Vietnamese Beef Pho
A few months back, I started dating this pretty awesome guy, Dara.
No worries, this is not the start of a mushy love story. It’s the start of a pho-king amazing culinary journey (hehe).
Dara loooooves pho. He inhales it in an inhuman speed. You know that Vietnamese noodle soup? With the very flavorful broth and the fresh, light ingredients that warm up even the coldest days? After a meal out with him and Camille at a pho restaurant, we all sat back at our chairs, sighing with contentment. When we got home, Dara and I talked about how doable this meal is to do at home. I always think of this meal as one of those Asian dishes that I would never trust myself to make at home. Well, after so many Google searches, I came upon an article in Serious Eats and Steamy Kitchen. So Dara and I set upon the pho-making journey.
I will tell you, this is one of the most involved recipe here on this blog (though that’s not saying much since Camille and I love simple and easy recipes due to our student time budget). As college students, the bulk of the work is in gathering all the ingredients. And then simmering the broth for 3-4 hours. However, after making the broth, everything from there is pretty simple. The key to a good pho, aside from the broth, is the fresh and light ingredients. So once the broth done, preparing the other parts of the dish is not that hard.
Now, as for gathering the ingredients, we have been getting stuff for the dish obsessively since two months ago. The only Asian store in Connecticut where we got the giant bones for the broth is 40 minutes away and they don’t even have all the spices that we need. So when Dara went home for Christmas, he went to the giant store near him and his mother’s pantry to look for the spices. He kept asking me why I am so adamant on keeping them whole, which is added work, but is so worth it. And…here we are!
Note: Another aspect I love about the dish is how customizable it is. You can put as much veggies or meat in it. So in the topping section, I don’t specify how much meat to put in because you can put in as much meat you want to put in!
Traditional Beef Pho
makes enough for 4 people (or 2 if one is like Dara)
Bone knuckles (about 2 giant ones)
A few pieces of neck bones (try to get some with meat on it)
4” ginger, cut in half
1 onion, cut in half
1 stick cinnamon
5-7 star anise (depending on how big they are)
1 tbsp whole cloves
1 tbsp whole fennel seeds
¼ cup fish sauce, more to taste later
about 2-3 tbsp sugar (or 1 oz of rock sugar)
2-4 strands scallions, chopped
a handful of cilantro (you can add basil and mint to the herbs)
½ lime, cut into wedges
a big handful of bean sprouts
a few meatballs
slices of raw flank steak, top butt steak, or sirloin steak (this is pretty customizable, especially in how much you want of it)
½ lb rice stick noodles
You need to parboil all the bones that you’re going to use for the stock to get rid of all the nasty scum. Put all the bones in your giant stock pot and cover in cold water. Bring to a boil and let it boil for about 10-15 minutes. Throw away all the water with the scum and clean the bones from all the icky stuff that came up to the surface.
When waiting for the bones to boil (in the step above), pan roast the ginger and onion without oil. This is to make them charred so don’t use any oil and let them sit on one side for about 5 minutes before turning them. Set aside. Roast the whole spices (fennel, cinnamon, star anise, cloves) on the same pan. Same method: hot pan, put the spices in, shake them to get them toasted, set aside.
After cleaning the bones, combine the bones, whole spices, ginger and onion in the stock pot, put water in until the pot is almost full and stir in fish sauce and sugar. You don’t really need to measure how much water since you’re going to season the broth to your taste later on when you’re ready to eat pho. Bring the water to a boil and then let it simmered uncovered for 1½ – 2 hours.
When you hit the 1 ½ hour mark, check on the meaty part of your bones to see if they’re soft yet. If they are, get them out of there and cut them away from the bones. Put the bones back in. I had to wait until the 2 hour mark for them to soften enough. Simmer again for another 1½ hour, slightly covered.
After the broth is done (you can let it simmer for longer, 3 hours is just the most critical time of getting all the flavors out), prepare the rest of the ingredients. Cut up all the herbs, lime, meat (both raw and cooked). Cook the noodle according to the package instructions.
When ready to eat, heat up some of the broth in a separate pot (you can also use the same pot if you want) and season with more fish sauce, salt or sugar until your tongue screams perfection. Bring it to a boil. Meanwhile, you (and your chosen beloved ones, lucky enough to be part of this) should assemble your pho bowl to your liking but generally: noodle, cooked meat, raw meat. Pour the hot, boiling broth on your pho, which will instantly cook the raw meat, and put all the other toppings.