AKA “What the Pho” 😀 To get that joke, one must understand the correct pronunciation of the dish: F-uh, as if you’re starting to drop an f-bomb.
OK, enough bad humor.
I call this “sort of” authentic Pho because I bypassed the painfully slow process of hand making the broth by boiling beef bones. I got the recipe from an issue of “Cook’s Illustrated Best soups and Stews from Around the World”; one of the various ‘best recipe’ titles that Cook’s Illustrated cycles through in it’s publishing.
I changed a few other things from their recipe as well.
First is that they advocated boiling a pound of hamburger in water to make extra flavoring for the ready made broth in the recipe. The trouble here is that they wanted the hamburger thrown out when you strain the broth to get the solids from the spices out. I’m not big on wasting food so it stayed in. Blasphemy to purists I’m sure but again, I’m not going to waste a full pound of beef.
If you want to go the easy route and still get strong beef flavor out of the broth while not using ground beef, drop a packet or cube of low sodium beef bullion into the broth.
Second is we both are not fans of soy beans, so we left those out. 😛
Let’s Get Cooking
First, this will make 6 to 8 decent sized bowls of Pho.
I’m going to proceed under the premise that readers also don’t feel like spending 8 hours boiling bones to make broth and will likewise use store bought bone or beef broth and optionally add beef bullion to that.
As an added tip to avoid having to later pour hot soup through a fine mesh strainer or cheese cloth, I highly advise putting most of the solid spices into a tea defuser / tea ball / cooking infuser like this one I got from Amazon:
You MAY actually need a pair of them given all the ginger and such that is supposed to be added to the broth.
Oh and as an added note, much like my recent Chile Verde recipe, this is too much good stuff to fit in a normal sized Crock-Pot. You’ll need a jumbo one or a decent sized soup pot.
My Modified Version of the “Cooks Illustrated” Recipe:
First the Ingredients
2 Onions, quartered through root end
12 cups of beef (or bone) broth. This works out to 3 of the standard 4 cup cartons sold in the U.S.
1/4 cup of fish sauce
1 (4 inch or 10 cm) piece of Ginger, sliced into thin rounds
1 Cinnamon Stick
2 tablespoons of Sugar
6 Star Anise pods
6 whole cloves
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon black whole peppercorns
1 (1 pound or 453 grams) boneless strip steak, trimmed and halved
14 to 16 ounces of rice noodles
1/3 cup of chopped fresh Cilantro
3 Scallions, sliced thin
Optional Ingredients and Garnishes
Fresh Thai or Italian Basil sprigs
I actually left out the sugar accidentally and didn’t miss it at all. I also added a couple cloves of pressed garlic to the broth because garlic addict. 🙂 A little extra cilantro got used as garnish as well. Finally, of the list above, the lime was the best garnish to me in terms of really accenting the flavor. Just go light and work your way up.
Oh and as for the ginger… I have NO idea how much that’s actually supposed to be. Their description makes it sound like ginger comes in neat little log rolls. Trust your cooking instincts there is all I can advise. Our food turned out fine.
I put the ginger, star anise, cloves and cinnamon stick (after breaking it into 3 pieces) into the defuser. As for the pepper, I used coarse ground black pepper instead and added it directly to the broth. One teaspoon will not overpower a full pot of Pho broth.
Lastly, with the 8 onion quarters, 6 of them were supposed to be cooked with the hamburger that was added to the broth and later filtered out. Using this more direct method, you could drop them into the broth and let them simmer, fishing them out later with a ladle or slotted spoon, OR save an onion and just add some onion powder or dehydrated onion to the broth. Neither are ‘official’ since Pho broth is supposed to be pure liquid, but the final product tasted great to me.
The remaining half an onion is supposed to be sliced super thin to add to the finished Pho. I used a mandolin for that .
Not this type:
The Cooking Process:
Cooking can be relatively fast with this method, but I advise slow cooking to let the broth simmer and fully absorb the flavor from the spices. Ideally an hour and a half to two hours.
Start by adding the broth, optional bullion, onions (if so desired), black pepper and two cups of water to your soup pot. Put the spices into the defuser as noted above then add the defuser to the liquid mix. Heat the mix on high and bring it to a hard boil briefly. Once it hits a hard boil, reduce the heat and let it simmer. The magazine says 45 minutes. I’m a huge fan of low and slow however.
While the broth is simmering, put the steak into the freezer for 30 to 45 minutes. The goal is to get it to be cold enough to be firm and easy to thin slice, bit not actually frozen. If you’re lucky enough to have a deli slicer for meat at home, cutting the beef into thin strips will be super easy. If not, a properly sharp knife will do the job fine once the meat is firm.
Getting the meat as thin as possible is important because traditionally the meat is cooked in the bowl by the sheer heat of the broth.
Next up, while the steak is firming and the broth is simmering, we deal with the rice noodles. They take a little different process than wheat based pasta.
First place the noodles in a large container and cover them with hot tap water. Soak them until they’re pliable; about 10 to 15 minutes. Once they’re pliable, drain them then put them into a pot with 4 quarts of boiling water until almost tender. This will only take 30 seconds to a minute. Immediately drain the noodles and divide them among individual bowls.
Turn back up the heat on the broth to bring it to a rolling boil again. While it’s reaching that point, divide up the steak and shaved onion into the individual bowls. Serve immediately along with the previously listed extra garnishes and some extra fish sauce as a possible additional garnish.
A Couple Final Notes:
First, if you’re like me and have issues with potentially getting scalded by soup being dished out at a rolling boil… You can bypass the need to do that by cooking the rice noodles till fully tender. Also, you’ll want to spread the steak pieces out on a plate and microwave them for 30 seconds or so; until they’re losing the red and are light pink. Bring the broth back up to the point it’s just starting to boil and then add it to the bowls as above. The noodles will be soft and the steak pieces should finish cooking also while still being very tender.
Next, for those who get apoplectic over the idea of eating red meat (like my mother), I’m told that there are restaurants out there who substitute chicken broth and chicken breast for the beef ingredients and it supposedly works fine. Never tried it. I’m just putting it out there as an option for those with dietary restrictions or preferences. 🙂
Lastly, a warning! If you’ve never used Fish Sauce before…
It smells like dead fish that’s sat out in the sun decomposing for a couple weeks. The quarter cup that’s added to the broth quickly loses it’s scent and adds just a hint of flavor to the dish. I certainly wouldn’t want an open bottle sitting on my table as an added garnish though. “How It’s Made” (a TV show that walks viewers through the creation of various things) says fish sauce is used in Asia as a substitute for salt.
That being the case, I’m tempted to try soy sauce as a replacement.
Either way, the food turned out spectacular. My first time making it, but we will definitely be making it again. Is it official, purist Pho? I don’t know. Tastes good however. 😀