Ask any Pho aficionado what makes a perfect pho and many will definitely say, “It’s all about the broth!” I am one of the temperamental tasters of pho who definitely can write about an epic poem on finding the best tasting broth.
I have been to many Vietnamese households, including my best friend Kiana’s, but I have never had beef pho as a meal. Kiana opined that making the broth was labor-intensive, and made the house smell of the broth all day long. The best remedy was to find the best pho place that suited one’s taste, and through this process of trial and error, I became enamored with finding the broth that I enjoyed the most–there are two places that come to mind.
As a traveling nurse, A restaurant in Fountain Valley specializes in just beef pho– Pho Kim Quy in Fountain Valley, California and the other one in Pho Ha Noi in La Verne, California. The former has an assertive umami flavoring from the fish sauce, and the latter has a really delicate balance to it, but it could use a bit more of the umami richness. Both are excellent in my opinion, but I prefer to have a happy medium between both broths.
I’ve looked into several Vietnamese recipe books and restaurant recipes, to finally rest on this one with a traditional approach. I have included a few minor changes to suit my taste buds. There are people who do add a little sweetness to the broth using palm sugar or regular sugar to balance the saltiness, but I think it adds a distraction to the broth. I would like to try it by adding Fuji apples when boiling the broth that the NYT recipe uses. This adaptation is a recipe from Madame Vo’s Pho in New York City.
5 pieces of beef bone with marrow
4 pieces of beef short ribs
1/2 lbs of beef brisket
2 large size onions
3 knobs of ginger about 2 inches each length
4 scallions (if desired)
For Bouquet Garni:
3 pieces of cinnamon sticks
6 star anise
12 cardamon pods
1 1/2 tablespoon of coriander seeds (whole)
1 1/2 tablespoon of fennel seeds (whole)
8 buds of cloves
10 whole peppercorns (if desired)
1 Tablespoon of Maladon Salt
3 Tablespoon of Vietnamese Fish Sauce
MAKE THE BROTH:
- Rinse the beef bones with marrow and short ribs and place them in a large stockpot. Fill with water just enough to cover the meat, season with about 1 tablespoon of salt. Place under medium heat and bring to a light simmer.
- Cut the large onion in half the and leave on the skin. Cut the ginger with skin intact in half lengthwise, then crush each piece with the side of a knife. Place the cut onion and crushed ginger with the flesh side up on a baking sheet together with the beef bones and ribs. Brown under broiler about 20-25 minutes, turn the bones and aromatics once to evenly brown all sides. Set aside once done.
- In sauté pan, heat the star anise, cinnamon and cloves over medium heat, stirring frequently until the mixture becomes fragrant. Remove from heat and cool. Once cool, wrap the spices in cheesecloth or pack in an herb sachet.
4. In a large stock pot, put the bones and short ribs and fill with water to cover the meat and layer the aromatics with the meat/bones. Put the spice bag on top. Slowly simmer under low to medium heat for at least 3 hours. Let it cool, then refrigerate overnight or a few hours until the fat separates from the broth.
5. Once the solidified fat is removed, remove the meat and bones and set aside. Simmer the broth for another hour under medium heat. Remove the onions, ginger, and scallions if using. Using a strainer over another stockpot, pour the broth to filter any remaining bits.
6. Heat the broth and the herb sachet over medium heat, add water to adjust the intensity of the flavors and season to taste. Seasoning at this point is according to one’s taste. I recommend using the fish sauce to further enhance the umami flavoring with less of the salt.
HOW TO PREPARE THE PHO BOWLS:
- Cut the set aside beef across the grain, thinly about 1/8 inch in thickness. Set aside on a platter. Prepare the garnish: cut Thai basil, cilantro, cut spring onions, bean sprouts, jalapeno peppers, and put them on a serving platter at the dining table. Place a dipping saucer for each dinner guest for the Hoisin and Sriracha sauces.
- Prepare the rice noodles and soften them in a sieve by running hot tap water or dunking in boiling water. Remove before al dente–should still be firm, pliable and still opaque. Drain, then rinse to remove starch.
- In the serving bowl for each person, place the noodles in the center. Ladle enough of the simmering broth to cover the noodles. Place enough meat/ bones on top of the noodles so the meat is submerged under the broth. Repeat for each bowl for your guests. There should be enough broth for 4 people. I recommend the porcelain Asian soup spoon to sip the broth and chopsticks for the noodles and meat.
- Garnish with a mound of Thai basil, spring onion and/or cilantro if desired, and the remainder of the garnishes on the platter. Use Hoisin and Sriracha to dip the meat into– Enjoy!