Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Faux Pho

This season of classes is driven more by my students. This week's class is a quicker version of pho. I will be the last person to claim this is actually pho. Pho is a light, clear broth with lots of goodies in it (like beef tendon, something many folks probably don't consider a "goodie"). You can recreate the goodies but the broth is another thing. This recipe uses commercial beef stock which is nothing like pho broth. Beef stock is made in the French way, with roasted bones and mirepoix (carrots, onions, and celery). Nothing like pho. So, don't make this and tell me it isn't pho. I know that. I ate my version side-by-side with my favorite pho in Boulder. Similarities, but I'd be a fool to call it pho. Hence the "Faux" in the name. It's still tasty, however!

I tried a number of commercial cooking beef broths in testing this recipe. I liked the King Soopers (part of Kroger's) brand the best. Kitchen Basics has a similar product, but its flavor is more vegetal and tart and I did not like it. Better Than Broth, my favorite for chicken broth, is much saltier than Kroger's brand but its flavor is good.

It's difficult to slice steak as thinly as most pho shops. If you decide to slice the beef yourself, put it in the freezer for 30 minutes to firm it up. I found stir fry beef, if sliced thinly enough, works well. Or, see if the meat counter will slice some up for you. Asian markets with butchers are the best place to find beef sliced to the thinness of your local pho joint.

Pho noodles come in a variety of sizes. Try to find the small to medium size which will cook in a minute. Thicker ones will take a bit longer. You'll find the best selection in Asian markets. Thai basil is not something in most supermarkets either, but try to find it. It was a unique spicy aroma that really says "pho."

Faux Pho
(serves 8 generously)

1 medium onion, peeled and cut into 4 thick slices
1 4" piece of ginger, cut in half lengthwise
4 quarts low-sodium beef stock (under 500 mg per cup)
2-3 star anise (see Notes)
3 3" cinnamon sticks
2 Tablespoons fish sauce
2-3 Tablespoons brown sugar
salt to taste (see Notes)

Garnish & Condiments
8 ounces pho noodles
8 ounces thinly sliced beef, such as sirloin, loin, or eye of round
2 large sprigs Thai basil (or regular basil though it's not as good)
8 sprigs cilantro
4 cups mung bean sprouts
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1-2 serrano chiles, thinly sliced (optional)
2 limes, cut into quarters
hoisin sauce
Siracha sauce

Broil onion slices and ginger for 15 minutes, until they start to blacken. Put in a large soup pot. Add beef stock, star anise, cinnamon sticks, fish sauce, and 2 Tablespoons brown sugar. Stir to dissolve sugar. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 30-60 minutes. Strain and keep hot. Adjust salt and add more brown sugar - the broth should be very slightly sweet and how much you need will depend on the flavors in the broth you use.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Soak pho noodles in warm water for about 20 minutes. Get all your condiments and garnish ready to go before cooking beef and noodles. First, cook the beef in boiling water for 1 minute. Remove and set aside. Cook noodles for 1 minute until slightly underdone. They will continue to cook in the broth. Drain noodles and divide among 8 large bowls. Place beef slices on top of noodles. Add bean sprouts, sliced scallions, and chile. Pour over 2 cups of broth. Serve with basil, cilantro and lime as garish. The hoisin sauce and Siracha is for dipping the meat. You can use just Hoisin or combine it with Siracha as desired. Serve while piping hot.

Let's say, it's just you. You can't eat 8 servings of soup. No problem. Cook up only the amount of noodles and beef you need. Heat up 2 cups of broth for one bowl of soup. The rest of the broth can be refrigerated for a few days or frozen for longer term storage.

  • The star anise is a powerful spice. If you are not a big fan of anise (licorice), use 2 whole ones. 
  • Pho broth is quite salty. This is not so salty. Season it to your liking. We go pretty light on the salt at School of Eating Good (see this post).

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