A few months ago I heard about the Vietnamese soup called Pho. It sounded delicious but I had never eaten it before and we don't have Vietnamese restaurants in Southeastern Ohio. I was at a loss to figure how I could make it if I've never tasted it before. Sure I could read a recipe but I really felt that I needed to taste it to truly conceptualize what it should taste like.
Well, I did some research and found a Vietnamese stall in the North Market in Columbus. I'm sure there are more Vietnamese restaurants in Columbus that I could've tried but this was convenient because I was meeting a friend there. What I learned is that Pho is more about the experience than the nourishment. Beef Pho is a beef based broth that has been enhanced with onions, ginger, fish sauce and spices. The spices are different than you'd expect. Star anise, cloves, and cinnamon are the warming spices of Pho.
I forgot to pick up star anise but a while back I found a Pho seasoning mix at our local international market so I used one of the spice bags. I always like to use whole spices so I was a little nervous to use the spice packet but I was very pleased at the flavor it imparted so I would definitely use it again.
The flavors in this soup are unlike any other asian soup I've ever tried. The bean sprouts add wonderful texture. When all the ingredients are put together the soup is harmony in your mouth.
If you are unfamiliar with Pho I challenge you to find a Vietnamese restuaurant to try it or make it yourself. It will be an experience you will want to repeat.
Pho Bo - Beef Pho Soup
Broth 8 cups of high quality beef broth (preferable homemade) 1 inch cube of ginger - minced 1 1/2 cups of beef from the cooked rib bones that were used for the stock 1/4 cup of fish sauce
Soup bowls 1/2 pound lean beef/venison sliced thin 1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
Garnishes 1/2 cup green onions - thinly sliced 1/2 cup cilantro leaves - roughly chopped 1 serrano sliced thin lime wedges sprigs of thai basil hoisen sauce sriracha sauce
The first thing I did was make homemade beef broth. I'm sure you could use store bought broth but for my first time I wanted the integrity of a broth I made myself. I simmered beef rib bones all day with the seasoning packet and onions. Once the broth was ready I strained it and seasoned it further with ginger and fish sauce. After pulling the ribs from the broth I pulled off the meat to use later in the soup.
While the ginger was simmering in the soup I prepared the remaining ingredients. There are quite a few components in Pho so it does require quite a bit of prep time. The soup is pulled together as you bowl it up.
Use fresh rice stick noodles if you can find them. If not use dried rice stick noodles. The fresh packaged noodles I used are specifically made for Pho. Cook according to package instructions, drain and set aside.
Thinly slice red onions and place in cold water for 15-30 minutes. This will remove some of the harshness of the onion flavor along with crisping up the slices.
In a bowl ladle the broth with ginger, beef from the rib bones and noodles. Typically a piece of a tender lean piece of beef is cooked rare and then sliced thin. The meat should be cooked very rare because most of the cooking of the meat happens once you place the thin slices in the broth. We have some wonderful cuts of venison available to us so I sliced an uncooked venison tenderlion very thin and added the uncooked meat to each bowl. This turned out wonderful as the texture of the venison slices was as tender as butter. The hot broth cooked the meat to a tender perfection. Sprinkle in some fresh cilantro, thinly sliced onion and green onions.
The soup is then served with garnishes on the side. One of the garnishes that I was unable to source is Thai basil. If you are able to get Thai basil definitely try it because when I was served Pho at the North Market I thought it was a wonderful taste component. The other garnishes the soup is served with on the side are bean sprouts, lime wedges, green onion, thinly sliced serrano chili, cilantro leaves, hoisen sauce and sriracha sauce. I prepared plates with the garnishes before I bowled up the soup to make sure the soup remained hot when we were ready to eat. The hoisen is meant to dip the meat slices in and the other garnishes are there for each person to add to their soup to their individual taste.
Food is so intriguing. I’ve always loved to cook whether it’s casual and simple or complicated and elegant. After living in the Midwestern United States all my life I find myself jumping between All-American foods and foods from other cultures. There is definitely a sense of comfort with cooking and enjoying food that I’ve grown up with.
I have a voracious curiosity to learn about all cultures, especially the Middle East/Mediterranean, Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai foods. I’ve learned that a simple curry dish or an Asian dumpling can transform your mood and be just as much of a comfort food as the foods you’ve known you’re whole life.
It is fascinating to me how each culture has such a diversity of ingredients, and when used with different combinations and cooking techniques you can easily transform the same few ingredients into a multitude of dishes. The unfamiliar, the diverse ingredients and techniques, can be intimidating to many people. I’ve created this blog to chronicle and share my explorations in the kitchen so that hopefully you will want to start experimenting in your kitchen.