Cooking Pho

A much delayed cooking story due to life getting in the way. This is a recipe we made back in March.

Since moving to the West Coast, one of my favorite foods has become pho. It combines some of the things I loves about other styles of food: it has a good broth, usually has copious amounts of tender meat, and often is quite spicy.

When we went to Vietnam for our honeymoon, one of the first things we did was take a food tour of Hanoi (the northern capital of the country). The tour gave us some insight into the making of a traditional pho, as well as a chance to taste the numerous different varieties offered by different street vendors.  I enjoyed it so much I almost exclusively ate pho from street stalls during our trip.

There are some decent pho places near where we live (outside of Seattle), and occasionally Michelle grudgingly agrees to relive the honeymoon glory days.  I really enjoy cooking, even though I am pretty sub-par at it.  I like finding new recipes and at least giving them a shot.  Well one of my friends sent me a link discussing how to prepare a good pho, and I was intrigued.  It looked fun! And intense.

The intimidating thing about pho is preparing a decent broth. Each street vendor in Vietnam has a secret family recipe/technique (well maybe not, but that’s how they sell it) passed down from generation to generation. It involves simmering a unique combination of spices, vegetables, and meats for hours. It also involves painstakingly skimming the broth from time to time to keep it free of any impurities.

We took the recipe from the Serious Eats, and hit up our local Asian market.  Even if the pho wasn’t the best we ever had, the excuse to go to the Asian market was definitely worth it. It’s a whole other world culturally, and it’s just right down the street.  So this recipe was a fun adventure in both shopping and cooking.  Without further ado, a Drayer take on pho:

Ingredients:

  • Two yellow onions
  • One clove of garlic
  • One large chunk of ginger
  • Whole star anise (I used 5)
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce – I would add more. (This is especially important as all of Vietnam smells like fish sauce. Which in my opinion is one of the most disgusting smells in the world. But also indicative of authentic Vietnamese food. I knew I was on the right track when the whole house smelled bad.)
  • One teaspoon fennel seeds
  • One teaspoon coriander seeds
  • Two tablespoons of white rock sugar – I would add more. (We had to go to the Asian market for this one.)
  • One serrano pepper
  • One jalapeño
  • I would add one habanero (I think a perfect pho is spicy enough to clear your sinuses, but I also love Michelle – it’s a hard life full of tough decisions. Michelle won out on this one.)
  • One stick cinnamon
  • Three cloves
  • Salt to taste (I hate recipes that call for salt to taste.  At least give me a reference point!  I would recommend starting with one tablespoon and go from there.)
  • One pound beef brisket – this is a debatable addition. It is expensive and doesn’t really add a ton in my opinion. Get more flavorful and cheaper meat cuts instead.
  • One pound beef chuck
  • Three pounds beef shin (Need to get that marrow!  Yum yum. This was easier to find at the Asian market.)
  • Two pounds oxtail (This is the best part in my opinion. Frozen oxtail was available at our regular grocery store, but the Asian market had some great looking fresh oxtail that I think would have been better)
  • Any other meat you think would be fun and/or would contribute to a rich flavor to your broth. The fun thing about pho is you can make it up as you go and it will probably still turn out alright. The “cheap” cuts actually are pretty great for the broth as they often have a lot of flavor and you cook them for so long it doesn’t matter if they’re usually a tough cut.
  • Pho noodles (We had to go the Asian market for this. Also note that pho noodles need to be soaked for quite a while before a quick cook. Don’t leave this until you’re ready to eat or you will be disappointed…like us.)
  • Garnishes as desired
    • Hoisin sauce
    • Sriracha
    • Cilantro (This is required in my book. If you don’t like cilantro I’m not sure I can trust you.)
    • Mint
    • Bean sprouts (The sprouts we got were bitter and not good at all, border line ruining our pho. I strongly recommend tasting the sprouts before adding them willy nilly to your broth! Also we couldn’t find this at our local grocery.)

Actual preparation:

  1. Char the onions, ginger and garlic. I did this on a gas grill and it worked great. Basically just throw this stuff on the grill on high, turning occasionally for about 25 min. Everything should be blackened for best results. For the real deal you should char your add ins over an open flame but who has time for that.
  2. Clean the meat.  You can do this by putting the meat into a big pot of water and bring it to a boil for a few minutes (you don’t want to cook the meat just break up cartilage). After the meat cools you can rinse and scrub off any debris.
  3. Start your broth! You do this by throwing in your meat and other add ins like the onion, salt, fish sauce, cloves, cinnamon, etc. into a big pot of clean water. Simmer for about an hour and a half. Exact time isn’t super important. After an hour and half you can pull out any nicer cuts of meat such as brisket and chuck. You can cool those and save for later.
  4. Continue making that broth. I would simmer for another 4-5 hours. During this time use a strainer or something similar to take off the top layer of gunk and cartilage that will form. After 4-5 hours you can take the broth off the heat, remove all the aromatics, and strain till broth is clean.
  5. Add any last minute seasoning: fish sauce, salt, pepper, etc.
  6. Prepare pho noodles. PLEASE NOTE: these can take upward of an hour to re-hydrate!img_5925.jpg
  7. Serve your pho over noodles. Include any fun add ins you want like cilantro, jalapenos, the nice cuts of meat you set aside, sriracha, bean sprouts (though I don’t recommend these), etc.
  8. Be both disappointed that it doesn’t live up to restaurant standards and also impressed that you pulled it off, and it tastes pretty good.

Enjoy.