Wednesday, May 28, 2008

How to Make Broth for Canh (Vietnamese Soups)

Unlike Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup), which requires hours upon hours of simmering, canh (Vietnamese soup) is usually a quick, light broth-based soup. My "stock" is simmered for about half an hour, usually made just for each particular pot of soup. You can do this with beef, pork, or chicken. Most Asian grocery stores will sell beef or pork chin bones with meat specifically for this purpose. You can also use pork, without bones, and get both a broth and boiled pork for Goi Cuon (Vietnamese Salad Rolls).

Here's how I make my canh to be flavorful yet light and clear like what you see below.

How to Make Canh 1

How to Make Broth for Canh (Vietnamese Soups)

You'll need:
About 1 lb of meat and/or bones for a 2-quart pot of water
1 tsp salt, or more according to taste

Optional: For flavoring, dried dates, scallops, shrimp, squid, and/or fish sauce.

Wash and clean your meat. Place meat in a pot of water, fill pot to about 80 percent full. Add about 1 tsp of salt. Turn heat to high and let water come to a full boil. Then turn the heat down to medium-low and let simmer for about half an hour. The low temperature simmer keeps the broth clear.

Conversely, if you want a milky broth, then keep the heat on medium-high at a light roiling boil to extract maximum flavor from the bones.

You'll start seeing foam and other impurities on the surface of the water like what you see below. If you're using meat with bones, there will be more gunk.

How to Make Canh 2

Spoon off the foam into a separate bowl and toss. You can use a normal spoon if that's all you have, but I prefer this skimmer spoon. Notice the very fine mesh? It's excellent for getting every last bit of foamy gunk. I bought my spoon at the San Gabriel Superstore for about $3. Worth every penny.

How to Make Canh 3

After skimming the foam, you'll end up with a nice clear broth like what you see below. Remove the meat if you wish. Since I'm slicing the pork for goi cuon, I do. But if you're using meat with bones, you may also leave the meat in the pot if you like to gnaw on the bones.

How to Make Canh 4

Now it's time to flavor the broth. Depending on what type of soup you're making, you may add any or none of the following variations. Many times, the other ingredients you add to the soup will give plenty of flavor on their own. But there's a handful of single-ingredient canh in which the broth is just as important as the one ingredient.

Can you guess what I added?

How to Make Canh 5

Dried dates will add just a touch of natural sweetness without having to resort to sugar.

How to Make Canh 6

Or for natural umami savoriness, you can add dried squid, shrimp, or scallops. These ingredients should be added to the soup pot when you add your meat so the flavors get released while it's simmering. Even though they're already dried, I store mine in the freezer and they last forever that way.

How to Make Canh 7

And let's not forget the most essential umami seasoning ingredient of all - Nuoc Mam (Vietnamese Fish Sauce). Start with 1 tsp at a time, stir into the broth, taste and adjust if necessary.

Nuoc Mam (Vietnamese Fish Sauce)

What are your tricks for achieving a light and flavorful broth?


My canh recipes:
Canh Bap Cai Bac Thao (Vietnamese Napa Cabbage Soup)
Canh Bi Voi Tom (Winter Melon Soup with Shrimp)
Canh Bi/Bau Nhoi Thit (Vietnamese Pork-Stuffed Winter Melon Soup)
Canh Chua Ca (Vietnamese Sour Fish Soup)
Canh Chua Tom (Vietnamese Sour Shrimp Soup)
Canh Cu Sen (Vietnamese Lotus Root Soup)
Sup Mang Tay Cua (Vietnamese Asparagus and Crab Soup)

1 year ago today, Ga Nuong Xa (Vietnamese Grilled Chicken with Lemongrass).


  1. Ha! I'm much lazier than you ...

    My canh consists of stir-frying aminced garlic in the teeniest amount of oil I can pour into my saucepan, same to whatever meat is to flavour my canh and then pour in some water.

    No wonder my canh flavour does not have any depth to it!

    But I don't make canh much... and when I do, it's definitely a lazy meal.

    I can't wait to see what your recipe is ...

  2. My grandma likes to fry some ginger and shallots before pouring the stock in. If she hv fish bones,she will fry them first too.

  3. I normally fry some ginger and shallot before pouring stock in as well. Admittedly my lazy approach when I don't have much time is to use ready made chicken stock. :D definitely can taste the difference

  4. Oanh,
    Well, as long as that works for you. :)

    I use shallots, garlic, and ginger with fish stock too.

    Of course, this isn't something for every time. Canned broth works great in a jiffy.

  5. Greetings.

    Although I'm not from Vietnam, I've loved the food for years! Having recently moved to the mainland US, I discovered a restaurant that serves "Canh Rau Cai" on their menu (Vegetable Soup). It is one of the most delicious foods I've eaten in my life. Too bad for me, the place is far from home and I can't afford to eat out all the time.

    There's no description in their menu about it, just an option to have it with chicken, beef, or shrimp. We always have it with shrimp. Is Canh Rau Cai a commonly made dish? Does everyone make it the same way? I asked and was told it's vegetable broth with vegetables added in (bok choy, onions, broccoli, carrots) plus the shrimp. Is the broth more like the one you've shared?

  6. Chamorro in Seattle,
    "Canh rau cai" is literally vegetable soup and can consist of pretty much anything. :P

    Not having eaten the soup from the restaurant you're talking about, I really can't say what's in their broth. They could have different broths for the different meats. Or have a big stock broth and just add the meat depending on the customer.

    My canh is just whichever meat I'm using at the time with whatever vegetables I feel like adding. I really think it's the fish sauce that adds so much flavor. That, and simmering the bones long to extract the flavor. So experiment and see what works for you.

  7. Ummm.. I can live on canh and rice alone---and extra msg for me please.

    @Chamorro Your story tugged at my heart strings as it recalled childhood memories of my mom's canh rau cai. She was a terrible cook, but she was able to turn out a canh rau cai that I enjoyed.

  8. Duc,
    Yuck! No MSG for me. Gives me headaches and a rash.


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