Vietnamese Pho: More Asian Comfort Food
I have to tell you, I’m really excited to share my story about pho. I have LOVED pho for YEARS. I first had pho over ten years ago at a local restaurant back home, and I’ve been going to the restaurant ever since. The server that used to work there always knew that I ordered the same dish (sate beef pho) and it was always nice to go in, have some good food, and chat with her. Every time I go home, I have to make it out to the restaurant to get my fill of pho. Whenever I’m in Toronto, I like to go to Anh Dao (you can read about it here.)
So what is pho? Well, it’s one of my Asian comfort foods. It’s generally an inexpensive dish to order, is filling, and is very tasty (if done properly.) It’s a rice noodle dish that is served in broth; it can be beef or chicken. Pho is usually served with bean sprouts, lime, chili peppers, cilantro, and Thai basil. Hot sauce, such as sriracha, and hoisin sauce are common accompaniments as well.
I have always wanted to learn how to make pho, but I never knew what recipe to use-there are so many on the web. A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine, Thanh, gave me his recipe to try-for which I am very thankful!
I was actually quite pleased with the result. The trickiest things about making pho are tinkering with the spices and making sure you have patience. Pho needs to simmer for at least 8 hours. It’s definitely worth the wait.
- 2 lb beef soup bones (joints preferred; I doubled this and used 4 lbs)
- 2 lb beef short ribs
- 1 medium (1/4 lb) ginger root, sliced into 1 cm thick slices
- 1 onion, sliced
- 1/2 lb Chinese daikon radish, peeled and sliced
- 1 cube pho soup base*
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 6 whole star anise pods
- 1 tbsp whole anise seeds
- 1 cinnamon stick, pinky finger sized
- 2 whole cloves
- 1 black cardamom, split
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- rice noodles
- thinly sliced raw beef sirloin
- thinly sliced green onion
- thinly sliced onion
- chopped fresh cilantro
- ground black pepper
- hoisin sauce
- sriracha hot chili sauce
- bean sprouts
- fresh Thai basil leaves
- lime juice
*You can find these at Asian grocery stores in Chinatown. I couldn’t find cubes of pho soup base (which do contain MSG,) but I found these pho spice bags, and used that instead. Turned out just fine for me (plus there was no MSG in it.)
First, soak the soup bones and short ribs in warm water for 1 hour to leech the blood out. Discard all the water. Prepare 2 large pots of boiling water (about 5 L each.) Add the soup bones and short ribs to the first pot and boil on high heat for 5 minutes. Transfer the soup bones and short ribs to the 2nd pot and add enough boiling water to cover the meat. Boil gently on medium heat for 30 minutes while skimming the froth from the soup every 10 minutes. Reduce to medium heat. I used a HUGE pot for this. I had 4 lbs of soup bones plus 2 lbs of short ribs, so you can imagine that I needed a lot of water too.
Next, wash and peel the ginger. I just eyed it: I used 2 big chunks of ginger that I had in the fridge. When you slice it, slice it thick and slice it so you get a large surface area-this will enable release of more flavour. I sliced my onions into slices. Grill the ginger and onion slices directly on a stove element on high heat. You want them slightly charred. Put the ginger, onions, and daikon radish in the broth. Season the broth with your pho soup base or pho spice bag.
Using tightly woven cheesecloth, wrap and tie up the star anise, anise seeds, cinnamon stick, cloves, and black cardamom to form a teabag. Drop this into the broth.
Simmer the broth with the lid on for 6 hours. You’ll want to skim off the fat every couple of hours. After the fourth hour, you can discard your spice bag (I just left mine in for the full 6.)
After simmering for 6 hours, remove the short ribs and set aside to cool. You can discard the bones at this point (I was lazy and left them in there.) You can also discard the ginger, onion, and daikon radish with a strainer at this point. Again, I was lazy and left it in there-plus I like daikon so I was intent on eating it. You’ll want to add the fish sauce here and taste. When I tasted the broth, it tasted bland at this point. Just add some salt-this can really help bring out the flavour of the spices. If you find that your broth is too salty, add some water.
Continue simmering the broth for another hour (I told patience is needed!) In the meantime, take the meat from the short ribs and slice them thinly across the grain. Again, I was lazy and just left it as is and just used chopsticks to separate the meat from the bones. You’ll also want to prepare the beef sirloin at this point. You need to slice this paper-thin so that it cooks on contact with the hot broth. This is actually not that hard to do. Freeze the beef for a couple of hours and then slice when it’s partially frozen (so think about when you’re serving this meal so you can time it all properly.) You can prepare the rest of the ingredients for toppings. Soak the rice noodles for 20 minutes, and then bring a pot of water to a gentle boil. Boil the noodles briefly until cooked and then put them into individual bowls for serving. Layer on the cooked beef and then the raw beef. Ladle boiling broth over everything. Top with whatever you prefer.
Note: After having some taste-tasters try my pho, I have concluded that doubling the spices wouldn’t hurt (and Thanh told me he does the same thing.) I prefer my broth to have a stronger flavour, so next time I’ll double the spices.
This recipe makes A LOT of broth-I think enough for a good 6-8 servings, if not more (depending how big you make a serving.)
It’s fairly straightforward to make, but again, don’t be afraid to adjust the spices to your taste. Thanh also told me it’s important to add the fish sauce near the end, so you can adjust the amount to your taste.
Enjoy! Thanks again Thanh! This will now be a staple in my cooking repertoire!