HUMBLE PIE: vietnamese bun bo xao

Friday, 4 December 2015
Bun bo xao** is a sort of stir fry/salad hybrid from Vietnam. I first had it at Pho (when I finally tried something other than their addictive pho soup noodles) and I was totally hooked by the fresh sweet, spicy, sour and salty flavours that are so common in South East Asia. It's usually served luke warm - the salad ingredients can be prepared in advance and then topped with seared beef - which makes it great for when you have friends and family over, as you can make nearly everything before hand, plus I think it looks quite impressive!

When I found out I had to come up with a beef dish to make on Humble Pie and I only had 2 days to think of something, test it and send a list of ingredients off to the producers, I panicked a bit; cooking meat isn't my strong point. And then I remembered how much I loved this dish and knew it perfectly fit the brief of beef with a twist. The only problem was, I'd made all of the components individually before, but never served them up together as the full bun bo xao. Anyway, I didn't have time to test it so I sent off my ingredients and quantities and hoped for the best when I tested the recipe the following week!

There are a lot of components to this dish, but it actually comes together pretty quickly and what I like about it is that you can pick and choose the bits you want to have. Yes, it's a bit of a show-stopper with everything all on one plate, but if you're pushed for time, the beef is SO DELICIOUS on its own with plain rice; the salad part goes perfectly with fresh king prawns; the spring rolls are enough of a faff in their own right - and are so amazing - that you could just make that part too. In honour of this modular dish, I've written up the recipe with all the different components separately, so if you fancied having a go at just one part, then it should be easy to follow. If you make everything in the quantities I've suggested, it's perfect for two people, so bear that in mind if you decide to leave some bits out.

For the steak
175g ribeye steak (or any cut with a good fat content)
2 sticks lemongrass
1 clove garlic
2tsp sugar
1tbsp fish sauce
1tbsp rice wine vinegar
Salt and pepper

Chop the lemongrass, grate the garlic and rub over the steak. Pour over the sugar, fish sauce, salt and vinegar, massage gently and leave for at least half an hour to marinade. Lemongrass is fairly easy to come by in larger supermarkets, but if you don't have any to hand then you can substitute it with a small piece of grated ginger.

Heat a griddle pan with a splash of olive oil and a small knob of butter until just foaming. Fry the steak for a minute on either side, or to your liking.

These spring rolls are a little out of the ordinary...they're actually a combination of fried spring rolls and fresh summer rolls (you can find my summer rolls recipe here). In Vietnam, fried spring rolls  come with a side of big lettuce leaves and plenty of herbs, which you're meant to wrap around the spring rolls. With this version, the crispy fried spring roll is wrapped in lettuce and then secured with another spring roll wrapper for an awesome fusion of textures and fresh flavours. They are a bit of a faff as you are essentially making two rounds of spring rolls but they are SO WORTH IT. If you've never made spring rolls before, it might be worth making these on their own one day to get the hang of it.

For the spring rolls
10 raw king prawns (fresh or frozen)
2 shallots
2 mushrooms
Half a small carrot
1 spring onion
1tsp sugar
Half a tbsp fish sauce

4 small spring roll wrappers/4 large spring roll wrappers
4 leaves round lettuce
Basil, mint and coriander

Put the first list of ingredients in a mini food processor and blend until smooth. I wasn't going to post the picture below as it looks a bit unappetising, but I thought I'd reassure you that that's what it's supposed to look like! Soak one of the small wrappers in hand-hot water for about 10 seconds and then place on a plate. Place a large spoonful of the mixture in a sausage shape in the bottom third of the wrapper and then fold the bottom up and sides in (like you would with a fajita), and roll over to secure - there are plenty of videos on Youtube if you get stuck. Repeat with the other small wrappers (and continue until your mixture is finished, if needs be). Heat an inch of sunflower oil in a small pan. Once it's hot - you can check it by dropping in a piece of coriander and see if it sizzles to the surface - gently place one of the spring rolls in, fry for a few minutes and then turn and fry for another minute or two. If you have space, you can fry two at a time but be careful as if they touch in the pan they will stick together like glue! Also be careful of your oil getting too hot, as it will make the wrapper come away from the filling (like in my picture...oops). Repeat until your small spring rolls are cooked.

Soak one of the large spring roll wrappers (if you just have one size, this step will still work - I've tried both ways before - but you won't be able to fit as many herbs in), place on a plate and then layer it with a lettuce leaf and a mixture of basil, mint and coriander. Place the crispy spring roll on top and roll as before.

For the salad
100g vermicelli rice noodles
1 carrot
Half a cucumber

3tbsp sugar
3tbsp rice wine vinegar (or 2 of white wine vinegar and 1 of rice wine)
1 lime
3 - 4tbsp fish sauce
2 cloves of garlic

Rehydrate the noodles according to the instructions on the packet - usually 5 - 10 minutes in boiling water - and then rinse thoroughly under cold water. Rinsing the noodles helps them not to stick together. Julienne the carrot and cucumber and mix in with the noodles. Add a splash of lime juice if they seem to be sticking already.

For the dressing, combine the sugar, rice wine vinegar, lime and grate in the garlic cloves. At this point, continue with caution! Not everyone likes fish sauce. Actually, a funny (IN RETROSPECT) story, my boyfriend hated this the first time I tested it, which had me really worried as the show was coming up very quickly, but it's mostly because he's not a fish sauce fan. If you use a good quality brand, 4tbsp should be about right, but cheaper brands can have a stronger flavour, so it's best to add and taste as you go. I like to mix half of the dressing into the noodles and then pour the rest of the dressing over later.

Garnishes are what give the dish a little something special. My style of cooking is generally pretty simple and then you can go in with some thoughtful additions to jazz it up a bit (like with the ratatouille I posted here). 
For the crispy shallots, finely slice shallots into thin rings. Heat half an inch of oil in small pan and, when hot, chuck in the shallots. If you have a slotted spoon, you can remove them all in one swoop when they start to brown. I was manically picking mine out one by one with chopsticks, so some of them got a little bit charred! They just add a bit of crunch to the salad, which I think really lifts it. 

For the quick-pickled cucumbers, slice the cucumber into whatever shapes you like. Pop in a jar with a few slices of chilli, a splash of vinegar, a few teaspoons of sugar and a pinch of salt. Add water if you need to so that all the cucumber is submerged. These aren't called 'quick-pickled' for nothing; if you make these at the very start, then they are lovely and sweet and sharp by the time everything else is ready, but they are also great overnight.

Roasted peanuts also make a tasty garnish, again for that crunch, and I like to go liberal with the herbs too. 

When you get to assembly, all the hard work is done. On the show, I was worried how it was going to look as I hadn't really planned out that part, but the more you throw on the better it looks - I'd rather have tempting food piled high and a bit messy any day than a sparse, but beautiful plate. Really, once you scatter the garnishes over everything, it really pulls the dish together. 

I feel like this post is a bit of a marathon, but I wanted to get the whole recipe out in one go. I hope it makes you feel like you want to cook it :) To read more about my Humble Pie experience, you can read my posts on what it was like to be on a TV show and a little bit about the audition process. Make sure you check out my winning pudding recipe too!

**Full disclosure: I've never been to Vietnam and I PRONOUNCED THE NAME OF THE DISH WRONG...ON TELEVISION! I should have googled how to say it beforehand, but for anyone wondering, it is pronounced like boon bo sao. Doh.

1 comment:

  1. This looks delicious! Congrats! Can we watch the show online anywhere?