The combination of flavourful ingredients, such as lemongrass, beef, rice vermicelli noodles and fresh herbs, is what really defines a bowl of bún bò xào. I have always thought bún bò xào actually mimics a Hollywood movie with a star-studded line up. Imagine all the biggest Hollywood stars in one movie, where no one actor is the stand-out performance, but rather the combination of them all together leaves you entertained, refreshed and longing for more. There is a lot to love about bún bò xào and I have no doubt it can be included in the regular dinner rotation, despite its reputation as ‘too difficult to recreate’ due to its complex flavour profile. It seems too good to be true that something so delicious could be so simple to make, but I assure you that’s the case.
Bún bò xào takes about 30 minutes to prepare, will feed a family of four and is full of fresh and delicious flavours. It’s as simple as stir-frying beef, boiling rice vermicelli noodles, cutting up herbs and making a tangy nước mắm chấm dressing, and will leave you feeling fresh, light and satisfied.
Bún bò xào is one of Vietnam’s simplest dishes to replicate in the home setting, and is sure to please all palates. However, the most difficult task in this recipe is finely chopping the lemongrass. When coarse, lemongrass can get caught on the back of the throat and leave an unpleasant experience, particularly for kids. Lemongrass is incredibly fibrous, so will require a razor-sharp knife and some patience to chop consistently. If this sounds daunting, lemongrass can also be bought from most leading supermarkets in a tube. These versions consist of chopped lemongrass emulsified with oil to create a paste-like consistency, perfect for bún bò xào. This tube of lemongrass will save time without sacrificing that ethereal lemongrass fragrance. Nevertheless, fresh lemongrass is always best where possible.
Whether it’s simply for dinner on a school night or adding some wow-factor as a sharing plate for a party, this recipe can cater to any dining occasion. If you are serving it to a large group of guests, do yourself a favour and make sure you don’t forget to add a bit of Hollywood theatrics by dressing the salad live at the table for your audience to view in awe.
500g beef flank/rump steak, thinly sliced, or beef stir fry strips
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
2-3 lemongrass stalks (white part only), crushed then finely sliced, or 80g lemongrass paste
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 birds eye chillies, finely chopped (optional)
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon fish sauce
½ teaspoon anchovy salt (Red boat anchovy salt) (optional)
1½ tablespoon neutral cooking oil
300g rice vermicelli noodles
1 brown onion, sliced into wedges
1 baby cos lettuce, shredded
1 bunch Thai basil, roughly chopped
½ bunch coriander, roughly chopped (optional)
1 bunch mint, roughly chopped
2 Lebanese cucumbers, finely sliced or grated
2 carrots, grated
½ bunch spring onions
50 ml vegetable oil
50g roasted peanuts, crushed (optional)
3 tablespoons crispy fried shallots (optional)
Special cooking equipment
Large frying pan/wok/cast iron pot
In a medium sized bowl, mix the beef and beef marinade ingredients until well combined. Allow to marinate for 5-10 minutes.
In the meantime, place the noodles in a large pot of lightly salted boiling water for 8-9 minutes or until just beyond al dente, then strain immediately and place in cold water to stop the cooking process. Separate the noodles in serving sizes and place in batches in a colander to avoid them sticking together.
Make 220ml of my Nước mắm chấm (Vietnamese fish sauce dipping sauce). Combine in a small bowl with the grated carrot to allow carrot to pickle slightly.
To create the spring onion oil, add spring onions, ½ teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of sugar to a small bowl and mix well, then bring 50ml of cooking oil to smoking point and add to the bowl. Tip: stand well-distanced from the bowl to avoid oil splatter.
In a large frying pan, add 3 tablespoons of cooking oil and sauté the brown onions for 1-2 minutes with a pinch of sea salt on high heat until they are slightly cooked through, but still maintain a slightly firm texture, then remove and set aside.
Add an additional 2 tablespoons of cooking oil to the frying pan and stir fry the beef on medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes, or until almost cooked through, then return the onions and stir fry for a further minute. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly before assembling the noodle salad.
For individual serves, place a serve (a quarter) of the noodles into a large bowl and add the stir fried beef and meat juices before garnishing with a small handful of cos lettuce, Thai basil, coriander, mint, cucumber, carrots from the nước mắm chấm, bean sprouts, 1 tablespoon of spring onion oil, 2 teaspoons of crushed peanuts and 1 tablespoon of dried shallots. Dress with 5-6 tablespoons of nước mắm chấm per bowl. Mix well and enjoy.
For one large serve to be shared, follow steps as above but use a party-sized serving plate/bowl and use all ingredients. Drizzle the nước mắm chấm at the dining table for that extra theatrical flair to leave your guests impressed.