Gloomy weather again today. And since I was already buying beef marrow bones for Borscht, I decided to make pho bo (Vietnamese beef noodle soup).
(The ? accent over the O in phở makes it sound like a question, so to pronounce it properly, say phở as if you were asking a question. Remember phở is your friend, not foe so don't pronounce it that way. :P)
Pho originated in north Vietnam, but really proliferated when 1 million refugees fled south when the country was divided in 1954. In Saigon, pho comes with a plate of basil, sawtooth herb, bean sprouts, lime, chili paste, hoisin sauce. The only greens in a Hanoi bowl of pho would be some scallions. So while pho originated in Hanoi, the pho that's served in America is heavily Saigon-influenced. I like my broth with lots of flavor from the spices so adjust yours accordingly. I also prefer to skim as much of the fat as possible so this is a two-day process. Start it the day before, refrigerate it overnight to remove excess fat, and reheat on the second day before serving.
Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)
For a 7-quart pot, which makes roughly 4 - 6 bowls, you'll need:
About 3-lbs of beef marrow bones (These are sold in bags in Asian grocery stores. You can also substitute with the more expensive oxtail bones.)
1/2-lb eye of round beef slices (These are sold in Asian grocery stores already pre-sliced. If not, ask your butcher to slice them deli thin. Or use whatever meat you have on hand and slice it as thin as possible.)
1 package of Banh Pho (Vietnamese Flat Thin Rice Noodles). (If you buy them fresh, in Vietnamese it'll say "banh pho tuoi." Fresh noodles only need to be immersed for a few seconds very quickly in boiling water to soften.)
A dozen cloves, studded into an onion
1 stick of cinnamon
About 6 star anise pods
1 tsp coriander seeds
A 2-inch knob of ginger
About 6 cloves of garlic
1 carrot, cut into several sections
2 celery stalks, cut into sections
1 daikon, cut into sections
2 tblsp Nuoc Mam (Vietnamese Fish Sauce), or more according to taste
2 tsp salt, or more according to taste
Optional: 3 cardamom pods. 1 small package of beef meat balls or beef tendon meat balls, book tripe, flank steak, any other meat parts you wish.
Cilantro, finely chopped
Scallions, finely chopped
Half an onion, thinly sliced
Limes, sliced in quarters
Sriracha chili sauce
Sliced chilies, bird's eye or jalapenos
Ngo gai (Vietnamese sawtooth herb)
Wash beef marrow bones and place them in the pot with enough water to cover. Turn the heat to high and when the pot boils, turn down heat to medium, and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes. The bones will start releasing impurities, which will rise to the surface. Dump out everything into a colander and wash the bones again thoroughly. Wash out the pot and put the bones back in, filling the pot with water until it is 3/4 full. Turn the heat to high.
Using a pair of tongs, char the cinnamon, star anise pods, and cloved onion over a gas burner. The charring brings out the aroma in the spices. If you don't have a gas burner, you can dry-fry the spices to release their fragrance.
Toss the spices, including a few teaspoons of coriander seeds, ginger, garlic, carrot, daikon, and celery, into the pot. You can add the spices into a mesh ball or cheese cloth and tie them up if you don't want loose spices.
At this point, if there's room left in the pot, pour in water until it's close to full. When the broth starts boiling, turn the heat down to medium-low, lightly cover, and allow it to simmer for two hours or longer. Ideally, the longer you allow the broth to simmer, the more flavor will be extracted from the bones. You want the heat to be low so that the broth will remain clear. After the broth has simmered for several hours, turn the pot off and let it cool down.
Then refrigerate overnight so that the fat rises to the surface like what you see below. The fat will be a solid layer that you can just remove with a spoon.
Once the fat is removed, turn the heat on high. When the broth boils again, turn the heat down to medium-low and let it simmer for several more hours. Add salt and fish sauce to taste. You can check on the broth periodically and season it. If the broth looks really greasy, let it cool down and refrigerate and skim the fat again.
A few hours before you're ready to eat, remove the beef bones. Using a slotted spoon, remove the spices. Or if you have a second pot, place a small colander in the pot and pour the broth into the colander. When you remove the colander, all the spices and any other large pieces will remain in the colander, and the broth will be clear.
Strip any meat that's still on the beef bones and add it to the broth. Add beef meatballs. I cut my meatballs in half for ease in eating. Season again with salt or fish sauce to taste.
Thinly slice the eye of round. If it's not pre-sliced, put the beef in the freezer for about 15 minutes to firm up for ease in slicing. Set aside.
When you're ready to eat, turn the heat to high to get the broth boiling. Make a garnish platter for the table of the bean sprouts, basil, and lime quarters.
For additional garnishing, slice onions, and chop cilantro, and scallions.
Boil the rice noodles. When dumping out the rice noodles, upend a rice bowl into the colander to keep the noodles from clumping in the center. Fresh noodles only have to be immersed for a few seconds until softened.
Crank the heat back on high so the broth is at a roiling boil. Assemble your bowl with the noodles on the bottom, then raw beef slices on top. When you pour the boiling broth over the meat, the hot broth will cook the meat.
Top with the chopped cilantro and scallions and onions slices. At the table, squeeze in some lime, add bean sprouts and basil, a few squirts of hoisin sauce and chili sauce.
A perfect spoonful of pho should have a few strands of noodles, some beef slices, a sprout or two, a basil leaf. Dip the spoon into the broth to fill it, and you've got a little bit of everything in one mouthful.
If you're feeling lazy, try my Crock Pot Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup).
Or if you prefer chicken, you can try my recipe for Pho Ga (Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup). It's pretty much the same thing.
Who made my recipe for pho bo?
Oanh of Halfway Between Ca Mau and Sai Gon cobbled together my recipe and another, and declared it a success.
The Baltimore DIY Squad said, "Although this meal was a definite production, it was a very special meal worth sharing with friends."
Christine of Kits Chow said, "It is a lot of work to make the Pho Bo and it is unlikely that I'll be making beef broth again soon. Everyone enjoyed the light yet rich beef soup so it was worth the effort."