Saturday, January 15, 2011

Vietnamese Pho

It's not that I haven't been cooking the last few weeks, it's just that with my little point-and-shoot camera, I can really only get decent pictures during the day. In the late afternoon and evening, when I'm usually cooking, I need to rely on artificial light (and standing absolutely still!) or on the flash, and that leads to orange blurry pictures or to garish glistening ones. My birthday is coming up next week so maybe I should gift myself a better camera and decent flash.

Anyway, one of the dishes I have been living off of for most of this week is a Vietnamese beef soup called Pho (pronounced like French feu).

It starts with charring the ginger and onion over an open flame for 15 minutes. I used the grill from my old toaster oven for this and feared the worst with regard to smoking up the place, but it worked better than I had expected (I did open some windows!). After parboiling some beef bones, you throw all the ingredients in a big pot and simmer for 3 hours uncovered, taking the beef out after 1.5 hours. Keeping the pot uncovered lets more liquid evaporate and intensifies the flavour, which is something I plan to do more often. The broth produced is delicious and wonderfully fragrant, and the cooked beef is fabulous—completely imbued with the wonderful flavours of star anise, cinnamon, ginger, garlic and onion.

My biggest caveat is that it ended up being much too salty for my taste. The recipe calls for a lot of salt in making this stock, reasoning that the noodles and other ingredients it goes over are bland, but I had to add boiling water to reduce the salt levels, and for a stock this good, that was a shame.

I varied the vegetables and noodles that went into the broth a lot—depending on the day, it could be savoy cabbage and bean sprouts, or mushrooms and green peppers that had been stir-fired in sesame oil first. Today, I thinly sliced some fillet of beef and put it on top of the noodles and vegetables before pouring over the hot stock. It was great.

Vietnamese Beef Broth

Adapted from Viet World Kitchen
I am just providing the broth ingredients and an abbreviated method here.
I've reduced the salt by half, added some garlic, and given a range for the star anise, since I found it was a bit too strong in the balance.
Check out the original source for all the authentic vegetables and garnishes and a more detailed method.

2 medium yellow onions
4-inch piece ginger
5-6 pounds beef soup bones
6 liters of water
3 cloves of garlic, smashed
3-5 star anise
6 whole cloves
3-inch cinnamon stick
500 grams beef chuck cut into 1 inch cubes
2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons fish sauce
1 -inch chunk) yellow rock sugar (I used Indian jaggery)

  1. Over a grill or flame, char the ginger and onions, turning them from time to time. After 15 minutes, rinse the ginger and onion under cold water, peel and slice the ginger and remove the charred outer layers from the onions.
  2. While the ginger and onion char, parboil the beef bones (there should be no or little meat on them) for 2-3 minutes. Then discard the water, rinse the bones and rinse the pot to get rid of impurities in the stock.
  3. Now put all the ingredients in a large pot, bring to a boil, then turn down to a bare simmer. Simmer for 1.5 hours, then remove the beef with a slotted spoon. Let it cool in cold water for about 10 minutes before draining and refrigerating it. (This is to prevent it from turning dark.)
  4. Simmer the broth for another 1.5 hours. Strain the broth through a sieve lined with cheesecloth and let it cool down so that you can easily remove the fat. (At this point, if you've got good marrow bones, scoop out the marrow and spread it on some melba toast and eat right away. Cook's treat—marrow has to be hot and it doesn't keep that well.)
  5. When you come to serve the soup, soak some rice noodles (or ramen, or use wok noodles). Heat the broth to boiling point. Add the reserved beef to warm it up. Julienne some vegetables, and stir fry them or simmer them briefly in the broth until tender. 
  6. Place the noodles, vegetables, and beef in serving bowls and add the hot broth. Garnish with cilantro, chillis and mint. 

1 comment:

  1. How nice that we have our love of pho in common! It's a soup and aromatherapy all at the same time. I've eaten pho three days straight and I'm not tired of it. The fresh basil and mung bean sprouts spoil too fast. Gotta use them up. I adapted my broth to a "fast food" broth. I just use organic broth and season it with chili sauce, fish sauce and hoisin. It works in a pinch, but I'm going to try your recipe when time permits. Thanks for the link. I love hanging in the kitchen with Barbara!