How to make it

  • 1. Place a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the peanut oil, and swirl to coat. When oil is hot, add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, stirring, until softened and lightly browned. Add all the aromatics (ginger, lemon grass, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, coriander, fennel, dry chiles and turmeric) and stir to distribute. Add the sugar and let everything fry lightly, until sugar begins to caramelize, about 2 minutes. Add the soy sauce, fish sauce and broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Cook for 30 minutes. Strain, discarding solids. Season to taste with the salt and a generous amount of pepper. (May be prepared several hours ahead.)
  • 2. Soak the rice noodles: Put the rice vermicelli in a large bowl. Cover with boiling water. Stir noodles as they soften. Soak for about 20 minutes until tender. Cool in a colander under running water and drain. Reserve at room temperature.
  • 3. To serve, bring soup to a brisk simmer. Add the mussels and put on the lid. Cook 2 minutes, until mussels have opened. Add the squid, stir to combine and cook 30 seconds more. Turn off heat.
  • 4. Divide rice noodles among 4 large soup bowls. Ladle soup into bowls. Sprinkle with the cilantro, scallions and Thai basil. Pass the fresh chiles and lime wedges separately.
  • The ingredient list for the recipe is rather long, but don’t let that be intimidating. Most of the items are just the aromatics, which simmer together to give the soup its bright, complex notes, and they achieve it in well under an hour. The soup base can be prepared and the rice noodles can be soaked ahead of time as well. Adding the mussels and squid takes mere minutes just before serving.
  • The most important part happens at the table. When you serve the big, steaming bowls of fragrant soup, pass a dish of finely slivered red or green Thai bird chiles. They are diminutive yet very potent. Whether you add just a tiny bit or opt for extra spicy, the chile flavor is essential. A big squeeze of lime pulls it all together.

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