If you're a beef and seafood lover, this Vietnamese-style beef hot pot recipe is for you. Bỏ nhúng dấm (literally beef dipped in vinegar) is the Vietnamese equivalent of the Japanese dish called shabu shabu, but with additional seafood ingredients. The broth is made with coconut soda, chopped onions and tomatoes. On a separate platter, gather the raw beef, shrimp, baby squid and octopus, fresh pineapple, cooked rice noodles, bánh tráng (dried rice paper sheets) and various aromatic herbs. The prep work is quite labor-intensive; you have to have a lot of company to make the meal worthwhile. The more, the merrier.
Place an electric hot pot in the middle of the dining table and let everyone dip and cook the beef and seafood in the fragrant broth and assemble their own rolls using the rice paper sheets. Dip the rolls in mắm nêm dipping sauce. It's made of fermented fish paste, which is very strong. If fermented fish paste is too overwhelming, you could ultimately use nước mắm chấm (fish sauce) or soy sauce (nước tương chấm) for a milder flavor.
Vietnamese beef hot pot is a very festive meal because it's fairly expensive and quite time-consuming to prepare. It's what one of my uncles would call "đặc biệt", or "only for special occasions" in English. On my Papa's side of the family in France, all my cousins (including me) married non-Vietnamese spouses but I can guarantee you they all know the meaning of the word "đặc biệt" (which means special). Whenever, we're invited to my uncles' homes, they offer a lot of đặc biệt meals. "Lulu, it's đặc biệt, you should try this, it's delicious!" as one of my uncle always says to my husband. So this recipe is dedicated to my uncle François, whom I call Chu Bay (Uncle #7. He's Papa's 7th brother and that's how you show respect in the Vietnamese tradition).
It's perfect for a winter meal and just in time for the Chinese New Year, which is coming very soon.
Servings: 6 servings
2-½ pounds "outside" flank steak (see tips), sliced paper-thin
1 pound raw medium shrimp
½ pound baby squid, pre-cleaned and thawed
½ pound baby octopus
1 fresh pineapple, peeled, cored and cut into chunks
1 stalk fresh lemongrass
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
3 shallots, thinly sliced
1 can coconut soda
1/3 cup rice vinegar (or any white vinegar)
1 (1-inch) chunk fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
2-½ tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1 package bánh tráng disks (rice paper, see tips)
4 baby cucumbers (or 1 large cucumber)
1 (10-ounce) package thick rice vermicelli noodles, cooked
2 dozen lettuce leaves, as needed
2 cups bean sprouts
1 cup Vietnamese mint , stemmed
1 cup Thai basil, stemmed
½ cup cilantro, stemmed
7 red Thai chili peppers, thinly sliced
2 cloves pickled garlic (or fresh garlic), finely minced and puréed
½ (7-ounce) bottle mắm nêm (fermented fish paste)
juice of 2 limes
½ teaspoon MSG (optional)
2 cups pickled carrots, daikon
radish and green papaya
For the lemongrass purée (see tips): Wash the lemongrass. Remove all the white powder off of the leaves. Cut the stalk in half. Crush i younger part with the back of a chef's knife. and set it aside for the broth. Cut the remaining stalk into extremely thin slices using a chef's knife. In a mortar and pestle, grind the thin slices of lemongrass, then transfer and mix everything using a mini food processor. It should turn into a fine moist powder. Set aside.
For the cucumber: Cut the cucumbers into 2-3 inch matchsticks (depending on the size of your rolls).
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. Make sure to leave the tip of the tail on, if possible. 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 resultsth.
For the bean sprouts and herbs: Wash the bean sprouts and drain through a salad spinner. Repeat the same procedure with the mint and basil. Remove as much liquid as possible.
For the mắm nêm dipping sauce (see tips): In a blender or a mini-blender if you have one, blend ½ cup of pineapple chunks. Add 2 tablespoons of water if the blender doesn't flow smoothly. In a small saucepan, dissolve the rest of the sugar in 1/3 cup of boiling water. Let the water cool to room temperature. Add the mắm nêm, lime juice, 1-½ tablespoons of granulated sugar and MSG (if used). Mix in the blended pineapple, garlic and 1 thinly sliced red Thai chili pepper.
For the broth: In a deep saucepan, combine 3 cups of water, coconut soda, ½ tablespoon of sugar, rice vinegar, ginger slices, lemongrass stalk, the chopped onions and tomatoes, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the oil. Set aside.
Arrange the raw beef, raw shrimp, baby squid and baby octopus on one large platter and sprinkle with the thinly sliced shallots and black pepper. Gather the rest of the herbs, pineapple and noodles in another platter.
Divide the mắm nêm sauce into individual dipping bowls. Each person will add lemongrass purée and more red Thai chiles to their liking. I usually place a bowl of lemongrass on the side so everyone can help themselves.
Place the hot pot filled with broth in the middle of the dining table.
Fill a saucepan with water. Bring the water to a boil. Let cool a bit. Transfer to 2 large bowls and place a bowl at each end of the dining table with a plate of dried rice papers.
Each person should have a pair of chopsticks, a spoon, a dipping bowl, a plate and a small seafood strainer.
Wrapping and rolling method:
Quickly dip one rice paper disk in the hot water, remove as much excess water as possible. Place on a plate. Wait about 1 or 2 minutes. The rice paper should be soft but not too wet. I usually dip 4 rice papers at a time, then start wrapping.
Quickly dip the beef slices into the broth (once it's changed colors). Cook the seafood items in the broth for about 2-3 minutes. Check doneness of the shrimp; it should be firm, white with shades of orange. Fish out the cooked shrimp, octopus and squid using the strainer.
Using the soften rice paper disk as the wrapper, place a piece of lettuce, mint, basil, cilantro, rice noodles and 2-3 cucumber "matchsticks". Top with bean sprouts, pineapple, 2 slices of beef and the rest of the seafood. Everything should be about 1-½ inches from the bottom edge so the roll doesn't burst when it's wrapped.
Carefully fold each side flap and roll away from you. If the rice paper is moistened properly, it should easily stick and roll. Tuck all the mixture into the wrapper, forming a cigar.
Dip the roll in the mắm nêm sauce and enjoy! Roll another one until you're full!
Raw beef, shrimp and baby squid ready to be cooked.
You don't need to buy a specific hot pot or fondue set if you don't have one. We use an electric burner that we place in the middle of the dining table.
During the meal, if the liquid from the broth evaporates, just add more water and bring the liquid back to a boil. The heat should be at a low simmer.
Some people use sesame oil for the broth but I think canola oil is just fine.
I get the seafood strainers at Dai Thanh Asian market on 420 S 2nd St, in San Jose.
Technically, I do not use flank steak but the outside flank of the steak (the best part), called nạm. Just mention to your butcher you're making bỏ nhúng dấm. You could also ask your butcher to slice the meat deli-thinly for you. If you don't have an Asian market nearby, you could always use tender rib-eye steak or top sirloin (which is less tender though). If you're slicing the meat yourself, placing the meat in the freezer for 15-20 minutes beforehand helps you control the thickness of each slice of meat. Make sure the slices are as thin as you can make them. Also make sure the meat is sliced against the grain to ensure optimum tenderness.
The amount of granulated sugar varies depending on the level of sweetness of the tomatoes and the onions.
I buy lemongrass at an Asian market. Lemongrass is quite expensive in regular stores and is sold by bulk in bunches of 5 stalks. So plan other dishes using lemongrass. It's a perennial. I asked Lulu (my husband) about it and he started to grow 4 "bushes" last year so we keep getting some (especially during the summer), which is very convenient.
Vietnamese mint has a very different flavor from regular mint. It also has darker vein markings on the leaves. It's commonly used in Asian salad like Vietnamese chicken salad and also springrolls (gỏi cuốn in Vietnamese).
You can use any kind of lettuce such as iceberg or romaine lettuce. Just remove the large center vein prior to rolling.
Daikon (củ cải trắng in Vietnamese) is an Asian turnip that looks like a large white carrot. I use this root a lot for making vegetarian broth for the natural sweetness it provides. Discard the root when the broth is ready. It's delicious when it's pickled with carrots and green papaya and is commonly used in Vietnamese bánh mì sandwiches.
For the thick rice vermicelli noodles, just boil the noodles as you would for regular pasta. Drain thoroughly. Let cool completely.
Bánh tráng are dried rice paper sheets. My favorite brand is Ba Co Gai (Three Ladies). The rice paper isn't too thick, yet strong enough not to easily break on contact of moisture. I use the same brand for my phở noodles.
Rice paper disks (Bánh tráng).
I am not a big fan of MSG (mono-sodium glutamate), some people like to add it to the dipping sauce, but I don't.
For a small tutorial on how to cut a pineapple, click on the link.
You can use fresh garlic instead of the pickled garlic but the garlic flavor is going to be a lot stronger. You can find pickled garlic in any Asian store.
I buy coconut soda at the Asian market, you can also find it online.
You can find all these ingredients in any Asian store.
Vietnamese-style beef fondue, once cooked and wrapped.