I can’t live without noodle soups... they are my everything. Take a nourishing broth and some protein, add noodles and you have one of the most satisfying things you can eat. From Japanese ramen to Malaysian laksa and har mee, Cambodian hu tieu nam vang and Cantonese wonton noodle soup, every Asian country has at least one iconic noodle soup. For me, the king of all noodle soups is Bún bò Huê, a spicy beef concoction that originated in Hue, central Vietnam. The broth hits all areas of your palate, fish sauce adds umami and the textures of braised pork hock, trotters and slippery noodles seal the deal.
Put the pork and beef bones, hocks, trotters and shins in a heavy-based stockpot and cover with cold water. Put over a high heat and bring to the boil. Once it has reached boiling point, remove from the heat and drain into a clean sink, discarding the water. Wash the bones and meat under running water to remove impurities, and wash out the inside of the pot.
Return the bones to the pot, then place the hocks, trotters and shins on top of them. Cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Skim off any scum that rises to the surface, then add the lemongrass, pineapple, onions and garlic. Simmer for 2½ hours.
Remove the hocks, trotters and shins and leave to cool. Keep simmering the stock for another 3 hours. When the pork hocks are cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bone in two pieces and slice thinly, about
Drain the stock and add the shrimp paste, fish sauce, caster sugar and salt. These seasoning quantities are just a guideline. You may need to add more or less fish sauce, sugar or salt to get the right balance. Add a little more shrimp paste if you like a more pungent stock and remember to taste the stock and adjust to suit your palate.
Put the annatto seeds and vegetable oil in a small saucepan and heat over a medium heat. The annatto will begin to colour the oil. Continue cooking until the oil develops a deep orange colour, about 4 minutes. Drain and discard the annatto.
Put the annatto-infused oil in a wok and add the chilli oil. Put over a medium heat and add the lemongrass, spring onions, garlic and chilli flakes. Fry the lot for about 3 minutes until the spring onions are softened and fragrant. Season with the salt, sugar, and fish sauce and adjust to taste. Store unstrained in a sterilised jar.
Cook the vermicelli in boiling water according to the packet instructions. Drain and refresh under cold running water, then set aside. Put the hock, trotter and shin meats into the stock and bring to the boil. As soon as it starts to boil, remove the pot from the heat.
Put a handful of noodles in each serving bowl and top with slices of the hock, trotter and shin and chà lua. Drizzle a little lemongrass chilli oil over each dish, then add some red onions, spring onions and coriander. Pour the just-boiled broth over the top. Serve immediately, with the cabbage, water spinach, mint and lemon wedges on the side.
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