Growing up as a Vietnamese kid in Bankstown I ate a lot of Pho. Either I was lining up at Pho An on a Saturday morning with my parents or lining up in the kitchen at one of our family gatherings as one of my Aunties scooped up fresh bowls for the kids from the huge pot that had been simmering away all afternoon.
As the years went on I noticed this huge batch of pho slowly becoming rarer and rarer at family events, I asked my mum why she didn’t make pho for these family gatherings any more and her answer was quite simple. She was too lazy to (very much a case of like mother like daughter).
Seeing Pho pop up as this month’s Daring Cooks challenge gave me a little thrill, I always thought that Pho would be an exhausting, time consuming exercise that would result in a sub-par results, luckily only one of these things were true! We were given the choice of Pho Ga (Chicken based stock) or Pho Tai (traditional beef stock with rare meat), I of course chose the beef option.
On request of Jaden of Steamy Kitchen who was this month’s guest host, the full recipe will not be duplicated in this post, but instead you can find it in full here, which in turn was adapted from Viet World Kitchen. Skimming through the recipe I was relieved to see that most of the ingredients would be easy to find, in fact most of them were a 10 minute walk away from my front door! The keys to a good bowl of pho are the bones you use for the stock, the spices and of course the condiments on top of it all.
Unlike Linda and her rose mis-adventures, finding the spices I needed was a cinch. While nosing through the unending spice row at the supermarket I noticed a red package containing “PHO SPICES” nestled amongst all the Chinese Medicine, although the rest of the package was labeled in Chinese a quick glance at its contents had me reassured. The spices are absolutely essential to the stock, although Jaden’s recipe called for a mesh bag to hold the spices I decided to simply scatter them throughout in my pot for maximum benefit.
I simply cannot eat Pho without Hoisin Sauce, and made sure to grab a fresh jar while in the shops. As a kid I couldn’t stand eating shallots, onions or any of the green stuff you typically find scattered in Vietnamese food, I’ll admit that even now I’m not too fond of these extras! My dream bowl of pho is simply tons of noodles, very thinly sliced beef all drenched in hoisin sauce and a generous squeeze of lemon! To avert my guilty conscience I occasionally scatter a few Vietnamese mint leaves and bean sprouts over my bowl…
Despite what I had initially assumed about the Pho making process, making the stock was generally quite straight forward. I threw approximately 2kg of beef bones (knuckle and shoulder), a few oven roasted onions. a knob of ginger as well as a generous handful of cloves, anise and cinnamon into a large pot and let the entire batch simmer. The process was not overly exhausting but it was definitely time consuming as the minimal stock simmer time was advised at 3 hours!
In the end I actually ended up making 2 batches of Pho as I was generally unsatisfied with my first attempt, and from my 2 attempts I came up with the following conclusions:
- The bones you use for your stock will make or break the final results.
Unable to find knuckle or shoulder bones (which contain the all important marrow!) I simply substituted in a bag of random beef bones obtained from my butcher, the resulting stock was thin and even my brother remarked that it was sadly unsatisfying. Trying again with 2 bags of marrow-ful bones resulted in a full fatty soup almost bursting with flavour.
- Don’t be afraid to go spice heavy.
While cooking my 2nd batch of stock I was very satisfied with the colour and fattiness of my stock but found as time went on the stock wasn’t giving out the fragrant Pho scent that I remembered from my childhood. Halfway through simmering I decided to throw in more cinnamon and anise and the stock bloomed with the scent and taste that I remembered.
- Simmer down or water your stock to the thickness you prefer.
Growing up as a kid most of the soups our family made were on the heavier, fattier side of things. While following the recipe exactly gave me a light fragrant soup, it was my 2nd attempt where I adjusted my bones to water ratio resulting in a beautifully dark stock which was much more to my tastes.
Many thanks to Jaden for hosting this month’s Daring Cooks challenge, it was a blast to finally conquer this beloved dish and gave me a chance to impress my mum! The recipe was generous enough for 2 people at dinner with enough left over to freeze for a rainy day.