Pho recipe updated 4/12

Posted on: April 16, 2006

Currently making phở for the night. Pictures will be uploaded later, I’m only about 2.5 hours into the process, meaning I still have a good 10 hours to go.

I skipped the first bone-washing process. Some original recipes call for boiling water, blanche the bones briefly, toss out the water, wash the bones, and put them in another pot, fill it up with cold water and bring to boil. This is supposed to rid the bones of any unpleasant smells and also keep the stock clear. However, in my case, my stock smells great and it is no less clear than if I have done the bone blanching step. I suspect that people have done this in VN way back when due to the lack of refrigeration, the weather being hot and humid, so perhaps meat products over there might decompose faster than over here, therefore they have to take these precautionary steps to salvage bones? I got hold of some 12-15 lbs of wonderful nuckle bones and femur bones, extremely fresh, so I don’t see the need to “clean” them for any reason. You be your own judge when it comes to this step. You can tell fresh bones by the color and the smell – color is anywhere from white to light pink blush; smell is faint buttery (anything strong is bad).

This is how I cook my phở :

Ingredients for stock

~ 10 lbs of nuckle bones and marrow bones – big soup bones

~ 1 whole oxtail or 1/2 oxtail if you like your stock to be less rich (if you have more than 12 lbs of soup bones, you can skip the oxtail. Oxtail enriches the broth, which Son prefers, so I add oxtail, but you can definitely do without it. Usually when I don’t get as much fresh soup bones, then I substitute with oxtails to make up my 12 lbs or so of bones for the stock. In the current recipe of phở that I’m cooking, there are about 2 pieces of oxtail in there because I have lots of soup bones).

– 1 piece of beef brisket

– 1 piece of beef drop flank.

– 2 yellow onions (broiled in the toaster oven or charred over open flame, but do not blacken)

– 3-4 shallots (broiled or charred but do not blacken – blackening will turn your stock dark)

– 1 piece of ginger about the size of a 5 year old’s hand (do not peel – broiled in toaster oven or charred over open flame)

– spices consisted of:

– 1 part white pepper corns (black ones are ok too if you don’t have white)

-1 part of star anise

-1/4 part cloves

– 1 part coriander seeds

– cinamon bark (chinese type, darker looking and thick). The size should be about 3″ x 1/3″ (L x W)

– black cardamom look for it in a chinese herbal store or chinese market.

(Since I make my pho in large batches to freeze, I don’t season my stock until I’m ready to eat, at which time I heat up however many servings I need for the meal, add the spices for about 7 minutes, then scoop them out and serve.).

– fish sauce (3 crabs brand or flying lion brand – these are the milder fish sauces)

– sea salt

– yellow rock sugar (as needed)

Ingredients for serving:

– 1 to 2 lbs of steak – I pick flank steak or flap meat (or flap steak). Slice thin, but london broil and sirloin or tritips work well too.

– 1 big piece of book tripe ( soak in cold water with some vinegar or lemon juice, then rinse and boil for 5 minutes with plenty of hot water, then refrigerate before slicing)

– fresh flat rice noodles, the thin cut. 1 package will serve 4.

– 1 lb. pack of bean sprouts

– Thai basil

Sawleaf herb

– fresh chili peppers

– green onions

– cilantro

– Spiracha chili sauce

– white onion or sweet onion, thinly sliced tossed in rice vinegar and Spiracha sauce

– lime or eureka lemon wedges, but never meyer lemon (you need something that has a bright tangy note, meyer is sweet and much more subdued, so it doesn’t brighten up the dish)

Direction for stock:

– take some kitchen twine and tie up your oxtail pieces in one long chain – do bind them nicely because cooked meat can slip out if you do a poor job. The purpose of this is so that in 2-3 hrs you can just pull the string and fish out the entire line of oxtails without having to stir up the content of your entire stock pot to search for them.

– Wash bone and meat pieces under cold water. Place in a large stock pot (12 quart – 14 quart), cover with cold water.

– . Add 1/2 tbsp of sea salt + a piece of rock sugar the size of an xs egg + 1 tbsp black or white pepper corn (or a mix of the 2)

– Bring to boil over medium heat. Skim foams for about 15 minutes, and then put the flame on low-simmer, keeping the stock very gently boiling. Check back from time to time to skim foam as needed, but always put the lid back to cover. The majority of recipes swear that you need to leave the stock uncovered, but from a friend who is a great cook, I’ve learned this trick and my stocks have significantly improve. If water depletes, you can add hotwater to replenish, always keep the bones covered. Pull the brisket out after 45 minutes – 1 hr, basically as soon as it’s “medium” done, pull it out. The drop flank (Ranch 99 sells it, it has thin layers of meat and then some tendons in between, chinese put it in their beef noodle soup) needs to be cooked until you can run a chopstick through the entire thickness of the meat. Plunge the meats into ice cold water as soon as you take them out, and keep covered. Once they are cooled, wrap or place in a container, seal, place in fridge. Cold meat = easier to slice.

– Once you are done charring yellow onion and shallots as well as the ginger knob, add them to the stock. You can skim out some of the fat at this point too, if you want, there will be a lot of fat floating to the top.

– After 3 hrs, pull out the oxtails plunge in cold water and store away.

– Stock cooking is done anywhere between 9-12 hrs. If you have time, let it finish in 12 hours, if you need to eat ASAP, take some stock into a smaller pot and eat that, but keep the main stockpot simmering..

Let the stock cool for about 12 hours, and then scoop out more fat if you want ( I usually leave about 5% of the fat in there) Gently laddle stock into separate tub-o-ware containers. These you can freeze and defrost to use whenever you feel like having homemade phở. Usually I freeze about seven or eight 2-cups containers of undiluted stocks from each batch that I make.

Direction for serving:

– heat up pho stock. 4 cups of stock will serve 2. Dilute the 4 cups of stock with 1 cup of water. add a dash of salt and then add fish sauce to taste – about 1/2 – 2/3 tsp. Add 3-4 star anise, 1/2 tsp coriander seeds, 2 cloves, 1 small piece of cinnamon, a black cardamom. Bring to a gentle boil, keep covered. Scoop out the spices after 5 minutes of steeping. Add slices of tripe, brisket, and drop flanks and oxtail pieces into the broth to heat them up.

– In a separate pot, boil 2 quarts of water, use this water to flash boil the rice noodles and beansprout. You can blanch the beansprouts first, and then keep the noodles in there for 3 seconds if you have already presoaked the noodles, 5 seconds if you have not. I suggest you do 1 serving of noodle at a time.

– Immediately place noodles into a warm bowl, add green onions, cilantro, raw beef slices, pieces of cooked meats from the stock pot, and then ladle hot broth over the entire bowl, add a dash of ground pepper. Serve immediately with beansprouts, culantro, thai basil, lime wedge, vinegared onion, chili pepper, Spiracha sauce.

– Repeat the steps for next bowl.


A few words about…

… hoisin sauce: My family did not eat much of this sauce. In the north, phở is not served with hoisin sauce. I would recommend that you add no more than 1 tsp of this sauce. If more is needed, probably the stock itself needs to be reexamined.

… clarity of broth: quite a few phở-fans lamented that their homemade stock is not appearing as clear as restaurants’ stocks. I want to emphasize that it’s one of the differences between homemade food and restaurant food. Restaurants simply dilute the stock more than we do at home, and make short cuts with ingredients with the goal of minimizing capital and maximizing profits. If you dilute your stock to something like 1 part mainstock to 2 parts water, then add MSG and salt, you will get something that’s pretty close to restaurant clear broth. Hence I get my horrible MSG and sodium attacks everytime I eat out. So don’t beat yourself over how it should look, your homemade stock is pretty clear to begin with, but it’s thicker and richer than restaurant-made, and after you’re done with adding all sorts of condiments, it’ll be thicker and murky-looking, which is fine. Want to take a good picture? Take it before you add the raw steak, or make sure your raw steak is not bloody in anyway by presoaking them in ice cold water for 10 minutes.

… flavoring the stock: I always make my stock slightly bland, and people can add fish sauce or salt directly into their bowl when they eat. Also with the spices, the 3 main spices that you must have are: cinnamon, cloves, and star anise. Everything else is optional, family secret, regional, whatever. Some people like to add more star anises, others add more cloves. If you happen to have more star anises in the stock than any other spices, then that’s when you need to add rock sugar like I do, because star anises have a sweet aroma, so you need to adjust the broth to be slightly sweeter to match the aroma. If you like your broth to be more subtle, then you might not need to add as much rock sugar.

… noodles: There are now 2 types of noodles, the good old padthai noodles are that semi dry, and the fresh rice noodles labeled Banh Pho made by Rice Valley. The Rice Valley noodles are completely fresh and should be consumed within 2 days, they just needed to be blanched in hot water for about 2-3 seconds out of the fridge. Here’s a link to very complete and nicely illustrated post about rice noodles.

… bones. I used to get my soup bones from Ranch99 and Korean markets. The bones are fresh but it’s not consistent – sometimes the aroma came out buttery and wonderful, other times it was just flat. I didn’t gain insights into “classes of bones” until I got to York, PA, the land of heavenly beef. The local butcher shop in York mostly got their livestocks from local farmers, cows I saw grazing on grassy hills 8/12 months/year. The butcher shop would slaughter every Tuesday, I call in to reserve my bones, and pick them up by Friday. Not organic or anything, but everyone who has ever made a trip out to my house could swear that my pho, if not delicious, was at least extremely aromatic and rich with beef flavor. The meats and especially briskets out there were to die for. The prices were very decent, sometimes cheaper than grocery stores. When I got back to CA, the closest I got to some good bones were from “Local Butcher Shop,” which sells bones for $4/lb – because they are local and from organic sustainable grassfed farms. Once in a great while, I got some bones from Berkeley Bowl that are from Harris Ranch, and would luck out with good quality, but never consistent quality. Briskets, I have not found any good ones. Berkeley Bowl has brisket from Harris Ranch – very mediocre quality, no aroma whatsoever, lacks flavor too. I’ll have to try some from “Local Butcher Shop,” probably $10-14/ lb. A good piece of brisket also makes a big difference to the aroma and flavor of my stock.

I suck at take photos of food to show that it’s actually pipping hot. Really need to capture the rising steams next time …