As is often the case with upright chest freezers, sometimes things get forgotten about beneath the boxes of frozen butter and yogurt containers full of stock. Things you remember buying, but can’t exactly recall why—marked-down oxtails, turkey gizzards, a single vacuum-sealed plantain. This weekend it was the oxtails and a Ziploc bag of short-rib bones with most of the meat scraped off that had me scratching my head. What, exactly, had I planned to do with a measly 1 1/2 pounds of oxtails and some meatless bones? Make a stock, probably, but for what? It’s not enough meat for subtly flavored pho, and would make a pretty weak oxtail soup. Instead I decided to use them in a soup that gets enough flavor assistance from other ingredients: bun bo hue (pronounced “hway”). It’s similar to pho in that it includes beef and noodles, but the type of noodles, flavorings, and preparation are completely different. I obviously had bought the oxtails pre-$35-a-week, because I could NEVER afford them now, therefore, this meal didn’t exactly come out of our current budget. It’s not cheap, but as is always the case, it’s cheaper than eating out.
It’s not a straightforwardly authentic bun bo hue in that it doesn’t include pig feet, blood cubes and other goodies of that nature, but the flavors are essentially the same.
The recipe is adapted from Wandering Chopsticks. You may want to make the broth a day ahead—keeping it overnight in the fridge allows all the fat to float to the surface and harden, so it’s easily scraped off. I usually do this with stocks, but I didn’t have time this time, so I just let it sit for a couple hours and spooned off the grease that gathered on top.
As below it makes 2 large bowls.
• 3-5 lbs. meaty beef bones: shank, neck, oxtail, etc. (bones are expensive, yo!): $6
• 8 stalks lemongrass, lower 4 inches only: 60 cents
• 2-inch piece of ginger, smashed: 5 cents
• 4 garlic cloves, smashed: 4 cents
• 1 onion, peeled and halved: 20 cents
• 2 T shrimp paste, plus more to taste: 10 cents
• 1 T annatto seeds: 20 cents
• 2 T canola oil: 6 cents
• 1 lb. bun noodles, fresh or cooked if dried (if you can’t find these in your area I suppose you could substitute udon): $1
• Handful of cilantro and/or Thai basil leaves: 25 cents
• Lime slices: 11 cents
• Salt, to taste: 1 cent
• Sriracha, to taste: 5 cents
TOTAL: $8.67/2 = $4.34/serving
I read somewhere where someone did a comparison of roasting the bones versus parboiling them, and parboiling won out flavor-wise when it comes to long simmering, so that’s what I usually do.
Put the bones in a stockpot and cover with water.
Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Lots of nasty scum and foam will come to the top. Pour the bones into a colander and rinse them. Thoroughly clean the stockpot, add the bones back in, and re-cover with water. Add 6 stalks of the lemongrass, bruised; ginger; garlic; onion; and 2 T shrimp paste.
Bring to a simmer, and simmer for AT LEAST 3 hours, preferably more. Strain the stock into a separate bowl. Pick the meat off the bones and add it to the stock.
Slice the remaining two lemongrass stalks and add them to a food processor. Process until finely minced.
In a small skillet over medium-low heat, add the annatto seeds to the 2 T oil.
Cook until the mixture is a deep red. Strain out the annatto seeds and return the oil to the skillet. Add the lemongrass and sauté until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes.
Return the stock to a clean pot and bring to a boil. Add the lemongrass-annatto oil mixture, plus shrimp paste, salt, and sriracha to taste.
Divide the bun noodles between two bowls. Pour the soup over the noodles, garnish with cilantro, Thai basil, and a lime slice or two.