Recipe: Pho Bo! (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)

So my first experience with pho was in Burlington, Vermont at Pho Hong, a spectacular authentic Vietnamese no-frills restaurant that had great Yelp reviews. I was in town for some work training. Ray and I met some of his friends there. When I ordered (I got the chicken, rookie error, pho is traditionally a beef broth with beef slices and it’s infinitely better that way), I just got the “normal” portion and not the large. They plonked it down on the table and it was, in classic American style, an utterly enormous vessel of food. It looked so excellent. Slightly opaque, slippery noodles, crunchy bean sprouts and sweet onions, thai basil, bursts of lime juice and pieces of chicken and oh.. what’s this? …. ONLY THE MOST DELICIOUS, FLAVORFUL BROTH-BASED SOUP I’VE EVER TASTED IN MY ACTUAL ENTIRE LIFE. At this point I massively regretted not getting the large.

The bad news is that there’s nowhere to get pho, or any decent Asian food for that matter, in my town. I can’t just be going to Burlington all the darn time to get pho. You know what that means: time to make my own.

A lovely online friend of mine with whom I share a love of dogs and cooking shared this recipe with me because she thinks it’s very authentic and had tested it herself a bunch of times. I’m not going to retype the recipe, more like I’m just going to tell you the basics of how I make it in my kitchen – I don’t have a gas stove or a BBQ (grill) so that changes things a little bit for me.

Here’s the thing about pho: you gotta be committed. Put a whole damn day aside. And I’m not talking starting at 10 or 11 after a leisurely morning of bagels and the Sunday paper. I’m talking about starting at 8am and having dinner on the table around 7pm. Of course, a lot of this is just letting the broth simmer so you can get some stuff done during that time (I did some laundry and shopping, for example) but I also recommend being in the house so you can obsessively breathe in the delicious cooking smells you’ll experience during this time.

If you are the kind of person who looks at this recipe, or looks at the phrase “simmer gently for 8-10 hours” and runs howling into the hills, you won’t like this recipe. I actually love an all-day cooking project. There’s something so deeply satisfying about it to me. The prep, the steps, the measuring, the skimming, the smells… ahhhhh. Still interested? Read on.

Yesterday Ray and I went to an Asian Supermarket in Albany, NY (on Chinese New Year, ugh, we’re morons) and got about 8lb of what was labelled as “beef feet” but is not hoof – it’s shin and fetlock I guess? Anyway, you could also use normal marrow bones or chuck bones, whatever’s good for soup is good for this. The first step for this recipe is to chuck them all in a large pot (really large, at least 16L), cover them with water and bring to the boil.

IMG_0256

Next, the recipe says that you need to use a gas flame, like a bbq (“grill” for Americans) to char the onions and ginger. I don’t have that, nor do I have a rangehood, so I need to use the broiler (“grill”, to Aussies, life is weird sometimes) in my oven. I set it to high, cut the onions in half and set them cut-side-up on a baking sheet with the ginger and set them in the oven with the door a little bit ajar. It takes around half an hour depending on the strength of your grill/broiler. Turn everything at least once. What you’re looking for here is to soften the onion and ginger and to see it blackening a little and smelling sweet. Aw yeah! Let them cool down then get rid of any blackened parts and peel the ginger as directed.

Back to the bones. You want a really hard boil for at least 2-3 minutes. You’ll see a bunch of gross looking foamy scuzz on the top of the water. Tip the bones into a very clean sink, rinse them with warm water. Quickly scrub out the pot and put the bones back in.

From here the recipe is pretty straightforward. Give the bones another quick boil, get rid of the scuzz then bring the boil to a simmer. Add the rest of the broth ingredients.

IMG_0262

From here, apart from getting the piece of steak out after an hour or so and setting it aside, it’s just a waiting game. The broth needs to simmer for at least 8 hours – 10 is better.

It’s all a matter of what timing works for you. After the broth has had time to simmer, it needs to be reduced. For this, you need to strain the broth through a fine sieve into a large bowl to get all the bits out. Careful of the bones – don’t let them splash back into the broth. Once you’ve strained it, return the broth to the pot and bring it back to a simmer.

Now starts the, IMO, trickiest part. Or at least the most tedious. It’s time for The Skimmening.

The fat will rise to the top obviously, and you just need to skim it off. I use a 1/3 cup measurer (though there are special implements for this!) and just press the edge of the cup under the surface of the fat, letting it flow into the cup. The key is to just try not to get too much of the actual broth in the cup, so as not to waste it. Tip the fat into another receptacle and dispose of it appropriately. If you’re not sure that you’re doing it right, check out the color of the stuff you’re skimming. If it’s yellow, it’s fat. If it’s brownish, it might be broth. Fat will also “feel” oily like fat if you smoosh it in your fingertips! It takes a bit of practice but it’s really worth it for a clear, clean broth! Trust me!

From here it’s just about letting the broth reduce a little. It’s a good time to taste the broth and see if it needs more salt (or fish sauce) or a little extra rock sugar. It’s better if it’s a tiny bit too salty because noodles, bean shoots etc are all unsalted and they’ll mellow it out a tad. Yesterday, I left the lid on while it simmered which did leave me with more liquid than normal, however, I had to boil the heck out of it to get it to reduce. But I think I’d do it that way again because lemme tell you, I really nailed it this time, the flavor was perfect.

You can add a little more fish sauce, salt or rock sugar if you don’t think the flavors are balanced enough, but don’t add anything that won’t completely dissolve.

I usually prep the bowl assembly ingredients while this is happening. If you have dry noodles it’s time to start soaking them in warm water. If you have fresh noodles, just untangle them and run them under cool water. Slice your sweet/yellow onion as thinly as you humanly and safely can and put them in cold water to soak. Slice up the green parts of scallions on the bias (it looks nicer, you will note I forgot to do this).  Put your steak in the freezer to get a little more firm so it’s easier to slice thinly. Rinse your bean shoots. Slice your limes. Tear up some nice looking coriander and thai basil leaves. Thinly slice a red chilli if you have some. You will think it’s silly, but I really do take such joy in getting all the garnishes ready!

IMG_0281

IMG_0284

IMG_0286

Look at all that beautifulness! Yesssssssssssss ahhh ok ok ok I’m fine. *deep breaths*

So are you ready to go? Let’s do this, in point form.

  • Using fresh noodles? Untangle them in a colander while rinsing with cold water, then blanch them, a batch at a time, for like 30 seconds tops in a pot of boiling water.
  • If you’re using dry noodles, take them out of the water they’ve been soaking in and blanch them in boiling water (again in batches) until tender (each brand will have different instructions).
  • Put the noodles in the bowls. They should take up about 1/3 of each bowl. Place strips of beef over the hot noodles, then add your garnishes (sliced onion, bean sprouts, scallions, coriander, thai basil and chilli if you’re having it).

IMG_0288

  • Bring the broth to a rolling, hard boil then ladle the boiling broth over the noodles and garnishes, ensuring that the thinly sliced beef is cooked as you do so.
  • Squeeze lime into the broth to taste. Ray only likes a wedge or two, I use about four. He adds some sriracha sometimes too.
  • EAT IT Hhhhnnnnggggghh

IMG_0289

 So there you have it. Beef pho (pho bo). Is it as good as you have at a Vietnamese restaurant? Hell no. But it’s pretty damned close. And, I am told, a lot of Vietnamese people feel the same way (it’s a restaurant dish, not an everyday dish to make at home).

If you enjoy settling into a warm, steamy kitchen with a few episodes of House on Netflix and happily puddling around doing not-very-much for the most part, then you’ll love this. It’s a great winter dish without the stodgy richness of most traditionally winter dishes. It’s a great combo of warm, tasty broth with fresh flavors, slurpy, thin, delicate noodles, chewy tender beef and crunch bean shoots! So it’s fine for summer too. If you’re up for a day of cooking, with only short bursts of actually doing anything, I really urge you to give this lady’s recipe a try  (link in first paragraph).

Enjoy!

F&V

PS. You’ll note that I didn’t talk about calories in this dish. It’s because I don’t really care. You can do the math if that’s something that’s important to you. I wouldn’t think it’d be super high, plus you have nutritious veges and all that jazz.

Advertisements

Summer Essentials: Easy Cold Brew Coffee

Something a bit different from me today in the leadup to July Favorites which I am hoping to post on Saturday.

It’s sooo hot in Vermont at the moment, we’ve had a really nice mild summer so far but it’s now hitting the 90s every day so it’s pretty uncomfortable and it’s so nice to skip the hot coffee and have a cold one instead. I find that every American coffee place likes to add tonnes of disgusting sugar and sweeteners and flavorings and grossness to their coffee but I’m not about that life so I’m just going to give you the basics – if you want to add that stuff that’s fine you HUGE WEIRDO okay I’m fine, ahem.

When I first wanted to start making this, I was convinced it was a really difficult process like maybe a distillery process or something, evaporation, extraction, I don’t know but I thought it would be really difficult. I asked my friend online who I knew drank cold brew to tell me how to make it and when he said “put grounds in a jug with water, brew for 24 hours done” I thought he was messing with me. But essentially it is that easy! Let’s talk about that. Here’s what you’ll need to complete the whole process (coffee grinder not pictured: you don’t need one if the place you get your beans will grind at whatever coarseness you want!):

2015-07-25 13.38.46 HDR

You want to start off with quite a coarse grind of coffee. I’m talking, you should be able to identify chunks of coffee bean individually. I’m still learning how to use my cute little Krups coffee grinder but this grind took me less than 5 seconds of wazzing to create so take it super easy. Don’t worry though, you’ll know if you make it too fine, and you can always adjust next time!

2015-07-29 15.52.14 HDR

So you want to do about a 1:8 coffee:water ratio, sometimes I do a little more (like today) because I was right at the end of a pre-ground bag. I use Mason jars (quart sized) because I think they’re the best size for a one-person coffee drinking household but if there are more than one of you in your house that drinks coffee then you might want to use a large measuring jug or something. You do you boo!

2015-07-25 17.56.57 HDR

Then just add cold water til it’s almost completely full – you want to leave a little room for shakeability if you’re using a jar.

2015-07-25 17.57.51 HDR

Put it in a cold part of the fridge for up to 24 hours (any more and you risk the coffee being a little bitter). The reason it brews for so long is thus: hot water or steam speeds up the extraction process a LOT. So think of this as a slow-brew. I think that brewing coffee cold and slow really creates a smoother taste, it really takes the edge off the bitterness that can come with fast extraction methods.

You want to give your coffee 2-3 good shakeups in that 24 hour period. I usually try to shake it really thoroughly at the 2 hour mark, then about halfway if the time is appropriate, then NO LESS THAN 2 hours before I am going to filter it. You want as much silt on the bottom of the jar or jug for the filtering process.

IT IS TIME!

2015-07-25 17.58.12 HDR

For that, grab a piece of kitchen towel (or cheesecloth if you have it spare) and double it over then place that into a funnel. I usually just grab another Mason jar (they were $10 for 12 at Walmart!) and put the funnel into that, like so:

2015-07-29 10.38.09 HDR

Then carefully pour the brew into the funnel, a bit at a time, not letting the funnel get too full. You’ll end up with paper towel full of yucky silty groceness which you should throw in the trash, and a delightful jar full of LIQUID LIFE.

2015-07-29 10.41.06 HDR

Then all you need is an amazing mug from which to drink it, or a fancy glass if you are a fancy person which I can get behind but currently I do not own any fancy glasses for drinking cold beverages from.. well.. I do.. but they are wine glasses. I need some of those hexagonal glass ones you know? Anyway.

2015-07-29 10.55.08 HDR

Nailed it.

Add some milk if that’s how you like your coffee, I do, but it’s by no means necessary as it’s a delicious smooth beverage all by itself.

I hope you all enjoy your coffee in whatever way you prefer, as often as you want. That is my wish for all humankind. ❤

Love+++
F&V

PS. Guess what just happened to me…

2015-07-29 15.24.31

Greatest day of my life.. will review the welcome pack when I get it! I’m going to my first VIB Rouge event on Sunday as well 😀