Monday, March 15, 2010

Pho obsession ...

Those of you who know me, know I have a great love for many types of Asian food: Thai, Japanese, Sichuan, Cantonese, Shandong, Malaysian, Laotian and Vietnamese (so far!). However, I have recently returned to my rural roots, and as such, it has been very difficult for me to find decent Asian ingredients (forget about restaurants!). On a recent trip to Toronto, I gathered some of the ingredients to make homemade pho.

The thing about pho is that it is so simple: noodles, beef, broth and a few garnishes (or not). Regardless, it feels like a warm hug from the inside. Fragrant full bodied broth, lovingly ladled over chewy rice noodles and tender threads of shredded beef. There is simply no dish like it!

I researched a number of websites and blogs, in order to find a fairly authentic version of pho. I would credit most of my attempt to the following sites and cookbooks: “” “” and “” and Into the Vietnamese Kitchen by Andrea Nguyen.

Here is the recipe I used:
2 onions, quartered
large nub of ginger, halved lengthwise and widthwise
5-6 lbs of beef soup bones, leg, knuckle or oxtail
1 lb of beef meat – chuck or brisket
6 quarts of water
1 cinnamon stick - cracked
1 T coriander seeds
1 T fennel seeds
5 star anise
1 black cardamom pod - opened
8 whole cloves
2 T salt
1/4 cup fish sauce
1 inch chunk of yellow rock sugar
2 lbs rice noodles (dried or fresh)
1/2 lb flank, sirloin or fillet, sliced paper thin
fresh mint (large bunch)
Thai basil (large bunch)
2 limes, cut into 6 wedges
2-3 Thai bird chili, sliced (remove seeds and membrane if you want it milder)
Hoisin sauce
Sriracha chili sauce


Toast your spices: Add all spices to dry pan until fragrant. Place toasted spices in cheesecloth and tie all corners tightly to create a bouquet garni (spice bundle).

Char your aromatics: Turn on the broiler of your oven, and place the top rack about 5 inches from the broiler. Place ginger and onions on a large backing sheet and brush with oil on both sides. Broil until ginger and onions begin to char. Flip and continue to char other side. Process should take 10-15 minutes.

Parboil the bones: Fill a stockpot with cold water. Add your bones to the pot and bring to a boil. Boil your bones on high heat for approximately 10 minutes. Drain and rinse your bones. Rinse out your stockpot.

Refill your stockpot the parboiled bones along with about 6 quarts (24 cups) of cold water. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium low. Simmer bones for 2 hours. Periodically, skim any scum, fat or other particles from the broth using a fine mesh strainer.

After the bones have boiled for two hours, add the ginger, onion, bouquet garni, chuck, rock sugar, fish sauce and salt to your pot. Continue to simmer the broth, over medium low heat for 6 hours.

Remove the chuck meat and shred, set aside.

Strain broth over a large bowl, saddled with a colander, lined with cheesecloth. Let the broth drain for at least ten minutes, to allow for all of the goodness to drain into the bowl. Return the broth to the pot. Taste your broth and adjust the seasonings (you might wish to add more fish sauce, salt or rock sugar).
Prepare bowls: Slice your flank steak as thin as possible (if you freeze the steak for 15 minutes prior to slicing it will make it easier to get thin slices).
Prepare your noodles according to the directions on the package.

Place a large handful of noodles in the bottom of each bowl. Place a small handful of the shredded cooked beef over the noodles. Place a few slices of the raw steak slices atop of the noodles and cooked beef.

To Serve: Place your strained broth into the stockpot and bring to a rolling boil. Ladle broth over the steak, the boiling broth will cook the raw steak slices. Place plates with garnishes (herbs, limes, chili and sauces) on the table so that your fellow indulgers may garnish their own bowls.


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