Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Vietnamese Pho

I've made pho before, but it was with powdered pho broth and it wasn't very good at all. Then, I discovered a recipe from Cook's Magazine that cut down the cooking time to about an hour, and was delicious to boot. I did, however, have to pass it by my friend Michelle (author of the Mommy Misadventures blog) and The Hubs (tm), her Vietnamese husband.

Michelle loves to cook as much as I do, but when she saw the recipe, she winced. I could almost see it through the Facebook post.  "I gotta call BS on the fundamentals. I'm glad that it tasted good for you guys but I'm sorry, that makes my head spin on the the broth," she told me. "I can see that it's a shortcut recipe but OMG the cook in me is hopping up down saying, 'But, but, but that's not how you do it!' It'd be like making pecan pie with Log Cabin Syrup." She was right--I couldn't argue. The Hubs (tm), being a short-and-to-the-point kind of man, noted that since pho was the national dish of his home country, he was a little sensitive to how Western cooks "seem to love butchering ethnic dishes." Again, no argument from me (collard green eggrolls? Vegan soul food? I'm not too sure about that either...).

But being the generous person that Michelle is, she didn't leave me in the lurch. I was given a from scratch pho recipe to try. Her version makes about four quarts of stock. Both recipes call for meat to be boiled with the broth to give it that delicious meaty taste, but the only meat I had was the stuff I was saving for the pho itself. Not to be outdone, I grabbed my jar of Better Than Bouillon beef stock. As for the rest of the ingredients, you can find them at a specialty store or at a local Asian store. If you're really stuck, do what I did and do a Google search for them.

 I will say that this recipe will take about four to six hours to make, but It. Is. Worth. It. If you start it on a Saturday morning, like I did, you'll be able to set it and forget it, and take care of other stuff. Like laundry. And oven cleaning. And getting melted chunks of plastic off your cooking rack (don't ask).

2 lbs beef bones (you can probably get them from a good butcher, or even at your local Asian store)
1 lb brisket, cut into chunks (or 5-6 teaspoons of Better Than Bouillon beef stock)
1 onion, halved
1 4 inch piece of ginger, peeled
1 cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons yellow rock sugar (or one large piece of yellow rock candy, or two tablespoons of regular sugar)
6 star anise pods
6 whole cloves
Salt (skip if you used the beef stock)
1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1 package thinly sliced beef chuck (or another pound of brisket--see directions below)
1 package dried rice noodles
1/3 cup cilantro (optional)
Lime wedges
Onion slices
Hoisin sauce
Sriracha sauce

Bake the beef bones at about 425 for an hour until browned and charred. 

If you're using the brisket chunks for the broth, add a little oil to a non stick skillet and brown them well on all sides. Set them aside, leaving the stovetop on, and wash and dry the skillet. Cut the onion in half and char the onion and ginger on the stovetop 
(if it's electric, you'll want to cover your coils with a piece of foil). In the meantime, if you're using the brisket as a topping, place it in the freezer for about half an hour. Pull it out of the freezer and slice it as thinly as possible with a sharp knife, then place the slices on a plate and put them in the refrigerator to stay cold. 

Put the skillet back on the stovetop and toast the spices quickly until fragrant. 

Put the brisket chunks (or the Better Than Bouillon) into your crock pot or large pot and cover with water, roughly four quarts (filtered, if possible). Cover the crock pot and set it on high (or turn your pot on high till it starts to boil, then turn it down to low). Remove the meat after about 4 hours, if using; let the bones and spices continue to simmer up to another 2 hours for maximum flavor. Feel free to add more water if needed. 

Strain out the solids and discard, eexcept for the meat! Save that for the pho. If necessary, season the broth to taste with more salt, fish sauce  and sugar.

To serve as pho, follow the directions on the rice noodles to cook them. Put them into a bowl and add boiling hot broth to cover. Add a few slices of brisket, cilantro, lime, onion, and hoisin and sriracha sauce. Enjoy!

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