I don’t know why Southeast Asia is home to so many different kinds of noodle soups, but I am thankful for it. Beef, chicken, pork, seafood, you name it, we have a noodle soup for it! One of my favorites as a child was hu tieu nam vang, often referred to as Phnom Penh soup given it’s Chinese/Cambodian origins. These days, hu tieu comes in many different forms and with an array of choices for toppings–from pork meat and shrimp to pork offal and quail eggs. Sometimes it comes with soft rice noodles, sometimes with chewy tapioca noodles, and even with yellow egg noodles. Sometimes served dry with soup in a separate bowl. The varieties are endless and can be confusing.
Hu tieu starts with a pork-based broth with a hint of toasted dried squid or shrimp. The broth was originally seasoned with only soy sauce, but the Vietnamese have added fish sauce, of course! My favorite version comes with chewy noodles, sliced pork loin, sautéed ground pork, pork kidney or liver, poached shrimp, hardboiled quail eggs, and a generous sprinkling of fried shallots, chopped cilantro, chinese chives, and chinese celery. Phew! But don’t let the numerous ingredients stop you from brewing up a pot–trust me, you’ll be quite pleased!
5 lbs pork bones
1.5 lbs pork loin
3-4 whole dried squid, lightly toasted
6 stalks Chinese celery, trimmed and rinsed
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 lb ground pork
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 small shallot, finely chopped
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon fish sauce
2 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 dozen quail eggs
12 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 500g package tapioca noodles
1 cup Chinese chives, rinsed and cut into 1-inch sections,, saving the tips for garnish
1 cup cilantro, rinsed and chopped
1 small yellow onion, sliced thinly
1/4 cup fried shallots
2 cups bean sprouts, rinsed and dried
1 bunch Thai basil
Soup: Bring a large pot (6-8 qt.) of water to a boil and salt generously. Working in batches, place several pieces of pork bone and meat in the water and allow to boil vigorously for 6-8 minutes to remove impurities. Remove pork bones/meat, rinse and place in a fresh pot of water, making sure that everything is completely immersed. (Don’t use a giant pot with too much water; an 8-10 qt. pot works well.)
After about 1-1 1/2 hours the meat should be done–it should have the same firmness as the base of your thumb. Remove and submerge immediately in cold water to prevent browning. When cool, slice thinly and set aside.
Simmer bones and dried squid for at least 4 hours, skimming off fat/impurities and replenishing water as needed. The longer you simmer the bones the better the broth; I usually aim for 6 hours but 4 hours will do. Remove bones and strain broth if you’d like. I don’t mind using an unstrained broth as long as it is not cloudy.
Cut the Chinese celery into 3-inch sections, saving some tips for garnish later. Tie the celery into a bunch and add to soup, along with 1/4 cup fish sauce, 1/3 cup soy sauce, and 1 tablespoon salt. Allow soup to simmer for another hour or so, and adjust seasonings before serving.
Ground pork: In a heavy pan, heat oil then add onions and shallot and saute until fragrant–about 1 minute. Add ground pork, breaking up large chunks with a wooden spoon. Add fish sauce, oyster sauce and ground pepper. Saute until cooked through. Set aside in a covered container.
Shrimp: To poach shrimp, place a few in a mesh sieve or strainer and plunge into simmering water or stocjk. Remove after a couple of minutes–shrimp will turn pink and curl. Repeat with all shrimp. Set aside in covered container.
Quail eggs: Cook these as you would hard boil an egg, just adjust cooking time to about 4-5 minutes. Cool in a bowl of cold water, peel and set aside.
Noodles: If using chewy tapioca noodles, try to get the Japanese brand pictured. Sometimes the packaging is orange/red rather than green but the noodles are the same. Bring a large pot of water (at least 4 quarts) to a boil and then add noodles, making sure that they are completely submerged. (Note: The package below is for 500 grams and would make enough noodles for about 8 large servings.) Cook noodles at a simmer for about 15 minutes until they are soft but still chewy. Drain, rinse and separate into individual bowls–about 1 1/2 cups each. If you are using rice noodles, try to get the pho-like noodles, either fresh or dry, and cook according to the instructions in the pho recipe.
Assembly: In a bowl, layer first the noodles, then some sliced pork, ground pork, shrimp, quail eggs, cilantro, chinese chives and celery. Add a dash of black pepper and a sprinkling of fried shallots. Heat soup to a simmer and ladle into the bowl, making sure to pour some directly onto the cilantro, chives and celery to release the aromatics. Serve immediately with a plateful of basil, bean sprouts, and lemon wedges. Makes 6-8 servings.