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What the Pho am I thinking???

January 19, 2010

I have made a resolution to make pho this weekend.  From scratch. No chintz chicken broth pho…..the real deal. Oxtail, beef knuckles and marrow bones. The recipe I am using is from an amazing Vietnamese cook book, Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavors.  If you are going to get one Vietnamese cookbook and are addicted to Vietnamese food like me….this is the one. Penned by Vietnam-born, Andrea Nguyen, it elegantly present the history and fundamentals of Vietnamese cuisine. There are over 170 recipes between it’s covers. Strangely, the recipes included are not intimidating. Most ingredients are readily available at your local Asian market.  In St. Louis, we have loads of great Asian markets. I frequent Jay’s International given my propensity for staying within the city limits.

So….stay tuned.  I will be sure to keep you abreast on all the delicious details of boiling oxtail, beef knuckles and marrow bones!

Oh…the pho recipe. I tweaked a bit for personal taste.  Here it is:


2 onions, halved
4″ piece of ginger, halved
6 lbs of good beef bones, preferably leg, marrow,  knuckle and oxtail
6 quarts of water
Pho Spices [2 cinnamon stick, 1 tbl coriander seeds, 1 tbl fennel seeds, 5 star anise, 1 cardamom pod, 6 whole cloves – in mesh bag]
1 1/2 tbl salt
1/4 cup fish sauce
1 inch chunk of yellow rock sugar– or 1oz of caster sugar

Turn your broiler on high and move rack to the highest spot. Place ginger and onions on baking sheet. Brush with cooking oil on the cut side of each. Broil on high until ginger and onions begin to brown. Turn over and continue to brown. This should take a total of 10-15 minutes.

Fill 12 quart stockpot with cool water. Boil water, and then add the bones, keeping the heat on high. Boil vigorously for 10 minutes. Drain, rinse the bones and rinse out the pot. Refill pot with bones and 6 qts of cool water. Bring to boil over high heat and lower to simmer. Using a fine mesh strainer, remove any scum that rises to the top.

Add ginger, onion, spice packet, beef, sugar, fish sauce, salt and simmer uncovered for 1 1/2 hours. Remove the beef meat and set aside (you’ll be eating this meat later in the bowls if you want). I would also put the removed beef into a bowl of water so as not to let it dry out.

Continue simmering for another 1 1/2 hours. Strain broth and return the broth to the pot. Taste broth and adjust seasoning – if you want a little more flavor, add a few dashes more of fish sauce, large pinch of salt and a small nugget of rock sugar (or large pinch of regular sugar).

Voila…part one is done.

Now…here is where I switch it around. Most folks will proceed to make pho tai…adding raw eye of the round beef and the meat from the stock bones to make a rich beefy bowl of soup.  I however will divert from the norm. I will add roasted chicken and make pho ga. I prefer the rich oxtail broth to the thinner chicken broth of pho ga. In go rice noodles, shaved white onion, green onion, bean sprouts, Thai chili pieces, shredded roasted chicken, cilantro, basil, and a hefty squirt of cock sauce and hoisin sauce. I will pick the meat from the stock bones and save it to make pho tai at a later date.

I cannot begin to describe the joy that this soup brings.  It is a perfect end to a long day.  Stay tuned…I’ll post photos after we tackle the beast known as PHO!

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