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Saturday, November 5, 2011

Mommy, I Made Pho


This is the first time EVER that I made pho all by myself, without the help of my mom, who is not back from Vietnam yet. Today is my dad's birthday and his favorite dish is Pho. If you do not know, pho is a Vietnamese noodle dish consisting of rice noodles, spiced beef broth, beef slices, beef meatballs, beef brisket, beef tripe and tendons, accompanied with white onions, basil, mint leaves, bean sprouts, lime, chili peppers, cilantro, green onions, culantro/Eryngium foetidum (ngo gai), hoisin sauce, chili sauce and fish sauce. A lot of ingredients, I know. The pho I made only featured rare beef slices, beef meatballs and beef tendon.
There are many other variations, such as chicken pho or seafood pho but traditionally, it is beef. Sometimes an egg is added for EXTRA protein haha.
The most crucial part of a good bowl of pho is the broth. The criteria includes it being clear NOT MURKY, aromatic and full of flavor from hours of simmering beef bones, charred yellow onion, charred ginger and toasted spices such as cardamom, cinnamon sticks, star anise, cloves and coriander seeds. The entire dish took me 3-4 ish hours to prepare...phew.
Also, beef tendons are a bitch to cook. It takes waaaay more than 3-4 hours to get soft all the way through, so I suggest you put it in a slow cooker and cook it over night if you ever want to make pho. PAH.
No, this is not a quick dish.
Why did I want to go through the endeavor to make it from scratch? Because I am passionate about my food and it's my daddy's birthday. It's worth it either way. Plus my brother slurped up his entire bowl of soup, so I know it is good (he never slurps up an entire bowl of broth if it is not good, no matter who makes it).
So, if you want Pho without cooking it, go ahead and go buy a bowl at a Viet restaurant. I assure you they use msg, sweeteners and not a lot of good ol beef bones for the broth. Or, if you want to make it, then go ahead and go buy those pre-packaged pho spices and add it to a pot of ready made beef broth from Campbell. I promise you, it won't be the same.

Broth for two people:

1-2 lbs of beef bones
1 lb of oxtails
half a small cabbage

1 medium yellow onion, unpeeled
1 medium sized knob of ginger, unpeeled

4 sticks of cinnamon
5 anise stars
4 black cardamom bulbs
1 tsp of cloves
1 tsp of coriander seeds

1 tbsp brown sugar
Salt and mushroom granules for taste

In a large pot that can hold up to 6 cups of water, bring the bones with 1 tbsp of salt to a boil and skim off any foam and fat that emerges to the surface. Add in the cabbage once there is no more foam to skim and simmer for 30 minutes.
During the wait, char the onion and ginger on a grill or over a mesh on a gas burner until the onion skin and ginger are almost completely black and become aromatic. Let cool and under running water, scrap and peel off as much of the blackened bits as you can. Add to the pot of broth and simmer for 30 minutes.
Dry roast the spices in your oven or in a skillet over the stove until aromatic. Let the spices cool and tie it up in a spice bag or make a spice package with coffee filters, tied with kitchen twine. Plop that into the broth and simmer under medium-low heat for 1-2 hours. DO NOT COVER with a lid. If you feel there is not enough water, then you better turn the heat lower and add more water.
After 1-2 hours, broth should be aromatic with the spices. Gently stir in sugar and season with salt and mushroom granules to your taste. If you don't have mushroom granules, then salt should just be fine. Turn the heat to high and bring to a quick boil. Spoon hot broth over cooked rice noodles and your choice of toppings. Best served hot ;)
Enough for four servings.

Pho with beef balls, rare beef slices and beef tendon.

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