Making Pho Bo Broth Is Good; Eating It Is Even Better...

With the previous posting about making pho broth now committed to your memory, I offer you my version of soup assembly to help you reach pho Nirvana.

I talked about the noodles used in the previous posting and I will stick to using the dried rice noodles that are common in your local grocery store as opposed to using fresh noodles, which are very difficult to find unless you live in an area that has a large Vietnamese population.  If you do find fresh noodles then good on ya, but for us mere mortals toiling away in the hinterlands dried is where it's at.

I have had pho where the noodles were medium size, small size and angel hair thin, I prefer the medium width noodle but that is a preference, not a requirement. I like a bit of chew to the noodle and the thin vermicelli noodles get flaccid too soon (I think there's a Freudian slip there, but I will move on). A thicker noodle can handle some neglect in timing and deliver a more pleasurable result for the same effort expended for all concerned (WTF is with the Freudian intonations??) when compared to a thin noodle. Size matters to some.

Look at the pictures below and you will see the differing sizes of dried rice noodles available in the markets in my town.  There is very thin, medium thin and medium wide, it is the medium thin ones I prefer - on the package often it will be described as "rice stick", those are the bomb! But if you want a thinner one, go for it. There are wider dried rice noodles available but I don't have them pictured here.

The thin ones in the picture I use in the making of Singapore Rice Noodles - a wonderful platter of curry, shrimp and pork goodness if ever there was one. In a pinch I will use them in a bowl of pho should my pantry be empty of the rice stick, but generally not.

Dried rice noodles do not need to be cooked, all they need is to be reconstituted with hot water and once they are re-hydrated to the preferred level of re-hydratedness (is that even a word?), they are ready to eat. No need to boil them, in fact, if you do, they will go from ready to mush very quickly and render the pho eating experience not so good.

Once the noodles have reached an al dente state of being drain them in a colander, and set aside.
There's that lovely blue colander again. Nearly 25 years old now.

Begin the pho bo assembly...

Place some noodles into a large bowl  then layer the meats you wish to use over the noodles.

Now let's stop here and talk for a bit. Okay? No really! Let's talk.

In a pho restaurant you can normally order pho with meatballs, rare (read raw) beef, tendon, tripe, flank, brisket, crunchy flank and or fatty flank. Usually there are options for the diners to order whatever combination of meats they prefer in their pho so they are not forced to eat something that would shift their swallower into full reverse at the table.  I don't like tripe, unless it is sliced very fine and then only a very little, I do like tendon and the rest of the meats however and I especially like crunchy flank, which isn't flank at all but that's what they call it - I call it delicious, unfortunately I can't locate it in the butcher shop and my local butcher has no idea what I'm talking about when I ask for fatty flank or crunchy flank. My search continues.

Tendon is something I can get at the butcher and it is cheap.  When I am making a pot of pho I  toss in a couple large tendons with the soup bones and cook them for the duration. They add a marrow-like flavour to the broth even if you don't eat them later.

Once all the bones are removed from the stock pot I locate the tendon and set them aside to cool.

Once cool, I remove the tendon from the bone and clean any fat off, then slice thinly.

I love brisket, rare beef, as well as meatballs in my soup too. The meatballs can be a chore to find but they are normally carried in the frozen section of your local Asian grocer, like T&T Markets in BC and Alberta.  Here in Prince George we have The Chinese Store and they carry a wide selection of hard to find Asian foodstuffs and Vietnamese meatballs are available there fortunately.

Vietnamese meatballs are finely ground meat and spices, slightly sweet and come precooked in the package, all you need to do is heat them up before serving. We like the beef ones but the chicken and pork are very good as well and no bowl of pho is complete without them.

I like the meatballs sliced for serving - it makes them easier to eat. Simply place the sliced meatballs into the boiling broth for a minute or so before adding them to the soup bowl.

In a pho restaurant they cook a full beef brisket in the stock pot with the bones and stuff, it adds flavour to the broth and then is a welcome protein to the soup when added. For my small batch a full brisket is too much so I cook up a large piece of blade steak or skirt steak or chuck steak prior to making soup and it goes something like this:

Brown the steaks in a hot pan and once they are browned on both sides remove from heat and get ready to make some magic.

Add a large dollop of chili garlic paste (1/4 cup), 2 tablespoons of fish sauce, 1 tablespoon of sugar,a fistful of fresh peeled garlic cloves, 6 star anise and 2 cups of water. Stir well, cover and place into a 375 degree oven and cook for 1 1/2 - 2 hours until tender or simmer on the stove-top until tender, your choice.

Once meat is tender, remove from the pan and set aside to cool.

Before serving cut into thin strips across the grain.

Now the rare beef - As I discussed in the Pho posting #1, slice the beef as thin as you possibly can.  For this serving I used a sirloin roast as the volunteer for the soup.  I put the roast in the freezer for 1/2 hour then I sliced it across the grain with a very sharp slicing knife, the partial chill stiffened the roast and made the slicing a breeze.

Now the fun part.

Place a serving of rehydrated noodles into your soup bowl and then place your desired meats over the noodles.

 Once the meats are added, ladle boiling hot soup stock over the lot to cover them nearly completely.

The rare beef will cook in the hot broth and remain very tender, see above, it's turning colour!

Once all the swimmers in the pool are swimming nicely, top with your desired or favourite aromatics.  In a pho restaurant sliced white and green onions are the norm along with some chopped cilantro finishing off the presentation; however in my house most of the diners do not like anything "green" in their pho, so I don't add it, hence you don't see it in the picture. I do add rinsed bean sprouts though, cause they're so frikking good!

Once assembled, engage the pho bo eating maneuver of your choosing - spoons, forks, chopsticks, even a trough and bare hands if you so desire, are just a few ways to deliver pho goodness to your taste buds.

I always add a large amount of sriracha sauce and some satay chili paste to my pho, turning it into an "almost" Bun bo Hue soup. Others will add some hoisin sauce as well, and others, nothing at all. The choice is yours!

This thing of beauty is my Tramontina 20 quart stock pot in nicely polished stainless steel, you should have one as well.  Over the years I have made enough stock with this pot to float a frigate and it works well on this high-techie, magnetic-cooking induction stove thingie I now have (see previous posting on the subject).

A large non -reactive (not aluminum) stock pot should be part of your culinary arsenal.

So there you have it. The last of yet another bombastic rambling on something you may or may not make in your kitchen.  If the thought of making your own pho is too daunting for you just invite me over to assist. Please! No one ever invites me over. Ever! I feel so alone. I'm here to help. Just have red wine available and I'm your man....