My tummy is full of yummy, and my lips are tingling, and I am officially happy.
I’ve been fighting an irritating cold for the last day or so, and all day at work, I was thinking longingly about pho. Pho is one of the most ubiquitous Vietnamese dishes; in its classic form, it’s a wonderfully scented beef broth, with noodles and tender cooked beef and various vegetables swimming in it. When I have a cold, I pump up the spiciness as much as I can bear, and the steaming-hot soup combined with the kick of the chili pepper clears my sinuses until I feel sane again.
I’d never made pho before, and I knew that without planning ahead I couldn’t make the beef stock from scratch. However, the heart of this dish is the richly flavored stock, so I only took a partial shortcut. Pho is, as I said, made from beef stock, but I had some savory, deep brown turkey stock sitting in the freezer; that, plus chicken fat to sauté with, plus a couple of beef bouillon cubes gave a hearty, meaty flavor that wasn’t quite beef but was damn tasty. Here’s the recipe. Sorry for the lack of photos; I was too sick and hungry before the meal to bother. . .
Shortcut Pho (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)
1 T cooking oil or chicken fat
2 medium knobs fresh ginger (3 T), julienned
1 medium onion, sliced into strips
12 cups of homemade beef stock (substitute a very hearty chicken or turkey stock if necessary)
2 cinnamon sticks
6-8 pieces whole star anise
1 Tbsp whole peppercorns
1 tsp whole cloves
1 Tbsp sugar
1/4 cup fish sauce (I realize that this is the most exotic ingredient, but it adds a lot of rich, salty flavor to almost every Vietnamese and Thai dish; the result won’t taste fishy, I promise. Substitute soy sauce in smaller quantities if necessary.)
8 oz. dry medium-size rice noodles (also called “rice sticks” or “bahn pho”)
8 oz. boneless beef sirloin
several jalapenos, serranos, or thai bird chilis, chopped into small rounds
4 green onions, chopped or julienned
a large handful of mung bean sprouts
1/2 bunch Thai purple basil (substitute Italian basil if necessary)
2 small limes, cut into wedges
Sriracha (red rooster chili sauce) to taste
Making the broth:
- In a large soup pot, heat the oil on medium-high heat. Add the ginger and onion and sauté until browned.
- Add the beef stock, cinnamon, star anise, peppercorns, and cloves to the stock pot. Stir, cover, and simmer for at least 15-30 minutes.
- Strain the broth and return to a pot. Add sugar and fish sauce, stir well, and taste for seasoning. Just before serving, return to a rolling boil.
Preparing the mix-ins:
- Just before you start cooking the broth, place the beef in the freezer.
- Heat plenty of unsalted water on high in another large pot.
- Once the water is at a rolling boil, add the rice noodles. Boil for 3-6 minutes, until the noodles are just tender. Remove from heat, drain, and rinse in cold running water until the noodles are completely cool. Cover the noodles and set aside.
- Rinse and prepare the vegetables, and set them all out attractively on a central platter.
- Remove the beef from the freezer; it should be firm and partly frozen. Trim off any excess fat. Cut the beef against the grain into paper-thin slices. Set on a separate plate.
Assembling the soup:
- In individual, large bowls, place a serving of noodles, a few slices of beef, and a sprinkling of chili peppers and green onions. Pour boiling broth on top to cover, and stir.
- Bring the bowls to the table while the heat cooks the beef. Let everyone add their own mix-ins: a wedge or two of lime juice, a few basil leaves and bean sprouts, and Sriracha to taste.
- Serve with a soup spoon and a fork or pair of chopsticks. Enjoy!