Saturday, January 08, 2011


I don't have any major plans for my winter break except to sleep (A LOT), read (A LOT) on my new Kindle that Santa brought me for Christmas (YAY!), catch up on blogging, and maybe squeeze in a few day trips to Albany, Burlington and Montreal, should the weather allow. One of the things I love best about Montreal is all of the wonderful, authentic ethnic cuisines to be sampled there. And you can hardly go a block in that town without encountering a Vietnamese pho (noodle) shop. But I can't drive two and half hours round trip every time I want a bowl of noodles! Thus, I decided it was high time to learn to make my own.

It only took two days, but I did it--made a reasonably authentic and perfectly delicious bowl of pho! It took two days because of my poor planning in starting it too late one night. But the broth really does need to cook for at least three hours, and the longer, the better. I'm sure it actually tasted better the second day, after all the flavors melded. Also, I was able to de-fat the broth more easily after it chilled. So, it all worked out for the best.

I read a lot of recipes online, and this is my amalgamation of all those that I consulted:

Pho Bo, or Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
2 large beef marrow bones (could also use knuckle bones or a combo)
1 large onion, cut in half
2-inch piece ginger, sliced into thick coins
6 large cloves garlic, peeled and cracked
8 cups water, plus more as it reduces
4 cups beef stock
1 teaspoon beef bouillon (I like "Better Than Bouillon")
1/4 cup Thai fish sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce (I used low sodium)
1 teaspoon sugar
3 whole cloves
3 whole star anise
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
pinch of whole peppercorns
1 lb. boneless chuck
1 lb. (dry) rice noodles
1/2 lb. mushrooms, sliced (optional...I had some that needed to be used up)
1/2 lb. rib steak (or steak of your choice), frozen and sliced paper-thin, against the grain

bean sprouts (if you can abide them--I can't!)
red chiles, thinly sliced
green onions, thinly sliced (both green and white parts)
fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
lime wedges
soy sauce

In a five-quart stock pot, heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil and brown the marrow bones on all sides. Also brown the onion halves, and the ginger pieces and garlic cloves. After the bones and veggies have browned, cover them with the water, beef stock, bouillon, fish sauce and soy sauce. Add in the sugar, cloves, star anise, cinnamon stick, bay leaves and peppercorns. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for about an hour.

After the broth has been simmering for about an hour, skim off any fat and impurities that have gathered on top (continue to do this periodically throughout the cooking process, also add more water as needed). Submerge the piece of chuck and cook for another two hours, until the meat is tender enough to shred with just a fork. Remove the meat, shred, and reserve. Also, use a spider or slotted spoon to remove the bones, vegetables and spices from the broth and discard.

When the broth has cooked for at least three hours total, cover the rice noodles with boiling water and let them soak for about ten minutes until tender, then rinse them in cold water and drain. Meanwhile, stir-fry the sliced mushrooms briefly in the other tablespoon of vegetable oil. Slice the frozen steak as thinly as you can manage, going against the grain. Also thinly slice the red chiles and the green onions, chop the cilantro leaves, and cut up some lime wedges.

When you are ready to assemble your soup, get the broth back up to a rolling boil. In a large soup or pasta bowl, put a good spoonful of the mushrooms, some of the shredded chuck, a handful or two of the softened noodles, 10 or 12 pieces of the raw steak, some bean sprouts (if using), red chiles slices, and green onions. Ladle the boiling broth over everything, enough to cover. Sprinkle on a generous amount of cilantro, a big splash of soy sauce and a drizzle of sriracha, and serve with a lime wedge to be squeezed over the soup. Mix it all together and enjoy!

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