Serves: Makes 6 servings
- 3 pounds beef marrow bones or other good soup bones
- 4 pounds meaty beef ribs or oxtails
- 2 small onions, halved
- 2 (3-inch) knobs fresh ginger, split lengthwise
- ¼ cup fish sauce, or more to taste
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 6 whole star anise (or the equivalent in broken pieces)
- 1 (2-inch) cinnamon stick
- 6 whole cloves
- 10 whole black peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon coarse salt, or more to taste
- 8 ounces dried rice sticks or thin rice noodles
- 1 pound thick rib eye, sirloin, or tenderloin steak, fat trimmed, very thinly sliced (⅛ inch)
- 6 to 8 ounces mung bean sprouts, rinsed and drained
- ½ cup lightly packed fresh cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped, plus more for the table
- Hot sauce for garnish
- 1½ limes, cut into quarters (to yield 6), for garnish
Procedures:The goodness of this soup depends almost entirely on the broth, so it pays to take your time and let the broth simmer lazily until the flavors are deep and rich. Your house will smell so good that you may just want to have a pot of this on your stove all the time! To get a truly greasefree broth, you’ll want to make the broth a day ahead so you can chill it, letting the fat float to the top and harden for easy scooping off.
- To make the broth, put all the bones and ribs in a large pot (at least 12 quarts), cover with water, and bring to a boil. Let everything boil for a couple of minutes, then drain the water. Refill with about 4 quarts water and bring to a simmer.
- Meanwhile, char the onions and ginger by either holding them over a gas flame until deep brown and charred, or placing them, cut side down, in a cast-iron skillet and cooking until very deeply browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the onions and ginger to the pot of broth, along with the fish sauce and sugar.
- Simmer the broth, skimming any foam that forms on the surface, until the ribs are tender, about 2 hours. With tongs or a skimmer, remove the ribs, let cool, then cut or pick off the tasty meat and refrigerate until ready to serve the soup. Return everything else, including any fat or gristly bits, to the broth. Add the star anise, cinnamon stick, cloves, peppercorns, and the salt and continue simmering until deeply flavorful, another 1½ to 3 hours.
- Fish out all the bones and large spices (especially the star anise, which can get strong) and discard them, then skim off as much fat as possible (if you can, make this ahead so you can cool the broth and skim off the hardened fat). Taste the broth and continue reducing to concentrate the flavors if necessary. You should end up with about 10 cups. Season with a bit more fish sauce and salt to make it strongly flavored.
- Meanwhile, soak the rice sticks in cool water until softened, about 30 minutes. Bring a large pot of water to a boil; when ready to serve the soup, plunge the rice sticks into the boiling water and cook until tender and heated through, about 30 seconds. Drain thoroughly, then distribute among 6 wide soup bowls. Divide the cooked beef rib meat among the bowls, too, then lay the strips of raw rib eye on top.
- Get the broth piping hot and ladle it into the bowls, allowing it to cook the raw beef. Top each bowl with a handful of bean sprouts and a pinch of cilantro leaves. Put the fish sauce and hot sauce on the dinner table, along with a bowl of limes and more cilantro, so diners can add their own garnishes.