Friday, January 24, 2014

Vietnamese Pho

Have you ever eaten Pho?  (pronounced "fuh").  Have you ever heard of it?  A couple of years ago, Charlie came home from work and said he had heard about an interesting thing on the radio.  They were talking about the Vietnamese national soup, Pho, and, he said it sounded really tasty.  Since I love to experiment and cook new foods, I decided to do some research and give it a try.  Our first taste of pho was amazing.  Even though the soup is quite a bit of work to put together, we decided it was totally worth it - plus one batch is quite a few meals.  Let me share with you how we make our pho.

The finished pho, ready to enjoy! 


The pho spice mixture: dried chili pepper, whole fennel, a cinnamon stick, whole coriander, whole star anise and (since I didn't have any whole) ground cardamom. 

I pack these spices in a little cotton spice bag and they are ready to add to the broth.  

I couldn't resist playing around with the star anise - isn't it a beautiful spice?

By the way, I LOVE these little cotton spice bags.

Now, onto the ginger and onions.  I brushed the cut sides with oil, and next, they will be charred under the broiler.  

The charred ginger and onion imparts a great flavor and color to the broth.

The first part to making the broth is to parboil the bones to remove impurities.  The bones: look at that beautiful marrow.  Sometimes I add a few chunks of cheap beef to the broth, just to give it some extra flavor.  For this batch, I also added some beef neck chunks of meat.

The impurities - also called "scum" - rising to the top while parboiling the bones. 

Then, dump out the icky water and rinse out the pot and rinse the bones/meat.  Add them back to the pot with 6 - 7 quarts of cool, clean water and bring back to a boil. 

Add the charred onions and ginger, the spice bag and salt, sugar and fish sauce. 

As the broth is simmering, you might get more scum.  Try to spoon off as much as you can-

Until you can see just beautiful broth.

Next, time to prepare your fresh salad.  Cilantro is a must.

Add whatever else you feel like for the fresh salad: here, I have cilantro, fresh snow peas, fresh bean sprouts, chili peppers and fresh lime wedges.

For this most recent Pho Fresh Salad, I have added sliced fresh onions, sliced green onions, red peppers and mixed greens to the "regulars." 

After you finish the broth and the fresh salad, it is time to put together the meal.  Start with thin slices of beef -

And place them in your bowl - yes, raw.  Bear with me.

Then, ladle the boiling broth over the raw meat.

As you can (hopefully) see from this picture, the boiling broth gently cooks the meat to perfection. 

Next, the rice noodles.  Add a few to your bowl.  Or, you could add a whole bunch if you want.

The wonderful thing about pho is that the meal changes as you eat.  Add a handful of this, and a dash more of that.  The following pictures are bowls of pho at various meals and at various times throughout the meal (just to give you an idea of how it works). 

I have to admit, I cheat a little.  Rather than just using chopsticks, I also use a spoon to scoop up that delicious broth.  Can't let it go to waste, right?

The flavors are rich, meaty, spicy and fresh, all at the same time.  Of course, since you are making your "own" bowl, you can change the flavors to whatever you want.




The broth:
  • 2 large yellow onions, halved
  • 4 - 6 inch piece fresh ginger 
  • about 6 beef leg bones (the bones with more marrow make a tastier pho)
    • Note: (as you might notice from my pictures, you can have some chunks of meat in your broth as well, to help give it a little more flavor) I added 3 chunks of beef neck meat
  •  1 to 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • a spice bag with:
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tablespoon whole coriander seed
  • 1 tablespoon whole fennel seed
  • 5 whole star anise
  • 1 whole cardamom pod (or 1 teaspoon ground)
  • 6 whole cloves  
  • 1 dried chili pepper
First, char your onions and ginger.  This helps sweeten and mellow the ingredients.  Raise your oven rack to the highest setting and  preheat broiler.  Place halved onions and halved ginger on cookie sheet, and brush some cooking oil on the cut sides.  Broil on high until charred, turn over and continue to char - this should take 115 to 20 minutes total.  Set aside. 

Next, parboil the bones.  Bring a large stockpot of water to a boil.  Add the bones and keep the heat on high.  Parboil bones for a good 10 minutes in rapidly boiling water to get rid of impurities - they will look like a grayish/whitish foam floating up to the surface. After 10 minutes, dump out all of the water, rinse out your pot, rinse the bones, and refill with 6 quarts of clean, cool water and the bones/meat.  This will help create a clear, delicious tasting broth.  Bring the bones and water back to a boil, and lower the heat to a simmer - you really don't want this to boil any more.  Using a ladle or fine mesh strainer, remove any scum that rises to the top. 

Now, to your pot (that has the parboiled bones and clean water in), add the charred onions, the charred ginger, the sugar, salt, fish sauce and the spice bag.  As the broth is simmering, you might be able to see some more of that "scum."  Try to use a fine strainer or a spoon and strain out what you can. Simmer the broth for 3 hours.  Pour through a fine mesh strainer to remove the onions, ginger, bones and any bits of onion skin, ect... that might be floating in the broth.  Return the broth to the pot and taste - add more fish sauce, salt, sugar, ect... until the broth the flavor shines.  Continue to simmer for another 1/2 to 1 hour.  Now, time to make the soup!

The Soup Ingredients

  •  About 1 pound very thinly sliced flank steak, London broil, sirloin or eye of round steak
  •  Rice noodles (as you could see, I used the thin, flat rice noodles)
  • condiments such as Sriracha sauce, plum sauce and Thai Sweet Chili Sauce

To thinly slice meat, freeze the whole piece of meat for 15 minutes or 1/2 hour, and slice across the grain. Prepare rice noodles according to package instructions.

The Fresh Salad Ingredients

  • fresh lime wedges
  • fresh cilantro
  • fresh snow peas
  • fresh greens 
  • fresh bean sprouts
  • sliced fresh red pepper
  • sliced onion
  • sliced green onions
  • what else would you like?
The fresh salad can be as versatile as you are.  What fresh veggies do you like to eat?  What do you have around?

Putting It All Together

Make sure your broth is at a good simmer.  Have the rest of your soup ingredients ready at the table - the meat, the rice noodles, the fresh salad and the sauces.  Place raw meat slices in bowl and quickly add the simmering broth.  Add rice noodles, fresh salad and sauces to taste.  Time to start enjoying!  The thing we love about this is the meal is able to evolve - feel like a little more cilantro?  Add a bit.  Add some more fresh bean sprouts, or a squeeze of Sriracha or Sweet Chili Sauce.

I hope you enjoy your Pho as much as we do!

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