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Pho Bac - Vietnamese Beef and Noodle Soup

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If you've never had, or even heard of Pho before, my guess is that you will soon. Pho is the accepted shorthand for pho bo, a Vietnamese beef and noodle soup, whose popularity seems to have been growing dramatically over the past few years. Around Boston the number of Vietnamese style noodle restaurants has been growing steadily, even in the suburbs. Perhaps the biggest sign of the emergence of Pho on the culinary map here is the replacement of Jae's (a symbol of the ascendency of Asian/fusion cuisine in the '90s) with Pho Pasteur at the Atrium in Chestnut Hill. While I've known about pho for a while, I only tried it for the first time a few months ago, having made it myself after looking for something else to do with the fish sauce I purchased to make Pad Thai a while back. Since then, I haven't been able to get enough of it.

Pho epitomizes what I call honest cuisine. Simple and pure in flavor, it appeals to all the senses. For the eyes pho offers an intriguing composition of carefully arranged layers of noodles, vegetables and meat surrounded by a shimmering broth that was clearly boiling in its stockpot only moments ago. Leaning over the bowl you inhale deeply to capture the heady aroma of the rich broth spiced with anise, cloves and roasted ginger and the delicate fragrance of fresh basil, cilantro (and sometimes even mint). Working nimbly with chopsticks and spoon, you fill your mouth with the rich feel of well prepared stock, the chew of the slippery noodle and textured meat, and the crunch of bean sprouts or other vegetables cooked only by the broth that envelops them. The flavors you smelled evolve in your mouth, the beefy goodness (and sweet heat too if you added a squirt of chili sauce) intensifying and subsiding, delicately coating your tongue and warming the back of your throat. As you eat you are entertained by the alternating sounds of slurping noodles and sipping soup. A bowl of pho is simultaneously a transcendent, humble and happy experience, and clearly plain old good eats.

At it's core, pho can truly be considered a cultural and political statement. And, like any subject that instills such levels of passion, there is anything but unanimity about how pho came to be or, indeed, what goes into it. Pho appears to be the soup equivalent of barbecue. Every pho cook has his or her own rules of what can and cannot go into the bowl, and even how it should go into the bowl. Are bean sprouts authentic? If so, are they served in the soup, or on the side with fresh basil for the diner to add as desired? Is basil OK? How about mint? Cilantro? Care to finish it off with a squeeze of lime, or lemon? To the pho phanatic the preceding questions contain nothing but fighting words.

As with barbecue, I am agnostic when it comes to pho cooking and eating. The only constants (as far as I can tell) are a rich beef broth flavored with fish sauce (nuoc mam), star anise, cloves and ginger, rice noodles (though, to be honest, Chinese bean thread noodles work very well too), thinly sliced beef, a fresh herb and a fresh vegetable. Beyond that any and all variation is a good and welcome thing.

Pho Bo — Vietnamese Beef and Noodle Soup
(as interpreted by Simmerstock)

Serves 6 adults as the only course.

Beef Stock

3 pounds oxtails cut into 2 inch pieces
3 pounds beef chuck blade steak (don't get wimpy and try a leaner cut. We end up skimming off all the fat, so all you'll loose is flavor.)
5 quarts water

Soup Broth

1 large red onion, quartered
4 inches fresh ginger, quartered lengthwise
1 clove
1 stick cinnamon (about 4 inches long)
1 piece star anise
1/4 cup fish sauce (nuoc mam)
1 gallon of beef stock made with ingredients above

Accompaniments

1 pound skirt steak, sliced very thin against the grain in 3 to 4 inch strips.
1 pound dried rice noodles (preferably bahn pho)
4 cups mung bean sprouts
2 limes sliced into 1/4 inch wedges
1 cup sliced or chopped green onion
1 cup shredded Chinese (napa) cabbage
1/2 cup basil leaves (preferably the Asian variety, but any will do)
Vietnamese chili sauce (Sriracha) (optional)
Hoisin sauce (optional)

Beef Stock

First off, let me just say that I like rich brown beef stock made with roasted meat. I say this now because most of the recipes I've seen for pho include white beef stock where the bones and meat are not browned first, and some people may not appreciate my tampering with pho this way. I make no apologies. Roasting adds good flavor and gets rid of most of the fat right from the start. I also cheat a bit by leaving out the bones. While bones do add body to a stock, using all meat cuts the cooking time considerably (a good stock made from beef bones can take upwards of 12 hours), and the use of oxtail compensates fairly well for the lack of bone. If you have a problem with my adding flavor and cutting cooking time, keep it to yourself.

  • OK, preheat the oven to 450°.
  • Wash the meat with cool water, dry it well with paper towels and spread the meat on a sheet pan or roasting pan (anything with a rim so the fat doesn't end up on the floor of your oven).
  • Roast the meat for half an hour, turning the pieces over after the first 15 minutes, until the meat develops a nice brown crust. Be careful not to burn the meat or the good stuff that drips onto the pan.
  • Using tongs or a fork, remove the meat from the roasting pan, drain on paper towels, and place it in a 10 quart or larger stock pot.
  • Pour off all the fat from the pan and place the pan over two burner on the stove. With both burners on high, deglaze the pan with 2 cups of the water and pour the resulting liquid into the stock pot.
  • Pour the remaining 4-1/2 quarts of the water into the stockpot, turn the heat on as high as it will go, and cover the pot.
  • As soon as the water starts to a boil remove the cover and turn the heat down to low. With a ladle or large spoon, skim whatever foam, fat or other detritus comes to the surface of the stock. Continue simmering the stock (uncovered) for at least four hours (six, or even eight would be better), repeating the skimming process every 15 minutes or so.
  • Strain the stock through a sieve lined with at least two layers of cheese cloth. You should have at least a gallon of stock. If you're down by less than a quart, just add some water. If you're down by more than a quart, you can make up the difference with chicken broth .

At this point, if you're not going to make the soup right away, you can cool down and refrigerate the stock for up to a week.

Soup Broth

The stock was the hard part. To make the soup itself we simply roast the ginger and onion, throw all of the soup ingredients into the stock and simmer it for about 45 minutes.

  • If you have a gas stove use tongs to roast pieces of ginger and onion over an open flam until the pieces are lightly charred. Otherwise, place the ginger and onion on a sheet pan and broil in the oven as close to the heating element as possible, turning the pieces over once, until the surfaces are lightly charred.
  • Wrap the clove, cinnamon and anise in some cheese cloth and tie the bundle up with some string.
  • Place all of the soup ingredients (roast onion and ginger, spice bundle, fish sauce and stock) into a pot and lightly simmer, partially covered for about 45 minutes.
  • Strain the soup and keep it warm in the pot until you are ready to serve.

Accompaniments

To make the noodles, bring two quarts of water to a boil (I just use a tea kettle) and pour the boiling water over the noodles in a bowl. Let the noodles sit in the hot water for about 10 minutes until they become, well, noodly, and drain.

Pho tai chin is pho served with half the beef fully cooked and the other half cooked only by the hot broth in the serving bowl. To fully cook some or all of the beef up front, bring the soup to a boil, drop in whatever portion of the meat you want to cook and let it simmer for three to five minutes. Then strain the soup and set aside the cooked meat for serving.

Serving

I like to serve pho family style, which means everyone gets to make their own dinner. This serving method goes over particularly well with the kids, as they essentially have permission to play with their food. To do this I just set out the accompaniments in their own serving bowls, set the soup on a hotplate in the middle of the table, give each diner and empty bowl and let them go at it.

I assemble my pho by adding some noodles to my warmed bowl, followed by a few bean sprouts, some shredded cabbage, a few slices of raw beef and few slices of cooked beef. I then sprinkle on top a torn up leaf or two of basil and some of the chopped green onion, pour in some piping hot broth. I finish the bowl off with a little squeeze of lime and chili sauce, and I'm ready to go.

How you assemble your own personal bowl of pho is entirely up to you.


Posted on May 30, 2002 @ 07:08 PM

Comments:


Ali Tang:

YOU CAN ALTER THE WAY VIETNAMESE COOK PHO ANYWAY YOU LIKE BUT IF YOU DONE THAT YOU SHOULD NOT CALL THE PRODUCT OF YOUR LABOR "Pho Bac - Vietnamese Beef and Noodle Soup" BECAUSE IT IS NOT. IT SIMPLY IS NOT ANYTHING EVEN CLOSE TO VIETNAMESE PHO BAC.

Posted on Oct 09, 2002 @ 02:54 PM

L. Mendoza:

using your guidlines resulting in the best pho i've ever eaten; much more fresh tasting than in restaurants.

Posted on Nov 30, 2002 @ 12:23 PM

o.s:

Thanks for posting your recipe on the net. Don't take it personal when viet fokes get mad that someone else comes up with a better way to make pho. No matter how you make it, it will still be the best noodle soup around. Thanks again.
GREAT RECIPE....

Posted on Dec 15, 2002 @ 08:10 PM

Dick:

I don't take it personally at all. In fact, it's passion like Ali's that make Pho bigger than any one recipe. There is no one right recipe for Pho. It's intensely personal yet, at the same time, meaningless if not shared. At the end of the article I link to eight very different recipes, all called Pho (each of those words are different links). Indeed, the only siginificant differences between my recipe and classic pho recipes (like this one from Mai Pham) are the roasting of the meat and bones to create a brown stock and the use of mung bean noodles. Even though I clearly state how I've diverged from the classic, some clearly see these adjustments as beyond the pale. I don't see the variations as any more significant than adding tomatoes to clams and broth and still calling it clam chowder.

Posted on Dec 15, 2002 @ 09:03 PM

Quan:

Your recipe sounds very interesting. I have been studying how to make pho for a few months now...even traveled to Vietnam to learn the techniques. However, I wonder which beef bone is best to use in order to give the beef stock the most intense flavor. In Japan where I currently reside, it is extremely difficult to get good bones. Lately, I have had to use shanks...but discovered that it was just too fatty...thus clouding the stock and giving it an unpleasant texture. If you have any suggestion, please let me know...


Quan

thanxs in advance

Posted on Feb 07, 2003 @ 01:44 AM

:

Quan, Try putting the soup aside, say in the refridgerator, over night. This will allow the fat to rise to the surface, and can thus be scraped off.

Posted on Mar 09, 2003 @ 06:16 PM

Robert:

I love Pho, and I've even cooked it a time or two at home. When I order it at a local restaurant, I'm usually presented with a list of different type of meats to choose from. I like brisket with a lot of fat, but that's a personal thing. I've made it at home using thinly sliced tenderloin that I don't cook, I just let the heat of the soup poach it.

New Orleans doesn't have too many good Asian restaurants, but we've got a few good Viet Namese joints.

Posted on Mar 24, 2003 @ 03:54 PM

christine:

The Viet restaurant in Melbourne has the best Pho I've tasted! Now that I've moved to Singapore, I really miss it. The ones here don't taste anything close to it!
I've been looking for a good Pho recipe for ages. This one is the better ones that I've stumbled across, and I think I will try it out.

Thanks for the recipe!

Posted on Apr 28, 2003 @ 10:27 PM

Elly:

I tried this recipe last week - and it was spot on. I have been eating Vietnamese Beef Noodle soup from my local Vietnamese restaruant for years - and this is up to scratch!
Thanks

Posted on Aug 04, 2003 @ 10:18 PM

jake:


your recipe sounds interesting just like any other recipe on the net but, all the francise restaurant for pho has a secret recipe that will never be revealed. restaurant like pho 79,pho 54,
pho hoa,etc... so, there is a main reason why these restaurant are so popular because they hold a secret recipe that you people dont know. so don't try and pretend like you know so, and give out your junk recipe called pho, no hard feelings but you shouldn't lead other people to beleive that this is a pho recipe when it is not even CLOSE TO IT,

Posted on Aug 10, 2003 @ 06:22 AM

Kate:

Jake, Calm down. It is Pho, it may be a variety on a theme, but yes its still Pho. So get over it. I've had Pho many times, made by Veitnamese friends, in restaurants and even made by me...they all tasted different and thats the beauty of it...but you know what they were all called - PHO.

By the way Richard, great recipe, i loved it! Thank you, for having the sense to post a decent recipe on the internet.

Kate

Posted on Sep 10, 2003 @ 12:20 PM

kevin:

Thanks. I hope it turns out good.

Posted on Sep 13, 2003 @ 08:51 PM

Jake G.:

In Vietnam I noticed that Pho is often served with "beef balls" as well as normal strips of beef. Any idea how these are made?

Posted on Sep 17, 2003 @ 11:35 AM

stanley wong:

recipe is very good, I always believe that beef shin makes the best tasting broth, besides having a nice meat as an internal garnish.
Also the choice of fish sauce is very important, three crabs is the best hands down!
Try cassia instead of cinnamon to give the broth a more complex roundness...

Posted on Sep 22, 2003 @ 11:14 AM

An:

I agree with Ali. If you are going to alter the traditional way of cooking Pho, please name it your own "beef noodle soup" instead of calling it Pho. Pho, a great Vietnamese beef noodle soup comes with a great history and tradition.
It doesn't matter how you are going to alter the way it cooks, it will never taste the same as a bowl of Pho you can have in Vietnam(unless you have had a bowl of true beef noodle soup (Pho) in Vietnam), because the taste of beef here are different. Everything is frozen and chemical engineer.

Posted on Oct 14, 2003 @ 12:33 PM

Josh:

enter your comment here

Hi, Richard and the rest of the Pho lovers.

I'm opening a pho restaurant here in the Los Angeles/Hollywood area in 4 months. I'm gathering recipes and other pertinent info on pho cooking. I'd appreciate it very much if you can give me some information or lead me to sources of information and recipes for great tasting pho.

Thank you so much. Joshua

Posted on Nov 05, 2003 @ 09:05 PM

Tran:

looks good, haven't tried your recipe, have been eating and making pho for years.

i use more fish sauce and a bit of tamarind extract in the soup. Also, coriander is an important ingredient as well.

And a good hoisin sauce is an importang garnish. Mix in in little plates with hot chili sauce to dip the meat into.

Posted on Nov 25, 2003 @ 04:15 PM

Ken:

Like one of the other people who posted comments, I live in Japan and, besides there being no vietnamese restaurants within a few hundred miles of where I live, I can simply not find bones to make soup with. I am already planning a trip to Vietnam for the express purpose of eating this great food made by pros. I will try this recipe and see what it tastes like. I suspect that it will be delicious but I would still like to make the stock from bone. Anybody with knowledge about Japan know where to go to get ahold of this rare item? Thanks! - Ken

Posted on Dec 14, 2003 @ 06:37 AM

Tom:

enter your comment here
Reading your Pho recipe and others comments was enjoyable.. Have never made this soup myself, but had it every day for months in the city of Bien Hoa, Vietnam back in the mid 60s in a little soup place across from my villa. It was owned by a former North Vietnames soldier and his wife who had escaped from the North when the Communists took over. I can still taste that soup to this day. I stop for Pho whenever I can, mostly at Pho 88 in Lowell, Mass., which has very good Vietnamese food, but I have never had Pho which I didn't like!

Posted on Dec 15, 2003 @ 09:53 PM

Lisa:

My mother is veitnamese her and my father met during the war in 1970. She and her friends have been making pho for years. Her receipe is a lot differnt from yours. She doesn't use cinnamon and she uses more anise stars than you. But everyone does everything different I now make pho for my family and I make it more for my own taste. After the soups ready I put thin slices of beef in a laddle and put it in the boiling soup I cook it until is medium thats something my mother used to do. All the vegtables I do what you do and set it on the table and everyone picks what they like. Although your receipe does sound good I think I'm to used to the way my mother and her friends made it.

Posted on Dec 16, 2003 @ 02:48 PM

Latoya William:

very good

Posted on Jan 01, 2004 @ 10:22 AM

Ty:

Thanks for posting the recipe, i don't know how it tastes as you describe it, or how it doesn't successfully compare to authentic vietnamese pho. I have had the privelege of having pho made by a laos woman, a mother of my best friend, with many variations and 'condiments' of asian sorts that we put in at our taste to make it how we like. Different sauces, flavor pastes, and other items in your recipe(limes, herbs, bean sprouts). however besides just beef, which i thought i should mention because nobody else did, she has made it with meats besides just cut beef. the meat balls she uses are great, she also uses different seafood sometimes, a different taste, different recipe, but still a great taste. The recipes for the best are probably not available easily online, but if a quicker yet tasty method is known, i'd love to hear it, because i hate bothering my friend's mother every time i want some great pho. I bought some instant, i doubt it tastes any better than ramen. keep posting everyone!!

Posted on Jan 19, 2004 @ 02:23 AM

Panasonic:

It really sucks! how can you call this food?????????????????????????????????????? I wouldnt even feed it to the dog. just Joking!

Posted on Feb 26, 2004 @ 05:19 PM

E Lee.:

To all those people that are complaining about this recipie not being true pho and all that, why don't you guys define the true, genuine recipie of Pho then? Something like, it MUST be done THIS way and in exactly these amount of steps.

I doubt you could. The very fact you're arguing about the definition of Pho implies that there are different types of Pho.

Tried this, it was very good.

Posted on Mar 12, 2004 @ 05:30 AM

babygirl:

after searching for a good recipe of pho i stumbled upon this one. all you people who've made comments about this recipe just 'cause the guy altered somethings doesn't mean he committed a crime against the recipe. i beleive that pho is made in many different ways and that's the art of it, and to me every recipe and pho i've tried is all good. so if you're going to make unnecessary comments to the artist/chef then i guess you really don't appreciate pho the way that everyone else does. note to the chef:this recipe looks awesome can't wait to try it out.

Posted on Mar 23, 2004 @ 10:53 AM

XBro:

might be a good recipe which makes good food, but it's not pho because you differed too much from the classic. you wouldn't understand much about this since you don't have any traditional food to call your own, but some do. anyway your recipe looks like it'll make tasty food, good job :) but don't go altering people's ideas of pho like that, if the poster was a vietnamese that'd be more acceptable.
cheers!

Posted on Mar 23, 2004 @ 07:07 PM


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