Now that the whole gris Paris thing is lifting and making way for some blue sky, sunshine, boissons sur la terrasse, and other things that lift a city out of “group of buildings obstructing my path to the airport and a way the hell out of this godforsaken wasteland” status and into “almost liveable” (thanks Jase), it’s time to start making food that fits the bill. Sunset edging ever closer to 10pm also makes me want to cook things that I don’t feel ridiculous eating for dinner in broad daylight like a pensioner. So that means light exotic flavours, and dishes that’d be equally comfortable on a lunch menu.
Hello Vietnamese food, you delicious bastard. You light, fresh, fragrant, spicy delicious bastard.
As usual, there’s a bit of room to mess around and personalise this one, and still remain true to the dish. Bun Bo Xao literally translates to something along the lines of “beef noodle stir”. I put a slight euro-spin on it with the addition of capsicum and rocket, but they make it really nice and light, and kind of salad it up.
Got your shopping bag ready? Here goes:
- Beef. I use fillet, and you want a piece about palm-of-the-hand size for each person.
- Rice vermicelli. Thick, firm rice noodles, same as in my beef & bok choy broth.
- A handful of fresh mint and basil, chopped roughly.
- A handful of roasted, unsalted peanuts, chopped crumbly.
- Half a smallish onion per person
- A bag o’ rocket.
- A red capsicum, sliced thinly.
- A stalk of lemongrass.
- A couple of cloves of garlic (give or take – this one’s up to you).
- A small red chilli – chopped finely (know your enemy, but it shouldn’t be too brutal).
- Soy sauce, fish sauce
- Nuóc Chám (I know those accents aren’t quite right) dressing – 1 part fish sauce, 1 part lime juice, 1 part sugar, 2 parts water. I like to add some garlic and chilli as well – dissolve & mix it all up and let it sit for the flavours to combine.
Cooking it up is dead simple. You’ll want to get the meat marinating first, while you prep everything else. I always start by frying the onions in a little bit of sesame oil and a pinch of salt. Cook it until it’s soft and translucent, but not really well cooked, because it’s going back in the pan later. Slice the beef into pieces about 5mm thin, and about as long as your finger. Once your onion’s cooled a little bit, put it in a bowl with the beef, the lemongrass, some garlic, half the chilli, soy & fish sauce, and some lime juice – just enough to cover it all without sending it for a swim.
While this is happening, get your water boiling to cook up those noodles. They take ages, and they’ll shed a ridiculous amount of starch, so give them a good rinse in a colander when they’re done.
You want to cook the beef really quickly. Heat your wok up to ridiculous, splash in some sesame oil, and get the rest of the garlic and chilli going. Once everything’s nice and sizzly you can add the meat. Keep it moving, brown it up, and get it out. The lime juice will have started a bit of a chemical cook on it, so it won’t take a whole lot on the heat.
When you serve it, it should be warm. Not hot, not cold. I find the best way to strike that balance is by running hot water through my noodles immediately before I assemble the dish. Also having some heat in the noodles wilts the rocket (baby spinach works just as well) just enough to keep it all moving easily. I assemble it in the bowl. Noodles in first, then a handful of rocket, a stack of capsicum and a good solid pinch of herbs. Turn all that through, lay some beef & onions on top, sprinkle some peanuts over the top, stick a wedge of lime in for flavour adjustment, and it’s ready to serve. When it’s time to eat, pour somewhere between a shot glass and an espresso cup of nuóc chám in, turn it through, and get stuck in.