I’m kicking things off with what I feel like is one of Vietnam’s most popular dishes- Pho.
Pho (pronounced “fuh”) is, to put it simply, noodle soup. But, oh, it’s so much more than that.
How? Let me explain.
The broth: I mentioned the French influence in Vietnamese cuisine, and this is the perfect example of said influence. It is from the French tradition that we make this soup’s stock base from hearty beef bones, left to simmer for hours over the stove. I remember when beef bones such as oxtails, etc. were a poor man’s food, and mom used to buy them to make stock all the time. Now, in the age of Top Chef and Hell’s Kitchen, I’ve seen the price of these once-considered-junk-ingredients sky rocket. While I’m all about authenticity, I opted to use the much cheaper beef neck bones to make my stock, and I tell you, it was no less flavorful than if I’d use the oxtails, and is still 1000% better than store bought stock. If you have learned nothing in my kitchen so far, you’ve at least learned that I can’t stress enough the difference a good homemade chicken/beef/vegetable stock can make. So, beef neck bones, $2.50. Worth it.
The other component of this stock that distinguished it from my regular stock base of carrot/onion/celery was that this had spices in it. Like, actual, bouquet garni spices, and they were spices that I wasn’t all that familiar with. The most notable “huh?” in this broth was anise star. I’m not a fan of licorice, so I really hesitated to add this. However, when combined with everything else, it wasn’t’ so much about the licorice taste but more about the “hmmm. That’s interesting. Interestingly fantastic!”
My Spice House had these perfect little bags for JUST such an occasion. Neat!
The noodles: Rice noodles, the norm for this area.
The meat: Campbell’s chunky chicken soup, this is not. Rather, the beef is sliced really thin and put into the bowls raw (!), only to be cooked by the hot broth upon service. Both Donut and I were skeptical that this would actually work, but lo and behold it did. No one has food poisoning today.
The toppings: This is a choose-your-own-soup adventure because, besides the meat, noodles and sliced green onions, the rest is up to you. Traditional garnishes include cilantro, bean sprouts, limes, hoisin sauce, chili sauce…and believe me, we had them all. I added too much chili sauce, but what else is new?
Combine all of the above and you’ve got a PHO-N time!
Bad joke. Horrible. I make no apologies.
Recipe adapted from Allrecipes.com
2 lbs beef necks, with meat
1 white radish, sliced
½ ounce star anise pods
¼ cinnamon sticks
1 whole clove
½ tsp black peppercorns
1 slice fresh ginger
½ TB white sugar
½ TB salt
½ TB fish sauce
¾ lb dried rice noodles
¼ lb frozen beef sirloin
Thinly sliced onions
1. Place the beef bones a large pot. Season with salt, and fill pot with 1 gallon of water. Bring to a boil, and cook for about 2 hours.
2. Skim fat from the surface of the soup, and add the radish and onions. Tie the anise pods, cinnamon stick, cloves, peppercorns and ginger in a cheesecloth or place in a spice bag; add to the soup. Stir in sugar, salt and fish sauce. Simmer over medium-low heat for at least 2 more hours (the longer, the better). At the end of cooking, taste, and add salt as needed. Strain broth, and return to the pot to keep at a simmer. Discard spices and bones. Reserve meat from the beef necks for other uses if desired.
3. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Soak the rice noodles in water for about 20 minutes, then cook in boiling water until soft, but not mushy, about 5 minutes. Slice the frozen beef paper thin. The meat must be thin enough to cook instantly.
4. Place some noodles into each bowl, and top with a few raw beef slices. Ladle boiling broth over the beef and noodles in the bowl. Serve with hoisin sauce and sriracha sauce on the side, and with onion, cilantro, bean sprouts, basil, green onions, and lime as you wish.