Vietnamese Crab Tapioca Noodle Soup - Bánh Canh Cua
2:30 - 3:00 Cook
Difficult - You’re brave!
Vietnamese noodle soups are incredibly popular throughout the streets of Vietnam and in Vietnamese households. You can find many variations that may use thin or thick rice noodles, egg noodles, pho noodles or tapioca noodles. Two common types of tapioca noodles are bánh canh (thick tapioca rice noodles) and hủ tiếu (thin tapioca rice noodles).
Bánh canh is very similar to Japanese udon noodles with their soft and chewy texture which can vary between vendors and households depending on the ratio of rice flour to tapioca starch; more tapioca starch leads to a chewier tapioca noodle. Also similarly to udon, bánh canh is often served in a bone broth. Popular variations include bánh canh giò heo (pork hock tapioca noodle soup), bánh canh chả cá (fish cake tapioca noodle soup) and bánh canh cua (crab tapioca noodles soup).
In Australia, tapioca noodles are typically store bought and very much accessible like fresh pasta. However, like home-made pasta, I believe bánh canh made from scratch is an essential skill for every home cook.
The method in this recipe dates back to a rainy day in Vietnam around 2017. While travelling through, Central Vietnam on a hired scooter, en route to the Hai Van pass (a 21 km long mountain pass), I stumbled upon a memorable bowl of bánh canh when I sought shelter by a roadside vendor. He was selling house-made bánh canh in a pork based broth with fish and ‘peel your own’ quail eggs. The possibility of making these noodles at home struck my curiosity and the street vendor was kind enough to show me his recipe and technique. Afterwards, we shared a bowl of bánh canh cá lóc (Snakehead fish tapioca noodle soup) and got well acquainted against the sound of the pouring rain. The Hai Van pass had to wait another day.
On returning to Australia I couldn’t find a restaurant that served hand-made tapioca noodles and the many variations I’ve had since have missed the mark. With access to pristine Australian mud crabs, and my newly acquired skill, I put together this bánh canh cua recipe which represents my food curiosity and admiration for Australian produce.
Bánh canh cua is a unique Vietnamese noodle soup. It’s defined by pieces of juicy crab meat—flavoured with its own roe, garlic, shallots, anchovy salt and fish sauce—submerged in a pork based soup that is gravy-like in consistency along with thick and slippery strands of tapioca noodles. If you’ve had Vietnamese noodle soups such as beef pho, chicken pho or bun bo hue do yourself a favour and give my home-made bánh canh cua recipe a go to experience a Vietnamese bowl of pure umami gluttony.
Pork bone broth
1kg Pork neck bones
1 brown onion
1 knob ginger (20g) roughly crushed
2 tablespoon neutral cooking oil
1 tablespoon sea salt
25g dried shrimp
1 bunch coriander stalks
1½ teaspoon Red Boat anchovy salt
30g rock sugar or 1 tablespoon sugar
40ml Premium fish sauce
Pork blood jelly
1 box pork blood jelly
½ tablespoon sea salt
1 knob ginger (20g) roughly crushed
10g annatto seeds
30ml neutral cooking oil
250g rice flour
150g tapioca starch
1 tablespoon cooking oil
½ teaspoon salt
400ml hot water
1 (800g-1.3kg) live mud crab (top shell removed and main body quartered)
½ bunch spring onions cut in 5cm batons
3 Thai shallots finely diced
3 garlic cloves finely diced
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon cracked white pepper
½ teaspoon Red Boat anchovy salt (optional)
1 tablespoon premium Fish Sauce
2 tablespoons annatto oil
1 can (425g) whole straw mushrooms halved
1 can (454g) quails eggs
3 tablespoons (50g) potato starch
6 tablespoons water
½ bunch spring onions finely sliced
1 bunch coriander roughly hopped
1 bunch saw tooth coriander finely sliced
4 teaspoons dried shallots
cracked white pepper
Pork bone broth
Wash bones under cold water, then place on a roasting tray lined with baking paper along with the brown onion and ginger. Drizzle with oil, sprinkle over ½ tablespoon sea salt, then roast in a pre-heated oven at 220C for 20 minutes.
In a large stock pot add 4L water, ½ tablespoon salt and the remaining pork bone broth ingredients. Bring to the boil, then add roasted pork bones, onion and ginger. Simmer for 90 to 120 minutes or until pork bone meat is tender, occasionally skimming off impurities that float to the top.
Remove and reserve bones then strain and set broth aside.
Optional: Collect the cooked dried shrimp and add to strained broth.
Duncan’s tip: Enjoy the pork bones as an entrée or snack with a dipping sauce made with 15ml Son fish sauce, freshly sliced chillies and a gentle squeeze of lime.
Pork blood jelly
Cut pork blood jelly in quarters.
Place in large pot, cover well with water, add ½ tablespoon of salt and a knob of ginger (20g). Bring close to the boil on medium and occasionally stir (about 30 minutes).
Once almost boiling, reduce heat to very low for 20 minutes, occasionally skimming off impurities. Cover and remove from heat to allow residual heat to cook pork blood jelly through for 20 minutes.
Remove and place in a water bath for 15 minutes, then slice into large bite sized pieces.
In a small fry pan add oil and the annatto seeds, warm on medium heat until it bubbles.
Remove from heat and allow annatto seeds to steep in the oil for a further 2-3 minutes then strain and set the oil aside.
Method 1: Stand mixer
In a stand mixer add rice flour, tapioca starch, salt and cooking oil and mix until well combined.
Mix on medium and add 50ml of hot water at time until well combined. Remove from mixing bowl and with a dash of oil knead until smooth. Allow dough to rest and set aside until broth is ready.
Method 2: By hand
In a large mixing bowl add rice flour, tapioca starch, salt and cooking oil and mix with chopsticks.
Add 50ml of hot water at time and mix until well combined then knead together with a dash of oil on your hands until smooth. Allow dough to rest and set aside until broth is ready.
Duncan’s tip: Close to boiling water will achieve optimal results.
Mud crab and serving
Place mud crab in the freezer for 1 hour to put it to sleep, then under running water brush well (tooth brush works well) to remove excess dirt.
With your hands, break off claws and legs. Remove top shell and gills by cutting between crab’s main body and top shell with scissors. Cut main body in half, or for large crab in quarters. With the back of a knife, hit claws to create fractures in the shell. In a small bowl, scrape and collect any roe and tomalley in the top shell and main body.
Place large stock/casserole pot on medium heat then add oil, reserved crab roe, spring onion batons, garlic and thai shallots and sauté until lightly golden and fragrant.
Add sugar, white pepper, anchovy salt, fish sauce, 2 tablespoons annatto oil and mud crab and stir well then saute for 2-3 minutes.
Add straw mushrooms and two ladles of pork bone broth and bring to the boil then cover and simmer on low-medium for 5 minutes or until mud crab just cooked through.
Remove mud crab and allow to cool before picking meat out of the legs and main body (leave claws intact). Alternatively, serve mud crab pieces as is with shell still on (preferred)
Add remaining pork bone broth, quail eggs and annatto oil to the pot and bring to the boil then simmer then it’s time to add the bánh canh noodles.
Split up bánh canh dough into four equal parts. Pat hands with cooking oil and shape dough into a ball. With a rolling pin, roll one ball at a time out into a rectangle about 2-3mm in thickness then slice into 3-4mm noodles, being careful not to let them stick together, and place immediately into the pot one strand at a time and repeat for remaining dough. Duncan’s tip: The shape and length of the noodles will naturally appear rustic. The varied cooking time between noodle batches are not a concern.
Once all noodles are in the pot, bring to the boil and reduce back to a simmer and cook for another 3-5 minutes.
In a small bowl add potato starch and water and mix well to create a loose slurry. To thicken the soup to a gravy consistency, bring to the boil and add 3 tablespoons of potato starch slurry first and immediately stir in well for 1 minute. If desired thickness is not achieved add more potato starch slurry as required. Duncan’s tip: Potato starch slurry can settle, mix well before adding. If too much potato starch is added and soup is too thick, add water/chicken broth to loosen and re-season with fish sauce.
Finally, add pork blood jelly pieces, mud crab meat and claws and warm through.
Ladle bánh canh cua and mud crab pieces into serving bowls and garnish with spring onions, coriander, saw tooth coriander, dried shallots, and white pepper. Serve with chopsticks and a large soup spoon.