Banh Canh Recipe (Vietnamese Shrimp Broth with Udon Noodles)

Banh Canh Recipe (Vietnamese Shrimp Broth with Udon Noodles) Recipe

Bánh canh tôm is what I consider comfort food. The warm broth with thick, chewy Vietnamese tapioca noodles is very satisfying. Unlike the usual comfort food you might expect, this Vietnamese soup is pretty healthy. I made this banh canh variation with "tôm" (shrimp), homemade fish balls made by our family friend, Co Nho, and pieces of yellowtail snapper. This specific fish works well because of its mild aroma and firm texture when boiled.

In my opinion, the most important part of soup dishes such as pho or bun mang ga is how flavorful the broth is. I made a shrimp stock using shrimp shells. You could also add coconut milk but I didn't as I'm trying to watch my weight!

Ingredients

Yields: 6 servings

6 ounces yellowtail snapper, cut into small pieces
1 dozen fish balls, halved
2 (15-ounce) packages bánh canh Vietnamese noodles, boiled separately and drained
1 pound raw medium shrimp, thawed
3 tablespoons canola oil
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 tablespoons cilantro with stems, chopped
2 (14-ounce) cans low-sodium chicken broth (or fish stock)
½ yellow onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
2 celery stalks, peeled and sliced
6 fresh shiitake mushrooms, chopped
2 tablespoons fish sauce, to taste
2 teaspoons salt (or more fish sauce), to taste
1 green Thai bird chile, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1-½ teaspoons black peppercorns, freshly cracked


Directions

Prepping the shrimp: Remove and discard the head of the shrimp if it's still attached. Carefully shell and de-vein the black part of the shrimp using a sharp hook-like paring knife, reserving the shrimp shells aside. Rinse the shrimp under cold running water and pat dry using a paper towel. There should be as little water as possible. Repeat the same procedure for each shrimp. This step is tedious but essential for good results. 

Prepping shrimp stock:

Rinse the shrimp shells.

In a mortar and pestle, grind 2 cloves of garlic, 1 tablespoon chopped onion, the green chile, cilantro and fish sauce into a coarse paste.

In a pot, heat 2 tablespoons oil and the onions and cook until caramelized. Transfer the onions to a plate, leaving as much oil as possible in the pan.

In the same deep saucepan, add the shells and 1 quart of water. Bring to a boil. Add the coarse paste. Cook for about 30 minutes. Strain in a sieve. Discard the solids and impurities. Pour the broth into a stockpot. Add the chicken stock (or fish stock), mushrooms, carrot and celery. Bring to a boil and cook for another 30 minutes.

Assembly time:

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a pan. Add the last clove of garlic. Cook until slightly golden. Make sure the pan is hot, then add the shrimp. Stir fry for about 2 minutes. Do not over-cook the shrimp as they will finish cooking in the broth. As soon as they change color, transfer to a plate. Repeat the same procedure with the pieces of snapper. Cook for 2 minutes and add about a ladle or two of broth. Turn off the heat.

Bring the broth from the main pot back to a boil, then add the reserved caramelized onions, the contents from the pan, the fish balls and the shrimp. Cover and let simmer for 5 minutes. Skim the impurities rising to the surface of the broth using a fine mesh strainer, if needed.

Taste and adjust seasoning. Add salt or more  nước mắm (fish sauce) and pepper. Taste again. Finish with palm sugar (if necessary, depending on the sweetness from the fish and caramelized onions; I didn't). The secret is to balance the sweetness and the saltiness.

Bring to a boil one more time. Turn off the heat, then add the bánh canh noodles.

Serve immediately.

Bon appétit!


Tips

If yellowtail snapper isn't available, you can substitute another white fish such as cod, bass or catfish.

The addition of caramelized onions to the broth prevents the soup from being tanh ("fishy") when the fish and shrimp are added. It's a trick when cooking seafood or meat in broth.

I've never made fish balls in the past. Co Nho told me she mixes blended peeled, deveined shrimp and fish, salt, fish sauce, chopped cilantro, black pepper, a little bit of sugar and annatto oil.

Fresh store-bought bánh canh noodles are available in the Bay Area. They have a chewy texture and look almost translucent when cooked. They're made of tapioca starch, a little rice flour, salt and boiling water.

My favorite fish sauce (nước mắm) is the Red Boat Fish Sauce brand. It's very flavorful and not overly salty.

All the ingredients listed above can be found in any Asian store.

Published By: Jacqueline Pham on March 16, 2012.


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