Saturday, January 5, 2013

Vietnamese beef noodle (Pho Bo)

I don't know about what everyone else thinks, but to me this winter season seems to be a bit colder than other previous years. It is also a perfect weather for a hot, steamy bowl of Pho, especially during a cold, rainy day.
The funny thing is that whenever I go to the Pho restaurant in my neighborhood, the majority customers there are either non-Vietnamese or non-Asian.  Therefore, I don't think I need to introduce this popular dish to anybody since I am sure you all have tried or at least heard of this hearty and nutritious traditional Vietnamese soup before. 
To my childhood recollection, it's the best noodle soup in Vietnam and it's typically served as breakfast, but to me it's also as good any other time of the day.
For some beginners, Pho may look or seem too complicated and time consuming. But once you get the basic steps down, it is not really as bad as it may seem.  The best part about this homemade soup is that you can always prepare the broth ahead of time and freeze it divided in the airtight containers. This way, whenever the craving calls for, you can always have a steamy bowl of Pho in less than 30 minutes instead of the whole night of simmering. Enjoy cooking!


1. 5 lbs of beef bones with marrow and 2 lbs of ox tails
2. 3-4 lbs of beef brisket
3. 2 lbs for beef filet mignon (very thinly sliced)
4. 1 bag of store-bought beef balls (bo vien)
5. 1-2 large yellow onion
6. 2 medium knobs of ginger (aboute 5 inches)
7. Pho spices: 10 star anise, 1 cinnamon stick, 3-4 cardamon pods, cilantro seeds, fennel seeds and cloves (1 tsp of each)
8. 4-5 tbsp of Pho soup base (Quoc Viet brand)
9. 2 packets of rice noodle (soaked in warm water to soften the noodle)
10.  Bean sprouts, basil, red onion (thinly sliced), finely chopped green onion and cilantro, red chili pepper, limes (cut into wedges), hoisin sauce, sriracha sauce.
10. Salt, rock sugar, mushroom seasoning.

For the broth:

- Clean and rinse the bones, ox tails and beef brisket. Then soak them in a clean bowl of water with a couple teaspoon of salt and vinegar for about 30 minutes.
- Drain the soaking water and place all the bones, meats inside a large pot, pour water over until it covers all the bones and meat. Bring it to boil for about 15 minutes.
- Drain the bones, ox tails and brisket in a large colander. Use a small brush to brush off any dirty foam that stuck to the bones or ox tail. Rinse them under cold running water.
- Char the peeled ginger, peeled onions on the stove for a few minutes, make sure to turn them around to char them evenly.
- Clean the ginger and onions under cold running water to remove the blacken skins. Bruise the ginger to release the flavor, but leave the onion whole.
- In another large stock pot, add about 7 quarts of water and bring it to boil on medium-high heat. Slowly and carefully place the bones, ox tails and brisket inside the simmering water along with the charred onions and ginger. Season it with 2 small pieces of rock sugar (size of a small lime), salt and mushroom seasoning.
- Continue to boil the broth on high heat and skim the dirty foams off the surface to the broth until clean, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about 2 hours. Remove the beef brisket from the broth and soak it in a large bowl of cold water to keep the meat from turning dark. 
- After removing the brisket, continue to simmer the bones and ox tails for another 4-5 hours. On the last hour of simmering, toast up the Pho spice ingredients in a small toaster until fragrant but not burned. Gather them in a cheese-cloth bag, tightly secured with a string and slowly lower the spice bag into the broth along with the Pho soup base. Adjust the seasoning and add some more water as needed, keep the broth simmer for another hour. Remove the bones (but leave the ox tails inside the broth), onion, ginger and the spice bag from the pot, you can also remove some of the fat off the broth surface but keep a thin layer for flavor.

 - Before serving, thinly slice the beef brisket then set aside. Cut the beef balls in half and add to the broth. Prepare all other ingredients while cooking the broth such as chopping the green onions, cilantro, slicing the red onions, the beef filet, cleaning the basil and bean sprouts.
- To serve, add a handful of rice noodle in a bowl, microwave it for about a minute or so. Place a few slices of beef brisket and filet mignon on top of the noodle (you can also serve the rare filet on the side and dip it in the hot broth right before serving). Pour over the hot soup, just enough to cover the surface of the noodle and beef, place a piece of ox tail and some beef balls on top if desire. Garnish with chopped green onion, cilantro, sliced red onion and a spritz of lime juice. Serve hot with a plate of bean sprouts, basil, hoisin and sriracha sauce.

Note: If you notice, I did not use MSG in my broth (as well as any other dishes) to keep this homemade soup delicious and healthy. This is a bonus point when you make your soup at home compare to the MSG-loaded Pho at the outside restaurant.

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