EatDrink&BeMerry asked for a Pho recipe, so here’s mine.
The Portland Angle
This Portland-centric info won’t help EatDrink&BeMerry, but he lives in Southern California, the land of Ranch 99 markets and over a quarter of a million Vietnamese, so I’m sure he’ll manage. (After all, he’s a resourceful guy who managed to score an entire segment in Tony Bourdain’s No Reservations LA episode!)
There’s a short list of stores I would consider for an all-inclusive Pho run. They are in my order of preference:
1. Thanh Thao market, 65th and Sandy.
2. Hong Phat market on Prescott and 99th.
Certainly, there are other stores.
The first two market are Vietnamese, Fubonn is pan-Asian, as is Uwajimaya, though the latter obviously primarily Japanese. But Uwajimaya sells fresh rice noodles, has an incomparable selection of Asian produce, and you can find bones necessary to make a fine stock.
But it’s at Vietnamese markets like Than Thao where you’re going to have certain details taken care for you. Like at the butcher counter you can get pre-bagged portions of beef leg soup bones, and oxtails by the pound.
I like to buy my meat pre-sliced from Thanh Thao market on 65th and Sandy – it’s lean, consistently thin slices of the eye of round. At $3.29/lb, it’s a bargain.
If you are slicing it from home from your own eye, you can freeze it for an hour before slicing. It’s key to get the meat as thin as possible. If for some reason round is unavailable, you could also in a pinch use london broil, but keep it cheap and lean. This is peasant food, and something like strip or ribeye would be wasteful. That’s not to say a frou-frou version of Pho Tai couldn’t be something like, say, raw buffalo carpaccio draped on fresh rice tagliatelli and poached with scalding hot, anise-and-lovage-scented brown veal stock, topped with julienne of cinnamon basil and saw leaf herb, but you wouldn’t see me making this in my humble kitchen (even if I had the ambition).
Pho Tai basically means Pho with raw, lean beef (“Tai”). This is my favorite type of Pho, but it is also very good with braised, tender beef (commonly brisket — Chin), or with lean, cooked flank (Nam). With two types of meat? Pho Tai Chin.
I like a fragrant broth. Many people would probably be bothered by the variety and proliferation of aromatics and spices in my Pho broth. I don’t care. I live life to the fullest, with wanton disregard for prudes and haters.
- A few pounds of beef leg bones (you could use oxtails — expensive, but tasty — and strip the meat from the bones for the Pho Tai Chin)
- 1 extremely large onion
- A bunch of water
- One cinnamon stick
- 6-8 star anise
- 10 cloves
- 1 decent knob of ginger, washed
- 3 allspice berries
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon white peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- Couple carrots
- Half bunch of celery
- 1 nugget of rock sugar
- Kosher Salt
- Fish sauce
- MSG (yes, MSG! Ajinomoto, of course)
Put the bones in a large stockpot and cover with water…say a full 12 inches over the bones themselves, and crank up the heat.
My mom impressed the following method upon me: peel the onion, and then stud that thing with cloves, really sticking the points deep into the onion flesh to make sure they are firmly implanted. Turn on the flame of your gas stove (or you can use a creme brulee or crackpipe torch) and, using tongs, scald that allium, turning to toast all the clove points and to get an even char all over the onion. Throw into the stockpot, and repeat with ginger.
Put the rest of the spices into a dry cast iron pan, and toast over high heat for a minute, and dump into the pot. Add carrots (unpeeled) and celery.
Disclaimer: for a clear broth, some people say to boil the bones, and skim off the “foam”. But I prefer just to allow everything to simmer for a buttload of time (the impurities seem to melt and evaporate away) and then strain.
So…bring everything to a healthy boil, then add rock sugar and reduce to simmer. Personally, I would have started this around 8am or 8pm, because this is going to take a while. Simmer for 6-8 hours. Yes…even overnight on the lowest of low settings.
Strain broth through a fine sieve (it helps to own more than one stockpot — I own three. But I am a notorious hoarder). Sometimes I’ll cool the broth in the fridge, and skim off the coagulated fat “sheet” that accumulates. Other times I’ll just eat an unctuous first bowl of Pho, and then cool and skim later.
Bring back to a healthy simmer, and season with fish sauce (3 tablespoons?), salt, and a couple teaspoons of MSG. Do this in stages, and taste constantly. There is no magic formula — everything is approximate and requires constant salty bootstrapping to get it just right.
Use fresh, thin rice noodles. Usually 99 cents for an entire pound. Blanch in boiling water for no more than 20 seconds, and then strain and bowl immediately.
Bring the broth to a roiling boil. Drape thin slices of Tai over the noodles. Top with:
- Paper thin slices of onion
- Sliced green onions
- Chopped cilantro
- The leaves from a few sprigs of Thai basil
- A small handful of bean sprouts
- 2-3 torn pieces of culantro (ngo gai aka saw leaf herb)
- Fresh chilis (I like to snip two small bird chilis with kitchen shears, but sliced jalapenos are quite common)
Using a ladle, skim the scalding, boiling broth over the noodles, beef, and garnishes. Hit that soup with a couple dashes of nuoc mam (fish sauce) and the juice of half a lime, and give it a few grinds of white and black pepper. Enjoy.