Vietnamese tomato-crab soup (bún riêu)

Neah invited his mom over to teach him how to make another classic Vietnamese dish, bún riêu, which is a soup of chicken broth, rice noodles, tomatoes, fried tofu slices, meatballs made of crab, shrimp and pork, and aromatics.

Here are some photos of mother and son working on the dish together:

plucking leaves and splitting stems of on choy

slicing tomatoes

seasoning the broth


Isn’t my hubby cute???

Anyway . . . let’s dive right into the recipe, shall we?

Vietnamese tomato-crab soup

(bún riêu)

makes 8 large bowls


2 whole chicken legs (i.e., 2 thighs and 2 drumsticks)

4 lbs. chicken bones

2 onions, roots removed and peeled

1 quart chicken stock (homemade, if available)

1/2 lb. ground pork

1/2 lb. lump crab meat

1/2 lb. shrimp, ground in the food processor

1 and 1/2 jars Pantai brand crab paste with bean oil (see photo below)

3 eggs

16 oz. tofu, fried and sliced 1/4-inch thick

5 large tomatoes, vertically cut into 1/2-inch slices

5 cloves of garlic, sliced

2 16-ounce packages of rice stick noodles (Neah always uses Bún Tháp Chùa brand, which comes in a red package with a picture of a Buddhist temple)

1 tablespoon fish sauce, more or less to taste

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

olive oil

fresh on choy stems, split, and some of the leaves

4 scallions, thinly sliced

fresh mint leaves

fresh shiso leaves (rau tia to) (these look like large basil leaves that are green on one side and purple on the other)

fresh bean sprouts

lemon wedges

chile garlic sauce


To make the soup base:  Put the onions, chicken legs and bones in a large slow cooker and fill the crock with filtered water.  Cover and slow-cook on low overnight or for 8 to 10 hours.  The results will be a light chicken stock that is not richly flavored, which is fine because the broth will become more complex after it is simmered with the tomatoes and other seasonings.  (Apart from the seasonings unique to this dish, the chicken-tomato broth will be similar to the base for a minestrone.  This is my best way of describing the broth for those who are unfamiliar with this dish.)

Strain the slow-cooker chicken stock into a large stock pot.  (You may reserve the leg meat for another dish.)  Add one quart of traditional homemade stock to give the base a bit more depth of flavor.  Then, season the stock to taste with salt and fish sauce.

To make the meatballs:  The crab meatballs are the star component of this dish.  In a bowl, use a fork to combine the crab meat, ground shrimp, ground pork, crab paste, eggs and about a teaspoon of black pepper.  This is the brand of crab paste that my mother-in-law always uses:

What, you think this ingredient sounds a bit sketchy?  I agree, but don’t ask questions — just use it.

To make the meatballs, bring the stock to a boil and drop spoonfuls of the crab mixture into the pot, dumpling-style.  Idealy, the meatballs in the soup will be fluffy and taste like the meaty part of an egg roll.

To finish the soup:

Briefly saute the sliced tomatoes in olive oil and garlic, and then add the tomatoes to the soup and simmer until the tomatoes have somewhat broken down into the broth but are also still chunky.  Add the tofu slices to the soup, too.  Keep the soup simmering to meld the flavors.

Meanwhile, boil the rice noodles in water until done (they should be al dente, not mushy).  Drain the noodles and rinse them well with cool water so that they don’t stick together.  Set aside.

Prepare the “grass” (as Neah’s mom calls all the aromatics) while the soup simmers: First, find this tool at your local Asian market:

. . . and use it to split the stems of the on choy, and put the split stems in ice water to create on choy curls.

Next, rinse and spin dry the mint, shiso leaves and bean sprouts, and set them on table with the lemon wedges, thinly sliced scallions and chili garlic sauce.  Each person will add these elements to his or her bowl of soup, to taste.

To serve the soup: Use a large soup bowl for each person.  Put a handful of rice noodles in the bottom of the soup bowl and ladle the soup over the noodles.  Serve the soup bowls.  At the table, add fresh herbs, sprouts, on choy curls, a squeeze of lemon and garlic chili sauce, to taste.  Toss and stir the soup components using an Asian soup spoon and chop sticks, and enjoy!

mmm, a delicious bowl of tomato-crab soup


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