Vietnamese Beef & Rice-Noodle Soup

For the broth:

* 4 pounds Oxtails; cut into 1 1/2 to 2-inch pieces and trimmed of fat
* 3-inch piece of ginger, unpeeled
* 1 large onion, halved and unpeeled
* 1/3 cup nuoc mam (fish sauce)
* 8 whole star anise
* 5 whole cloves
* 3-inch cinnamon stick
* 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
* 3 bay leaves

For the garnish:

* 1 pound 1/4-inch rice noodles
* 2 bunches scallions, sliced thin
* 1/2 cup tightly packed fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
* 1/2 cup parsley, roughly chopped
* 1/2 cup basil, approximately, whole fresh plants (minus roots) if possible
* 1 1/2 cups mung bean sprouts
* 3 large limes, cut into wedges and seeds removed
* Red chile paste or sliced fresh hot chilies (optional)
* 3/4 pounds filet mignon, trimmed of fat and sliced very thin


Put the oxtails into a large stockpot and add enough water to cover the bones by 4 inches (about 2 gallons). Bring to a full boil and then lower the heat to a rapid simmer. Skim the scum that rises to the surface.

Meanwhile put the ginger and onion halves on a baking sheet and char them under the broiler until lightly blackened, 10 to 15 minutes. Turn them over halfway through cooking. When cool enough to handle, rinse the onion and ginger under running water, using a knife to scrape away some of the charred surface. Cut the ginger into 3 pieces and toss it and the onion halves into the simmering broth, along with 1 tablespoon salt and the fish sauce.

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