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Vietnamese Beef Soup

This recipe is for a traditional Vietnamese beef soup. Usually served with an array of other dishes such as noodles, bean sprouts, rice, mint, coriander, oriental salads and chilli, the variations are endless. The quantity here will easily serve 6 - 10 people depending on whether it is served as a starter or main course. Don't be afraid to experiment a little. Warning: a very large pot is required for the boiling, and it takes time. A pressure cooker could be used to speed things up but we have never tried this.

Serve with other Oriental food, e.g. a salad of mint, cucumber, bean shoots, coriander leaves and/or chilli sauce Nuc Nam (fish sauce), soy sauce and plain Thai rice or fine egg vermicelli.

Ingredients for 6 to 10 servings:

1.5 Kg Lean Beef, skirt or "Poitrine" as the French call it is best (piece used whole).
1 marrow bone about 12cm long and 4 - 6cm diameter, make sure that the marrow is there (can be difficult in England unless you know the butcher.)
1 medium to large sized onion peeled and left whole.
1 OXO (beef stock) cube
12 star anise - these give a delicate aniseed background flavour
Salt to taste, I usually add 2 teaspoons (10g) at first and adjust later
2 sticks of cinnamon about 5cm long
1 large "pinch" of black freshly ground pepper (about 1/4 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
2.5cm cube of fresh ginger (after peeling)
1 tablespoon (15ml) Nuc Nam, again, adjust later if required
4 litres water


Put all the above ingredients into a large pot with a reasonably well fitting lid. Leave at least 30% free space above the liquid as the mixture is prone to froth when first boiled. Bring to a rolling boil whilst keeping your eye on it. Boil gently (slightly more than simmer) for long enough to make the beef really tender but not breaking up. This can be anything from 45 minutes to an hour or more. Don't be afraid to remove the meat for testing occasionally and make sure that there is still plenty of liquid in the pot.

When the beef is cooked, remove it and carry on cooking the liquid until it has reduced by about 10% or so. Taste and add another stock cube or part of one if necessary. Remove all the whole solids to leave a clear beef soup. Add spices and adjust Nuc Nam at this point until flavour is as you want. Do not try and make the flavour too strong as each individual can adjust the flavour to suit themselves later.

Whilst the soup is reducing, cut the beef into very thin slices about 2.5cm square or maybe slightly larger (small if using chop sticks!) Put the beef on a plate, keep warm but not necessarily hot as it will dry out.

Serve by placing portions of rice or noodles into small bowls, add some beef on top and pouring some hot soup over the beef. Sprinkle coriander leaves, mint or chopped chilli over all this to your individual taste. Adjust the flavour with Nuc Nam or Soy Sauce.

Our thanks to Chi Le Thuc 17/2/04

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