flavoured dishes, as 
well as adding a decorative flourish to any presentation.

Vietnamese Crab Meat and Noodle Soup (Bun Rieu Cua)
Serves 5

2 tbsp dried shrimp, soaked in warm water
1 packet of vermicelli noodles (bun)
12 cups chicken stock
1/4 lb of ground pork
1 cup of crab meat, fresh or canned, drained
14 oz can of crab meat paste in spices (Lee Brand or other)
1 tbsp finely chopped shallots
1/2 tsp fine shrimp paste
1/2 tbsp of fish sauce
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/2 tbsp of sugar
4 large eggs, beaten
16 small grape tomatoes, halved
2 cups medium sized fried tofu, cut into 1" pieces
2 tbsp tomato paste

chopped green onion, sliced on a diagonal 
cilantro and mint sprigs
lime wedges
bean sprouts
crispy fried shallots (see below)

Soak dried shrimps in warm water until softened, about 1 hour. Then finely mince in a small food processor and set aside.

Cook the vermicelli noodles according to packet instructions, and set aside. Add chicken stock to a large pot and bring to a boil.

In the meantime, make the crab mixture. Combine ground pork, fresh canned crab, crab meat paste in spices, shallots, fine shrimp paste, fish sauce, coarsely chopped dried shrimps, pepper, and sugar. Add the beaten eggs and mix well. When the stock comes to a boil, slowly add this crab mixture into the stock. Then add the tomatoes and tofu and bring to boil again. Finally, season stock with additional salt or fish sauce. Mix in tomato paste for a nice distinctive reddish coloured broth. This is the Bun Rieu.

Add vermicilli noodles to individual serving bowls and ladle on the Bun Rieu. Serve alongside a  platter of mixed garnishes: chopped green onion, cilantro, mint, lime and bean sprouts.

Crispy Fried Shallots

4 tbsp vegetable oil
6 shallots, thinly sliced

Heat the oil in a wok or skillet over medium heat and stir-fry the shallots for 2-3 minutes, until golden brown and crispy. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels. Store immediately in an airtight container to keep crisp.

Desserts in Vietnam usually follow one of two directions: french-inspired sweets such as creme brulé, bananas flambé, rice or tapioca pudding; or an assortment of fresh local fruit, such as passion fruit, jack fruit, papaya or watermelon, as pictured above. Light and refreshing, a mixed platter of exotic fruits offer guests an opportunity to sample a little taste of Vietnam's seasonal bounty. One note on the passionfruit: it can be a bit sour, but if you add a teaspoon of simple syrup overtop, it makes a very tasty and dramatic presentation.