Crab broth steamboat

Crab broth steamboat

lau cua

Real Vietnamese Cooking
Michael Fountoulakis

Here's a great spin on the classic steamboat, which we first tasted at a lunch during a bike ride through villages outside Hanoi. It is very popular in the countryside because of the abundance of rice-paddy crabs. The rich broth works particularly well with tofu and beef.

Wombok cabbage originated in China and is milder and sweeter than the regular variety. However, you could also use a savoy cabbage here.


Quantity Ingredient
2 blue swimmer or sand crabs
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 red asian shallots, finely diced
3 tomatoes, cored and chopped
1/2 teaspoon fish sauce
600g dried rice vermicelli
400g beef fillet, thinly sliced
300g firm tofu, cut into 3 cm cubes and fried until golden
1 handful perilla
1 small handful saw-tooth coriander, roughly chopped
2 banana flower petals, thinly sliced
1/4 wombok cabbage, leaves separated, then cut into 3-4 pieces each
Classic dipping sauce


  1. Clean the crabs, taking care to wash away any grit lodged in the crevices. Pull off and discard the top shell, then remove any 'mustard' (the crab's digestive system).
  2. Cut the crabs into small pieces along the joints. Working in batches, use a mortar and pestle to pound the cabs, shell and all, as finely as possible. Then transfer to a food processor and break them down even further. Pass the mixture through a fine sieve to remove any larger bits of shell.
  3. Pour 1 litre water into a saucepan. Add the crushed crab and salt and stir. Slowly bring to the boil, without stirring any further at this stage. As the liquid comes to the boil, the crab will float to the surface and form crab 'cakes'. With a slotted spoon, remove these cakes from the broth, then set the broth and the crab cakes aside.
  4. Heat the oil in a separate saucepan and sauté the shallot over medium heat until fragrant. Add the tomatoes and sugar. Cook for a few minutes, until the tomatoes soften, then add the crab cakes and fish sauce and cook for a further 2-3 minutes. Now add the crab broth and bring to a simmer.
  5. Meanwhile, soak the vermicelli in boiling water for 4-5 minutes. Gently stir to separate the noodles, then drain and refresh under cold water. Use kitchen scissors to cut the vermicelli into easy-to-manage lengths. Divide among six deep bowls.
  6. Arrange the beef, tofu, herbs, banana leaf petals and cabbage on platters. (You can do this ahead of time and refrigerate until you are ready to eat.)
  7. To serve, place the platters, chopsticks and small individual bowls of dipping sauce on the table.
  8. Pour the crab broth into a steamboat, three-quarters of the way to the top, and again bring to a simmer.
  9. Invite your guests to poach their own beef, tofu, cabbage and herbs and ladle into their bowls, over the noodles.
Real Vietnamese Cooking
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