Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Cooking With BA: Learning Family Recipes - Bun Rieu

Cooking with BA

We've been learning to cook some of my favorite Vietnamese dishes with my parents, which really reminded us of this great Japanese cooking series on Youtube titled "Cooking with Dog". If you ever want to learn how to cook wonderful Japanese food, this web series is the best.

The picture above is a really good example of what cooking with my dad is like, casual, meticulous and with lots of beer for when we're waiting for the stock to come to a boil. We recently asked to learn how to cook a soupy noodle dish called Bun Rieu (a pork broth, crab/egg, tomato noodle soup that's not spicy, but tart and sour). Sounds good huh? Cooking with BA (Vietnamese for Dad) isn't like a typical cooking class. Mike was poised and ready to prep cook and help, but soon realize when you learn family recipes you simply sit back and watch because these recipes aren't ever written down, they are tinkered with and you learn simply by observing.

We started off by boiling two small racks of pork short ribs, cut into individual ribs (for easy snacking later).

Stew Pork Short Ribs

After the initial boil, we discarded the scummy water and put the ribs back into clean water where we got a clear broth without all the impurities. Next we sat back, drank our beers and watch as BA casually and skillfully cut up the tofu, tomatoes, onions, green onions, leeks and garlic.


Next he cracked 5 eggs into a bowl and added a crab paste with bean oil, which will eventually turn into the steam crab/egg mixture in the soup.

Crab Paste in Bean OilMixing the topping

Then we got to cooking, starting with sauteing garlic, onions and shallots in a pot with enough oil to coat the bottom of the pot.

Sauting Garlic, Shallots, Onions

Once the garlic/onion/shallots were tender and translucent we added a whole bunch of paprika until it was combined and starting to stick to the bottom of the pot. Then the magic happened and we deglazed with broth from the spare ribs and then just added all the broth and spare ribs to the pot, which turned into this rich red soup base.

DeglazingSoup Base

Next we seasoned with salt, sugar, tamarind soup base (for sourness) and a fermented shrimp paste (for muskiness). Once the soup was at a flavor we liked we added the garnishes of tofu, tomatoes and green onions (which BA expertly split at the ends of the whites so they'd bloom in the soup).

Colorful Soup BaseAlmost Done

At this point we thought the soup was good enough to eat, but then comes the best part and what puts the "Rieu" in the "Bun Rieu", the egg/crab-in-bean-oil mixture was gently laid on top of the soup, covered to steam and become cake-like.

Final TouchReady to Serve

That's basically it, now all that's left is to set up the bowls with garnishes and ladle in the soup. But we had to wait until later to eat our bowls because we already had dinner plans and had to wait until the next day.

HerbsFresh HerbsPrepping bowlsBun Rieu

Traditionally Bun Rieu is served with rice noodles, morning glory greens (that have been split and curled) and lemon balm herbs for a citrus aroma. Morning glory isn't in season so none of the Asian food markets had any so we improvised and used the greens from our hot pot dinner. BA kept saying Bun Rieu is a very personal dish to each person's tastes and preference. Initially I thought yeah, yeah, yeah, I'm sure it's delicious, but once we dug into our first bowl we realized we would have used less of the crab mixture and less of the fermented bean paste (it was muskier than we would have preferred). But at least now we know how to make one of the most quintessential soups in Vietnam and we're armed with a written recipe so we can start tinkering on our own. Thanks BA, again another awesome dish to add to our cooking repertoire.

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