This is a classic Vietnamese seafood soup with a flavorful stock that draws flavor from a crab (or shrimp) paste “whip”, tomatoes and — like nearly all southeast Asian soups — fresh and distinctly aromatic herb garnishes.
The genesis for this version of Bún Riêu was the leftover carcass of a Diestel turkey. Pork pork neck bones were added as the stock starter, in addition to a combination of seafood-ish elements. Traditionally, if you are going full out, you’d get a whole crab and use that as your stock starter.
A big flavor component in this particular Bún Riêu was imparted by a couple dried seafood ingredients. Dried shrimp and dried scallops are added when simmering and removing the stock, adding a wonderful complexity. Dried shrimp are an easy score – most Asian (and all Vietnamse/Thai) markets will have them, and on the cheap, too. The dried scallops are another issue. They can be spendy, but they’re big on flavor, so a little goes a long way.
Here’s a commercially available crab paste which can be used for the protein “whip”. This brand is Taste Nirvana.
A Thai brand.
One thing I appreciate about Taste Nirvana is the seal on their label boasting of being 100% Real. When I cook, it’s important to me that the ingredients I use actually exist.
I’ve used shrimp sauce as well. A note on shrimp sauce: Shrimp sauce can come in a variety of forms. Lee Kum Kee makes a version that looks like a sludgy concrete slurry that’s probably best used to pave parking lot structures. Stay away from it. The kind you want is pinkly hued with a fair amount of crimson oil.
This version, in particular, had the word “Bún Riêu” right there on the label. Amazing, the serendipity. Don’t use the concentrated Thai variety (which is a very thick, dark red paste), Malaysian, or the Filipino versions.
A note on garnishes: I’ve added freshly poached shrimp and scored filets of squid, in addition to sliced raw onion and green onions. Fresh herbs really are essential to Bún Riêu – cilantro and the mint are vital, IMO. Spearmint, saw leaf herb, thai basil, in addition to more exotic herbs like fish mint and Vietnamese coriander (rau rahm) — it’s all good. Bean sprouts are essential, as is a squeeze of citrus (I prefer lemon with my Bún Riêu). Other garnishes could be a pinch of chiffonade of lettuce and banana blossoms.
Preparing the Broth
- Pre-made pork bone or chicken broth or both. Obviously a lot…a couple gallons or more.
- 2-3 tablespoons tamarind soup paste or 1/2 Tamarind packet (such as Knorr)
- Two dozen shrimp
- A few cuttlefish/calamari bodies, sliced to create 1 or 2 inch “filets”, and scored horizontally
- Dried shrimp (a little more than a dozen or so)
- Dried scallops (four or five)
- Small handful Whole peppercorns (white and black)
Add all ingredients together, bring to a boil. Remove fresh shrimp and calamari once they are cooked through, and set aside as garnish. Simmer on lowest setting for an hour.
Preparing the “Whip”
- Crab or Shrimp paste (2/3 of small jar – see the note above)
- Dried shrimp and scallop from broth (above)
- 10-12 raw shrimp
- 1 egg + 5 egg whites
- Ground white pepper
- 2 finely chopped green onions
Strain the broth. Remove dried shrimp and scallops. Using a mini-prep processor, grind up the shrimp/scallops, followed by raw shrimp. Give a few pulses to get a coarse grind. Beat eggs in a large mixing bowl, and add all remaining ingredients and mix into a paste.
Finishing the Broth
- 1 white onion, thinly sliced
- Vegetable oil
- 3 large tomatoes, cut into 1/8ths
- Fish sauce aka Nuoc Mam
- “Whip” from above
Fry the white onions. Add tomatoes and onions into broth, bring to boil. Stir and lower to low grade, simmering boil. Season the broth with nuoc mam as needed.
Grab the “whip” mixture and, using a medium spoon, drop lumps of the mixture into the undulating broth. These lumps will soon cook, rise to the top, and create a networked island of protein floatillas.
Turn off the heat and let stand for a half hour to meld flavors.
Assemble and Serve
Boil rice noodles and rinse with cold water. Assemble 4 ounces or so in a bowl. Garnish with shrimp and squid, paper thin sliced raw red onions, cilantro, chopped green onions, basil, mint, cilantro, culantro, Vietnamese coriander, bean sprout, etc. I like to give the bowl a quick 20 seconds in the microwave to bring things up to lukish-warm.
Pour hot broth over the soup, making sure to get a few choice protein flotillas. Squeeze lemon and snip a bird chili. You’re there.
Closeup shot of a protein floatilla. The texture is hard to describe, and could be somewhat offputting for the virgin, but once you get a craving you don’t lose it.