Feu (Lao: ເຝີ; also known as Lao beef stew, Lao beef noodle soup or feu noodle soup and sometimes spelled fer) is a long-simmered Lao stew or noodle soup most often made with meat and bones (beef or chicken), vegetables, and herbs. Feu may be served two ways, either as a stew along with steamed rice or as a noodle soup consisting of rice noodles. The English name for this Lao dish is "feu", a spelling derived from the French dish pot-au-feu; however, in Laos, this Lao stew or noodle soup is written as ເຝີ in the Lao script.
When feu is served with noodles, its English name may be "feu noodle soup", "feu with noodles", or "feu noodles" to distinguish it from the stew itself called "feu" that is served with steamed rice.
Depending on personal preference, a wide array of ingredients may be used. A whole onion, a head of garlic, and sliced ginger may be charred and then added to the broth to give it a more intense flavor and aroma. Whenever garlic is used, the Lao typically do not shy away from using a lot of it. Charred lemongrass, sliced galanga, the white bottom of green onions, fresh cilantro stems, and fresh Asian basil stems may also be added to the broth for an additional Lao flair. Celery stalks and optional carrots are sliced and then added to the broth to round out the flavors.
Other ingredients that may also be added to the broth include Sichuan peppers, black peppercorns, star anise, bay leaves, cloves, coriander seeds, black cardamom, cinnamon, and fennel seeds for a fusion of Lao with Chinese flavors.
Salt or fish sauce is also used in the broth along with sugar and sometimes soy sauce or oyster sauce as well. In Laos, beef feu may also include different cuts of beef and bones and sometimes tendons, tripe, and meatballs as ingredients. When making chicken feu, ingredients such as chicken skin, innards, and blood cake may also be used.
Rice stick noodles or broad rice noodles are typically used when making feu noodle soup.
The meat, bones, tendons and/or innards, onion, celery, ginger, and garlic are cooked first in the broth for up to several hours before the remaining herbs and spices are added to the broth and then allowed to simmer for an hour or more before adding additional seasonings such as sugar, salt or fish sauce, and sometimes soy sauce or oyster sauce before the broth is finished. Some of the vegetables and spices may be roasted or charred before adding to the broth to give it a more pronounced flavor.
Optionally, the meat and bones may be browned, by baking in an oven or searing in a pot or wok, before adding to a pot of water to develop a richer flavor and darken the broth. Another optional technique to help remove impurities and produce a clearer broth is parboiling the meat and bones in boiling water for a few minutes, followed by draining out the water from the pot, and then rinsing the parboiled meat and bones with water before adding fresh water to the pot and then allowed to simmer. If a clear broth is desired, impurities that float to the top of the broth should be skimmed off while the broth is simmering.
Feu may be served with or without noodles. If served without noodles, then feu is considered a stew and may be served with steamed rice. If noodles are used, they are cooked in a separate pot of boiling water and then put in a bowl. Thinly sliced raw beef or parboiled beef is also added to the bowl. The broth along with the stewed meat, vegetables, and sometimes bones are ladled into the bowl.
Unique to Laos is the Lao use of fresh lettuce with raw, thinly sliced tomatoes as toppings in Lao noodle soups such as feu, which gives feu a Lao style jolt of color and freshness. The liberal use of fried garlic as a topping to the dish is also common in Laos. Mint leaves and Asian basil leaves may also be added on top of the sliced tomatoes or alongside them to give an additional contrast in shape, texture, and color as the Lao are known for their use of contrasting elements in their cuisine. Fresh cilantro and also thinly sliced green onions and white onions are also added as toppings. Fresh bean sprouts may also be added as a topping as is commonly done for another Lao noodle dish called khao poon.
When feu is served with noodles, it is typical in Laos to serve it with a side of fresh Lao chili peppers, shrimp paste, a wedge of lime or lemon, Asian basil, mint leaves, cilantro, lettuce, and bean sprouts. Sugar, fish sauce, chili sauce, and hoisin sauce are also typically provided as condiments on the table.
Beef, chicken, pork, seafood, vegetarian, and oxtail feu are typical variations in Laos. Rice stick noodles or broad rice noodles may also be added to feu. Because different spices, herbs, and vegetables may be used in Laos depending on personal preference, feu may exude a local Lao flare including the use of lemongrass, galanga, and a large amount of garlic in the broth and also the use of sliced raw tomatoes, lettuce, green onions, cilantro, bean sprouts, and fried garlic as toppings. Depending on the region in Laos, other fresh and raw vegetables besides lettuce and tomatoes may also be used as toppings. Feu may also take on additional flavors and aromas from adding ingredients introduced historically from China, France, and India. Salt, fish sauce, soy sauce, or oyster sauce may be used to season the broth in addition to using sugar. When making pork feu, thinly sliced fried pork belly may also be used as a topping.
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