Monday, September 26, 2016

Bún riêu cua (Vietnamese Crab Noodle Soup)...

Seafood and tomato come together in this heady intoxicating soup that hails from North Vietnam, where it is traditionally made with small rice-field crabs. Many crabs are cooked to extract enough flavour-- their back shells first removed, body pounded and then mixed with fermented shrimp sauce to create a broth base. When heated, crab solids rise to the top creating a flavour-rich seafood floater which forms the signature of the soup. Parts of the floater is spooned onto vermicelli (bun) before the broth is ladled into each bowl. Crunchy raw bean sprouts, fresh herbs and a splash of lime finesses.

Canned crab meat seasoned with bún riêu cua makes it super convenient, so you don't grapple with fiesty snappy crabs and the flavouring is infused. However, despite the crab, labour and time challenges, I want to make my soup from scratch using fresh crabs to produce an authentic flavourful broth. The only way I enjoy making time-consuming soup is to go big! A big pot to make enough for leftovers another night and/or to share with friends! It is not tradition to use ground pork for the seafood floater, but I do to plump up the light texture of the crab in the floater, to extend the meat and to give a heartier mouth feel. The smaller the crabs, the more you will need to get enough broth flavour and meat, so be prepared to spend lots of time on this step alone- cooking, cleaning and picking the crabs through. A weekend-worthy meal to cook when there is more time and to excite the family's senses with the heaven;y aroma!

Bún riêu cua (Vietnamese Crab Noodle Soup)
Makes 12 servings

14 cups water

1 live Dungeness crab (1-1/2 lbs.)- I used 8 blue crabs, rinsed (yields 1-3/4 cups meat extracted)
2/3 cup dried shrimps
1/4 lb. lean ground pork
1-3/4 tsp. salt, divided
1/2 tsp. sugar
3 Tbsp. fish sauce, divided
4 eggs (traditional recipe uses 8 egg whites, but I prefer to use the whole eggs)
3 Tbsp. canola oil, divided
1 pkg. fried bean curd or tofu cakes
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 large tomatoes, diced or 1 can (796 mL) diced tomatoes with juice reserved
3 Tbsp. fine shrimp sauce
prepared bun rieu cua paste (optional)

1 lb. vermicelli thin rice noodles, cooked according to package instructions, rinse and drain
green onions, thinly sliced
cilantro, leaves removed and chopped
bean sprouts
romaine lettuce, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/4" ribbons
rau ram
saw tooth cilantro
lime wedges
red chilis, sliced

Small blue crabs (look for lively and sparring ones)

They don't want to let each other go!

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, add the whole crabs one at a time. Cook for about 15 minutes until cooked through. Carefully remove with a slotted spoon into a platter and let cool slightly. Reserve the cooking liquid for the broth. Remove coagulated bits with a small sieve for a cleaner broth.

Crack the crab shells. Clean and pick crabs and set the meat and tomalley (crab fat- soft yellow and green substance) aside. If you don't like the tomalley discard along with the shell bits. Pick the meat thoroughly to ensure all the shards and bits are removed.

You don't need the big knives as the crab is soft to work with after its back shell is removed.
A lobster cracker and picker is handy for removing the meat.

Remove the bottom gills, pry open the back shells, scoop out the tomalley (or discard).

When working with many crabs, remove the same part for all the crabs and work to extract all their meat and tomalley before moving on to the next part. I find it goes faster this way!

I personally love sucking out the saucy crab-laden rich tomalley!

With your index finger and thumb, pinch the extracted meat to carefully feel out the hard bits and shards to discard.

Rehydrate the dried shrimp by cooking in a small saucepan with 1-1/4 cups water, bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook for ten minutes until soft. Add cooking liquid to crab soup and set shrimps aside (alternatively soak dried shrimps with water to cover for one hour to hydrate). Put the shrimp in the food processor and process to grind to a coarse texture. Add the crab meat and tomalley. Pulse three times to combine (do not over grind). Transfer to bowl with ground pork, add sugar, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1 Tbsp. fish sauce, 1 Tbsp. prepared bun rieu cua paste (optional) and the eggs. Whisk mixture with fork to combine. 

In a medium pot, heat 1 Tbsp. oil over medium-high heat. Pan-fry the beancurd cakes until golden brown about a minute on both sides. Remove and set aside. Reheat the pot and add remaining two Tbsp. oil, then the oil, onion and garlic then cook, stirring occasionally for a minute until fragrant. Add the tomatoes and their juices and the remaining 1-1/4 tsp. salt and bring to a vigorous simmer. Cook, stirring frequently for 10 to 12 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated and the mixture is thick. Add the tomato mixture to pot of reserved crab liquid along with bean curd. Bring to a gentle boil, add remaining 2 Tbsp. fish sauce, shrimp sauce and bun rieu cua paste to taste. 

Look for prepared condiments in the prepared sauce aisle in an Asian supermarket.

Use a large spoon to slowly stir in one direction, and with the other hand slowly pour in the crab-pork egg mixture. Keep stirring, and the egg mixture will cook and either float to the top or stay at he bottom (this is more likely with using just egg whites). Let the broth cook undisturbed for five minutes. When small bubbles break the surface the soup is done. Adjust seasoning according to taste preference.

Heat up the noodles and place in individual serving bowls. Top with seafood meatballs, tofu and pour hot soup over. Garnish with raw veggies, a splash of lime, fresh herbs and chilies (optional).

This is becoming a family favourite! The kids could not get enough after having leftovers over two meals! 
"One of your best noodles mom ever," one son beamed! I beamed back!

Heady, seafood-rich aromatic, a hot bowl is divinely intoxicating for the senses! 
Thin rice noodles soak up every bit of flavour from the tasty soup, whetting the appetite bite-after-bite!

Love the scrumptious crab-shrimp-pork balls!

You can redden the soup by making a red oil with annatto seeds. In small pot, heat 1/4 cup canola oil with 1-1/2 Tbsp. annatto seeds; stir until red colour is released and aromatic. Remove seeds, pour oil into soup and stir. 

Great Substitute: Alternatively you can make a meat ball mixture with 2 lb. shrimps, minced instead of crab and use its shells to make the broth.

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