Pho - Vietnam's National Soup
by: Alden Smith
If you can imagine beef noodle soup for breakfast, then you decidedly want to try Pho, a Vietnamese dish that has been around for nearly 100 years. I find my site is more and more leaning towards ethnic dishes that are loaded with big, bold tastes, and that make eating what it should be - an experience!
Pho (pronounced "phir" in English) is influenced by the Chinese and French cuisines, and was believed to have originally derived from a French soup, "pot au feu",(pot on fire) which Wikipedia defines as a French beef stew. This is usually a mixture of cuts of beef, vegetable, and spice.
Pho had its humble beginnings nearly 100 years ago, and at that time was basically boiled beef, broth and noodles. It has since evolved into much more than that. During the war in Viet Nam, when beef became scarce, a pork version (pho lon) evolved.
The combination of both French and Chinese occupation has led to a diverse, unique cuisine that is admired by many. When the Vietnamese fled to the US in 1975, they brought to the United States their unique cuisine and heritage. It is how Pho was introduced to us...
As a Viet Nam vet, I am probably a bit more familiar with the SE Asian cuisine than most. I also worked for many years with a large population of Vietnamese when doing vocational rehab. As a results, I enjoy the cookery of the East. It is spicy, oft-times hot, and is also very healthy.
Offered here is a basic recipe for Pho. I have spent extra time lately with my brother after Mom's passing. Howard, also a Viet Nam vet, and I talked a lot about the culture there, and the great meals to be had. He, too, loves the bold, spicy hot foods of the Orient...
We are accustomed to meals of bacon and eggs, French toast, sausages, big whacking slices of ham for breakfast. All loaded with fat grams and way too much cholesterol. Do your self a favor, and try Pho one of these mornings instead...
Assemble These Ingredients:
3 medium unpeeled yellow onions (approx 1 pound)
4-inch piece unpeeled ginger (approx 4 ounces)
5 to 6 pounds beef soup bones (leg and knuckle bones - have butcher cut into 2-3 in sections)
1 lb flank steak. cut into bite-sized pieces.
5 star anise
6 whole cloves
3-inch cinnamon stick
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
1/4 cup Hot chili sauce
2 tablespoons fish sauce
Freshly ground Black pepper
1 ounce rock sugar (duong phen) or 1 tablespoon white sugar
For The Bowl Itself:
1/2 lb sirloin or round steak
1 TBS Cilantro-chopped
2 14 ounce packages of small ( 1/8-inch wide) dried or fresh banh pho noodles
2-3 scallions, with green tops sliced into small rings.
2 cups fresh bean sprouts
2 Limes cut in wedges
1 bunch Fresh mint
1 bunch Fresh Asian or regular basil
2 Fresh chili peppers, thinly sliced (Thai dragon or bird preferred)
To Make The Broth:
Char 2 of the onions (reserve the other onion for bowl preparation) and ginger over an open flame to release essential oils and fragrances. They do not need to be blackened - only char to soften. (This can be done under a broiler if no open flame is available). Remove skin and blackened pieces from onions and ginger, remove stem ends from onions and discard. Set aside.
In a large stock pot, place leg bones and enough cold water to cover. Bring to a rolling boil, and boil approximately 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat, and rinse under cold running water. Thoroughly clean stock pot, and return cleaned bones to pot. Add 6 quarts of water bring to a rolling boil, and reduce to a gentle simmer. Add onions, ginger, star anise, cloves, cinnamon stick, cut up flank steak, salt, fish sauce, and rock sugar. Simmer about 1 1/2 hours, and remove flank steak. (Steak should be done through but chewy) Cool steak in bowl of cold water to keep it from drying out and turning brown. Refrigerate flank steak. Continue simmering broth for approximately 3 hours, skimming scum and fat from broth occasionally, and stirring bones from time to time.
When done, strain broth through double-folded cheesecloth in a colander to remove any impurities and pieces of tendon. Discard bones. To make preparation of Pho much easier, refrigerate broth overnight. When cold, any excess fat can be easily removed from the cold broth. The idea here is to have a very clear, fat-free broth.
To Prepare The Bowls:
Slice the sirloin or round steak against the grain in very thin slices.
(Freezing for a half-hour makes this easier)
Thinly slice cooked flank steak
Heat broth to boiling over medium heat.
Blanch noodles in 3-4 quarts of boiling water, and use a strainer to remove each bowl portion. Blanching should only take about 10-20 seconds, until the noodles have lost their stiffness, and are easily managed.
If using fresh noodles, simply untangle and rinse in cold water.
Blanch bean sprouts in same water until wilted but crunchy.
Fill each bowl approximately 1/4 full with noodles, place cooked flank steak and slices of raw sirloin or round steak on top of noodles. Garnish this with sliced scallions, thinly sliced onions, and chopped cilantro.
Ladle seasoned broth into bowl. The idea here is to have the boiling broth cook the thinly sliced raw steak. Season with freshly ground black pepper.
A garnish plate is served with the completed Pho. It is customary for the diner to pull the leaves from the stalk of the basil and mint to season their meal. Take thinly sliced peppers, swirl them into the soup for added flavor. Add the slice of pepper if you like it very spicy. Lime wedges are used to add a tartness to the soup. Bean sprouts are also used as a garnish.
This variation of Pho is typically served in South Viet Nam. In the North, Pho is a much simpler dish, minus a lot of the ingredients found in this recipe. In the North, Pho is served without the herbs and bean sprouts. Green chilies and lime only are used as condiments. In the South, Pho can be served with a dozen different ingredients.
Pho has become very popular in the United States. There are at last count over 500 Pho restaurants scattered across the US. Pho is often served with spring rolls and egg rolls.