Vietnamese Pho

There is nothing more satisfying on a cold day than a steaming bowl of fragrant, luscious beef pho. Traditional street food in Vietnam, pho has become an American favorite. Its many variations include cuts of beef from meatball to tripe, but the most common is very thin sliced flank flash-cooked in the broth, with flat rice noodles and an assortment of fresh herbs and sauces.It seems that the point of pho is to prepare it exactly to your tastes.

A meal of pho (or many) consists of two main steps: first making the broth, then making the bowls. The first step takes a while; perhaps half a day. Making the bowls, however, is simply a matter of slicing the meat, cooking the noodles, and boiling the broth, at most half an hour of preparation. The best part is, the broth can be easily frozen in quart containers, thus rendering pho into a quick nutritious meal.

While researching this article the best pho recipe I found was from Jaden Hair’s blog, Steamy Kitchen. This recipe, and the accompanying techniques, are adapted from her version. Most of the ingredients can be found locally at the Pacific Ocean Market in Broomfield, including the beef bones and chopsticks or those cool spoons to eat the soup with. You can find the spices at the Savory Spice Shop on Broadway in Boulder.

Pho Broth

  • 5-6 pounds beef bones (leg, knuckle)

First and foremost, you must parboil your bones. This reduces the amount of scum that bubbles around in your broth and keeps the stock nice and clear. To parboil the bones, fill your largest stockpot with water and bring it to a boil. Drop in the bones, bring back to a boil, and cook for 10 minutes. Drain the water, rinse out the pot and rinse the bones.

  • 2 onions halved, skin on
  • 4 inches of ginger, sliced lengthwise, skin on

Char these by either holding them over a gas flame with tongs, or putting them under a broiler on a sheet pan for 10-15 minutes. Another good way to caramelize their sugars is to brush them with oil and grill them, either on a two burner cast iron grill pan, or on a regular gas grill.

  • 2 stalks lemongrass, crushed with the spine of a knife
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 dried chili
  • 10 peppercorns
  • 1 keffir lime leaf
  • 2 sticks cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp fennel seeds
  • 2 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 cardamom pod
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 1/4 cup clear fish sauce
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar

While the bones are parboiling, gather the rest of your ingredients. Fill the clean pot with the bones, vegetables, and spices. Cover everything with cold water, then bring to a boil. Add the fish sauce and vinegar. Turn down to a simmer and cook for at least 2 hours. If you have longer, keep going until the delicious smell becomes too tempting to bear.

Strain your stock with a fine strainer. If you are not going to use it right away, pour it into quart containers and freeze.

Once you have made the pho broth, it is fast and easy to prepare the bowls and serve up the delicious steaming soup tableside. Make sure you have a lot of toppings and sauces to dress the meal exactly the way you like it.

For four bowls, you will need:

  • 2 quarts pho stock, boiling hot
  • 1 lb beef flank, sliced very thin across the grain (it is helpful to put the meat in the freezer for 30 minutes before you slice it to firm it up)
  • 1/2 lb flat rice noodles (pad thai noodles) cooked according to package and held in a bowl of cold water to keep them from sticking. These are available at any Asian market, such as Pacific Ocean Market or Asian Seafood Market on 28th St in Boulder.
  • 1/2 cup green onions, sliced on a bias into rings
  • 1 handful fresh mint
  • 1 handful fresh Thai basil
  • 1 handful cilantro
  • 1 handful bean sprouts
  • several sliced chilis
  • 2 limes, quartered
  • hoisin sauce
  • siracha sauce (hot chili sauce)

Prepare your bowls stoveside while you bring the stock to a boil with a scoop of noodles and a quarter portion of the sliced meat each. When the stock is boiling hard, ladle it over each bowl, allowing the heat of the stock to cook the meat.

Serve with a platter of the fresh herbs and dishes of the sauces so that each eater can prepare the soup to his or her taste.

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