What is Sá Sùng?
The secret flavor bomb in that bowl of Phở
What are Sá Sùng (peanut worms)?
They’re marine (sea) worms that were first described in 1827 by a French zoologist. There are over 140 different kinds of these delicious flavor bombs, and some are teeny tiny (2 millimeters long) while others can be as long as 28 inches.
Sipunculus nudus is their scientific name for the ones we catch, they can reach a few inches to 10 inches long, and are the kinds employed by chefs all over Vietnam, China and other SE. Asian Countries. This species of Sá Sùng are most well known for producing the most intense Umami (savory) profile to soups, stocks and broths. Most notably used in some of the best Phở made by well known Chefs in Vietnam and other parts of the world. Once, only available to members of the royal family or houses of nobility, now available to everyone, but still a rarity in most parts of the world. Considered "The Seafood Gold" by the people of Quan Lan islands of Northern Vietnam.
In English, Sipunculus nudus is often referred to as peanut seaworms. Supposedly it can look like a peanut from an angle. It doesn’t have segments but has a large flask-like section with a proboscis that can retract. Think of pushing the finger of a glove inside out.
Sun-dried Sá Sùng
Where are they caught?
Found deep in the sand, around the coastal dunes of Hai Phong, Quang Ninh, Khanh Hoa and Phu Yen, Vietnam. Inhabiting the coastal tidal shallows. Shaped like a giant colorful worm, it hides in gaps in the sand at depths between 10 and 30 meters. Averaging about 5 to 25 cm long, once matured they can reach up to 40 cm long, 20 cm in diameter, and weigh up to 3 kg.
Caught in the early mornings only. When feeding at night, they leave holes in the sand, resembling the shape of a star, allowing the local fishermen to locate their burrows. When captured, they wrap themselves in a ball and their skin changes color once they leave the sea environment.
Watch a day in the life of a Sá Sùng fisherman, or should we say fisher'women'. That's right! Women who specialize in hunting Sá Sùng in the wild tidal flats of Vietnam.
How do I use Sá Sùng?
They’re sandy and you need to roast them in a dry skillet. Use medium heat and dry roast until you can smell an intense umami fragrance, they'll puff up a bit, and turn a dark golden brown color, this is when it's ready. Let them cool on a plate, then break them into sections and shake out the sand. Finally add them to your pot of pho broth or any other dishes. Many chefs in SE. Asian countries use these delicious little flavor bombs as a natural substitute for MSG (MonoSodium Glutamate) and as MSG can be used in almost everything, so can Sá Sùng. They can be deep fried and eaten like chips, dry roasted and added to stock pots or broths, simmered in a pot of porridge, eaten whole in a pot of spicy Korean hot pot, and even added to stir-fried dishes along with vegetables and meats intensifying the flavor of all the other ingredients.
Dry roasting with whole spices.