Thai Foods Ep.1


Thai Street Food - Pork Bones Soup "Leng Saeb"

by Thomas M. Tillman

A dish made from just...bones?

If you think it's crazy that we should be eating a dish made from bones, hear me out. This dish is made from pork neck/back bones, which are most commonly used for making Thai noodle soup broths. But they have a lot of meat on them tucked away in all the nooks and crannies as well. In fact, every time I make pork stock with these, once it's done simmering I remove all of the tender meat that is practically falling off the bones, and I always end up with enough meat for a full meal for two adults! So you can think of this like eating ribs. There are a lot of bones, but also a lot of meat. If you eat chicken feet, this has way more meat than that. I'm pretty sure this dish was created because some noodle soup vendor thought there's enough meat in these bones to be a whole nother dish!

What does "leng saeb" mean?

Leng is short for ia leng which means pork spine in Teochew Chinese. They're the bones most commonly used to make pork stock for noodle soups because they have a lot of cut surfaces exposing the interior of the bones, cartilage and marrow which give the broth rich flavour and body. Noodle soups were originally introduced to Thailand by Teochew immigrants, which is why Thai people have adopted the Teochew term. (Many Thai people are of Teochew descent, myself partially included.) Fun fact: Leng actually means dragon, and when the spine bone is removed from the pig, it is long like a dragon! Saeb on the other hand, means delicious in Lao. But when Thai people use it, it's used to mean "spicy and delicious." This is because Lao food is generally more spicy than Thai food. So "Leng Saeb" means spicy, tasty pork bones!

Bones Buying Guide

You can find leng bones at most Chinese butchers or grocery stores sold as either pork neck bones or pork back bones. In my experience pork neck bones are meatier, so that's what I use. But if you can only find back bones that works as well. They will not be cut into the foot-long pieces you see in Mark's video above, but that's actually good because it makes them a lot more manageable!
Pork neck bones sold at Chinese butchers/grocery stores. Pork back bones or ribs can also be used.
As you might suspect, you can absolutely make this dish using pork ribs. Baby back ribs or spareribs will work just as well, and you can separate the bones into smaller chunks so they will fit into your stock pot. It will actually be a little easier to eat, but the resulting stock might not be as rich because ribs have fewer exposed bone surfaces, which are what gives body and flavour to the stock. Alternatively, you can use chopped spare ribs that are often sold in small pieces at Chinese butchers - and as I used in this dim sum spare ribs recipeThis will be a better option than full pork ribs because there are many more exposed bones and a lot more cartilage (also great for a full-bodied stock) and it'll be much easier to eat. You'll be missing is the impressive "mountain" experience, but it'll taste just as good.

Ingredients You'll Need

There are 2 steps to making leng saeb; the first is braising the pork bones and making the base stock, and the second is turning that stock into the saeb broth.
Ingredients for braising pork bones and making stock: Garlic, fish sauce, white peppercorns, soy sauce, pork neck/back bones, onions. If you have daikon radish, add that too.
Ingredients for making the saeb broth: Pork stock (from above), fish sauce, sugar, Thai chilies, lime, cilantro, chopped garlic.

Step-By-Step:

Process shots for making leng saeb step 1-4
1. Simmer pork bones with seasoning. 2. Skim off the scum after about 30 mins. 3. Add aromatics and simmer for another 1.5 - 2 hours. 4. Check that the meat is fork tender, and skim off the aromatics.
Process shots for making leng saeb step 5-8
5. Take some of the pork stock and bring to a boil. 6. Turn it off and add garlic, chilies, sugar, fish sauce and lime juice. 7. Stir in cilantro. 8. Pile pork onto a platter and ladle broth over.

Pro Tip: Making Eating Easy

Since you'll be eating meat off the bones, be sure to cook it long enough that the thickest part of the meat is super fork tender and comes off the bones easily. Your total cooking time should be at least 2 hours, and may even be 2.5 hours for particularly meaty bones.

Frequently Asked Questions

I don't eat pork, can I substitute another meaty bones?

Absolutely! You can make this recipe with chicken feet if you like them, or wings. For beef you can use oxtail. Chicken will take 30-45 minutes to become tender, oxtail can take up to 3.5 hours.

I cannot find pork back or neck bones, what can I use instead?

You can make this dish using pork ribs. Baby back ribs or spareribs will work just as well. You can separate the bones into smaller chunks so they will fit in the pot. It will actually be a little easier to eat, but the resulting stock might not be as tasty because ribs have fewer exposed bone surfaces, which is what gives body to the stock. Alternatively, you can use chopped spare ribs that are often sold in small pieces at Chinese butchers. This will yield a better stock because there are many more exposed bones and a lot of cartilage. It'll also be much easier to eat, but the presentation will not be as extravagant as you won't have the mountain!

Can I make this dish less spicy?

Yes, but since chilies add a nice flavour to the broth, I suggest removing the seeds and pith from the chilies rather than using fewer chilies.

INGREDIENTS

For the pork stock:

  • 3 lb pork neck or back bonessee note 1
  • 3.7 qt water
  • Half an onionlarge dice, see note 2
  • Half a head garlicpeeled and smashed
  • ½ tsp white peppercornscracked
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp fish sauce

For the Leng Saeb Broth

  • 2 cups pork stockfrom above
  • 3 Tbsp lime juice
  • 1 Tbsp fish sauceapprox
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 3 Tbsp chopped garlic
  • 3-4 Thai chiliesseeds removed if needed
  •  cup chopped cilantroif you have sawtooth coriander, you can add it too
  • Jasmine rice for serving

NOTES

  1. You can buy pork neck bones or back bones at Chinese butchers or grocery stores. Choose neck bones if you can, as they tend to have more meat. Alternatively, you can use pork ribs. See more info in the FAQ above.
  2. If you have daikon radish, you can add about 2 cups of peeled and large diced daikon to the broth either instead of, or in addition to, the onion.

INSTRUCTIONS

To make the pork stock

  • In a large stock pot add the bones and cover with the water. Add the soy sauce and the fish sauce and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes or until a significant amount of scum collects on top. Skim off the scum and discard.
    3 lb pork neck or back bones,2 Tbsp soy sauce,2 Tbsp fish sauce,3.7 qt water
  • Add the onions, garlic, and peppercorns and simmer for another 1.5 hours or until the meat is fork tender. If water dries up too quickly, top it off just until the bones are submerged.
    Half an onion,Half a head garlic,½ tsp white peppercorns

To make the Saeb broth

  • Take 2 cups of the pork stock and bring to a boil in a small pot. Keep the pork bones in the broth to keep them moist until ready to serve. Meanwhile pound the chilies in a mortar and pestle until broken into bits or finely chop them.
    2 cups pork stock,3-4 Thai chilies
  • Once the broth is boiling, turn off the heat and immediately add the garlic and chilies. Season with the sugar, fish sauce and lime juice, then taste and add more fish sauce if needed. (How much fish sauce depends on how far your stock reduced, so you have to taste and adjust here.) When ready to serve, stir in the cilantro.
    3 Tbsp lime juice,1 Tbsp fish sauce,2 tsp sugar,3 Tbsp chopped garlic,⅔ cup chopped cilantro

To serve

  • Arrange the pork bones into a big pile on a platter that has enough depth to it to hold the broth. Ladle the seasoned broth over the pork, allowing the garlic and the chilies to rest on the bones. Serve with jasmine rice. You can use a spoon and fork to pick the meat off of the bones, but feel free to use your hands when needed. The broth is the best part of this, so be sure to sip on that as you eat, and drench your rice with it! *You can save the remaining broth for noodle soups. They will last in the fridge for about a week, and will freeze indefinitely.
    Jasmine rice for serving