Bun Bo Hue, a beef and pork noodle soup, has an imperial history and originates from the town of Hue located in central Vietnam. While this quick version features the essential spicy, fragrant mix of lemongrass and chile peppers, it takes several shortcuts—it’s made with beef only rather than the traditional beef and pork combination and it uses store-bought broth instead of making it from scratch with pork feet and beef shank.
Cut the tops off the lemongrass stalks, about 6 inches from the base. Bruise the tops with something heavy, like a meat mallet, and reserve for the broth. Peel off 2 or 3 of the woody outer layers from the base stalks until you reach the smoother, more tender core. Roughly chop the stalks and put in a food processor along with the garlic and shallots. Pulse about 20 times until everything is finely chopped, but not a paste.
Heat the vegetable oil over medium heat in a large saucepan. Add the chopped lemongrass mixture and cook until soft and starting to brown, about 6 minutes. Add the crushed red pepper and stir for 1 minute. Add 2 tablespoons fish sauce, 4 teaspoons sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened slightly, a spoon dragged across the pan leaves a trail and the oil is starting to separate from the solids. Remove all but 2 tablespoons of the lemongrass mixture from the pan and reserve.
Add the beef broth, 4 cups of water, and the bruised lemongrass tops to the saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook until it tastes like lemongrass, 15 to 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Turn off the heat and add the vermicelli noodles. Cook, stirring periodically, until tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain very well and divide among 4 large soup bowls.
Add the remaining tablespoon fish sauce, 1/2 teaspoon sugar and 3/4 teaspoon salt to the beef broth. Remove the lemongrass tops. Add the steak slices and gently simmer until no longer pink, about 2 minutes.
Top each bowl with slices of cooked beef, the white onion and cilantro. Pour hot broth into the bowls to completely cover the noodles.
Serve with the reserved lemongrass-chile mixture and suggested garnishes on the side.
This recipe has been updated to more accurately recognize its origin or to add cultural context. It may differ from what was originally published or broadcast.
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