Yields: 10 servings
6-¼ to 6-½ quarts water
10 lemongrass stalks (2 bunches), depending on the size
1 dozen beef bones (the more, the sweeter the broth will be)
2-½ pounds beef shanks
1 yellow onion, peeled
1 (4-inch) chunk fresh ginger
1 teaspoon MSG (optional)
4 tablespoons canola oil
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
6 shallots, finely chopped
4 tablespoons nước mắm (fish sauce)
2 teaspoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon red chili powder, to taste
1 teaspoon paprika, for color
2 (8-ounce) packages rice noodles, boiled
1/3 cup salt
4 teaspoons mushroom seasoning salt (or regular salt)
1 chunk rock sugar (about 2 ounces), or (3-½ tablespoons granulated sugar)
1 white onion (milder in flavor), thinly sliced
6 sprigs Thai basil
6 sprigs Vietnamese mint
6 sprigs tía tô (see tips)
6 sprigs rau răm (see tips)
2 tablespoons ngò gai (see tips), optional
3 tablespoons cilantro
2 cups red cabbage, shredded
4 cups iceberg lettuce
3 tablespoons green onions, chopped
14 fresh red bird chile peppers
1 jar mắm ruốc (shrimp paste), optional
1 package chả lụa gà (see tips), sliced
3 limes, cut into wedges
3 cups bean sprouts
For the lemongrass purée: Wash the lemongrass stalks. Remove all the white powder from the leaves. Cut the stalks in half. Bruise the younger part using a mallet and reserve for making the broth. Cut the remaining stalks into extremely thin slices using a sharp chef’s knife. In amortar and pestle, grind the thin slices of lemongrass, then transfer and mix everything using a mini food processor. It should turn into a fine, moist powder. Set aside.
For the beef broth:
In a pot, soak the beef bones in about a quart of water with 1 tablespoon of salt overnight. The next day, rinse the bones and beef shanks, place them in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Drain the water. Rinse the bones under running water and set aside. This step is important to get clear broth before starting the long slow-cooking.
Char the ginger: Wash the whole unpeeled ginger; pat dry. Place a grill on your stove, then char all the skin of the ginger. Wrap in aluminum foil. Let cool for about 10 minutes. Wash the ginger under running water; the blackened skin will come right off. Bruise the ginger using a mallet to loosen the flesh and help release its flavor.
Making bún bò Huế broth:
Fill a 12-quart stockpot with 6-¼ quarts of water. Bring to a boil.
In another stockpot, heat some oil. Add 5 shallots. Cook over medium-low heat for about 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent the shallots from burning, until the color is evenly golden brown.
Increase the heat to the highest setting and place the beef bones and beef shanks, 2 tablespoons of puréed lemongrass and the reserved lemongrass stalks. Sear the beef shanks until golden. Add 2 tablespoons of fish sauce. Stir for a minute and remove the beef shanks and transfer to a platter.
Add the charred ginger and whole yellow onion to the beef bones. Cover with boiling water. Bring the liquid back to a boil, then lower the heat to a bubbly simmer. Cook for about 30 minutes and add the beef shanks, then cook for an additional 1-½ hours. Regularly skim the impurities rising to the surface of the broth using a fine mesh strainer. Add salt, mushroom powder, rock sugar and MSG if you choose to. Cook for another 30-45 minutes.
Fish out the beef shanks using a slotted spoon; transfer to a cutting board. Allow to cool and slice the meat (no need to slice them too thin). Make sure the beef shanks are sliced against the grain to ensure optimum tenderness.
Remove the beef bones, cover with cold water and set aside for about 15 minutes. (Note: The method used to ensure that the meat does not darken as the broth cools down is basically the same procedure as that used to keep vegetables a bright green color). Drain the water from the beef bones, then refrigerate until it’s time to serve.
Leave the broth on the lowest setting of your stove while making thesate chile sauce.
For the chile topping (this step is called “sate“):
Finely chop 5 red Thai chiles; reserve the rest as garnish for later.
In a small pan, heat the oil and add the chopped garlic and shallots. Cook until slightly golden. Lower the heat. Add the rest of the puréed lemongrass and the very finely chopped red chiles. Cook for about 5 minutes until very fragrant. Let cool a little and blend the mixture in a mini-blender (this step is optional). Add sugar, red chili powder, paprika and the fish sauce. Stir well and add a ladleful of the broth. Pour all the contents of the saucepan into the big stock pot. The broth should be red, fragrant and properly seasoned.
Remove and discard the lemongrass stalks.
Let the soup come back to a boil for a last time, then remove the pot from the stove. It’s ready! Fill each bowl with rice noodles, sliced white onion, beef bones and the sweet spicy broth.
Serve immediately. Garnish with chả lụa gà pieces, lime wedges, bean sprouts, red cabbage and the Asian herbs on the side.
Call your gang as soon as each bowl is ready, then dig in!