Vietnamese Pho

I had a dinner party recently, and decided to make a Vietnamese Pho from scratch.

In hindsight, not the best idea, given I was just recovering from bronchitis. 6 hours later, I was exhausted, and badly in need of a nap. The soup was worth making in the end, it has seriously helped with my recovery. I was getting a bit tired of canned creamed soups. I like a clear broth style soup.

This recipe is quite labour intensive, and I would recommend investing in a Kmart 15 Litre Stockpot. I know I will be the next time I make this. There’s a lot of waiting for things to come together, and you do have to fix the broth in the end with a generous thumping of fish sauce and sneaky Kicap Manis.

Hope you enjoy the end product!

Beef Pho Noodle Soup

Servings: Makes 10 satisfying bowls

Preparation time: 2 hours

Cooking time: 4 hours

Source: Adapted from http://www.vietworldkitchen.com/blog/2008/10/pho-beef-noodle-soup.html

Ingredients

For the broth:

2 medium yellow onions

4-inch piece ginger

2.5kg beef soup bones (marrow and knuckle bones)

5 star anise

6 whole cloves

3-inch cinnamon stick

1kg piece of beef chuck, rump, brisket or cross rib roast, cut into 2-by-4-inch pieces (weight after trimming)

1  1/2 tablespoons salt

4 tablespoons fish sauce

28g (1-inch chunk) yellow rock sugar (duong phen; see Note)

For the bowls:

2 packets small (1/8-inch wide) dried or fresh banh pho noodles (“rice sticks” or Thaichantaboon)

500g raw eye of round, sirloin, London broil or tri-tip steak, thinly sliced across the grain (1/16 inch thick; freeze for 15 minutes to make it easier to slice)

1 medium yellow onion, sliced paper-thin, left to soak for 30 minutes in a bowl of cold water

3 or 4 spring onions, green part only, cut into thin rings

1/3 cup chopped coriander (ngo)

Ground black pepper

Optional garnishes arranged on a plate and placed at the table: 
Sprigs of spearmint (hung lui)

Asian/Thai basil (hung que)

Leaves of coriander (ngo gai)

500g Bean sprouts

Red hot chillies (such as Thai bird or dragon), thinly sliced

Lime wedges

Instructions

Prepare the pho broth:

  1. Char onion and ginger. Use an open flame on grill or gas stove. Place onions and ginger on cooking grate and let skin burn. (If using stove, turn on exhaust fan and open a window.) After about 15 minutes, they will soften and become sweetly fragrant. Use tongs to occasionally rotate them and to grab and discard any flyaway onion skin. You do not have to blacken entire surface, just enough to slightly cook onion and ginger.
  2. Let cool. Under warm water, remove charred onion skin; trim and discard blackened parts of root or stem ends. If ginger skin is puckered and blistered, smash ginger with flat side of knife to loosen flesh from skin. Otherwise, use sharp paring knife to remove skin, running ginger under warm water to wash off blackened bits. Set aside.
  3. Parboil bones. Place bones in stockpot (minimum 12 litre capacity) and cover with cold water. Over high heat, bring to boil. Boil vigorously 2 to 3 minutes to allow impurities to be released. Dump bones and water into sink and rinse bones with warm water. Quickly scrub stockpot to remove any residue. Return bones to pot.
  4. Simmer broth. Add 10 litres of water to pot, bring to boil over high heat, then lower flame to gently simmer. Use ladle to skim any scum that rises to surface. Add remaining broth ingredients and cook, uncovered, for 1 1/2 hours. Boneless meat should be slightly chewy but not tough. When it is cooked to your liking, remove it and place in bowl of cold water for 10 minutes; this prevents the meat from drying up and turning dark as it cools. Drain the meat; cool, then refrigerate. Allow broth to continue cooking; in total, the broth should simmer 3 hours.
  5. Strain the pho broth through fine strainer. If desired, remove any bits of gelatinous tendon from bones to add to your pho bowl. Store tendon with cooked beef. Discard solids.
  6. Use ladle to skim as much fat from top of the pho broth as you like. (Cool it and refrigerate it overnight to make this task easier; reheat before continuing.) Taste and adjust flavor with additional salt, fish sauce and yellow rock sugar. The pho broth should taste slightly too strong because the noodles and other ingredients are not salted. (If you’ve gone too far, add water to dilute.) Makes about 4 quarts.

Assemble pho bowls:

  1. The key is to be organized and have everything ready to go. Thinly slice cooked meat. For best results, make sure it’s cold.
  2. Heat the pho broth and ready the noodles. To ensure good timing, reheat broth over medium flame as you’re assembling bowls. If you’re using dried noodles, cover with hot tap water and soak 15-20 minutes, until softened and opaque white. Drain in colander. For fresh rice noodles, just untangle and briefly rinse in a colander with cold water.
  3. Blanch noodles. Fill 4 litre saucepan with water and bring to boil. For each bowl, use long-handle strainer to blanch a portion of noodles. As soon as noodles have collapsed and lost their stiffness (10-20 seconds), pull strainer from water, letting water drain back into saucepan. Empty noodles into bowls. Noodles should occupy 1/4 to 1/3 of bowl; the latter is for noodle lovers, while the former is for those who prize broth.
  4. If desired, after blanching noodles, blanch bean sprouts for 30 seconds in same saucepan. They should slightly wilt but retain some crunch. Drain and add to the garnish plate.
  5. Add other ingredients. Place slices of cooked meat, raw meat and tendon (if using) atop noodles. (If your cooked meat is not at room temperature, blanch slices for few seconds in hot water from above.) Garnish with onion, scallion and chopped cilantro. Finish with black pepper.
  6. Ladle in broth and serve. Bring broth to rolling boil. Check seasoning. Ladle broth into each bowl, distributing hot liquid evenly so as to cook raw beef and warm other ingredients. Serve your pho with with the garnish plate.

Note: Yellow rock sugar (a.k.a. lump sugar) is sold in one-pound boxes at Chinese and Southeast Asian markets. Break up large chunks with hammer.

DSC05086
Charring the onions and ginger
DSC05089
The condiments
DSC05095
Final Product!

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