What the Pho!

We have covered how I like to cook and eat the Asian foods and pho was my latest dish. Pho is a meal filled with love and sweat and occasionally tears and what seems like a mountain of ingredients and feels like endless days of slaving over the hot stove and even as  practiced as I am, I worry that it won’t be right or that it will end up being ramen instead.

Let me start this story with the creating of the broth because it is the most important part. I often have broth in the freezer because if I am going to spend the time to make this magic I am going to make gallons of it and after you make this once you will also make gallons at a whack. First the ingredients

  • dried kombu sheets
  • beef marrow bones
  • packaged beef stock-optional depending on how the broth cooks down
  • whole garlic
  • soy sauce
  • mirin- sweet rice wine
  • ground corriander
  • pink peppercorns
  • lemongrass
  • whole star anise
  • thai basil
  • scallions
  • bonito flakes- this is dried shrimp that has been crushed into flakes
  • dried shitaki mushrooms
  • spice cube where available (i will include a picture at the end of what my Asian market carries)

First get your biggest stock pot and fill it about 2/3rds and get this water boiling. While you are waiting for the water to boil you can rough chop the garlic, basil and scallions. They don’t need to be pretty because they are going into the broth with the spices. Once the water is boiling turn the heat to low and let it chill out until the bubbling stops and add 1 sheet of the kombu for every gallon of water- my pot is a 5 gallon and I usually use 3 and 1/2 sheets- a generous sprinkle of the bonito flakes and 3 or 4 ounces of dried shitakis and let them swim around for about 20 minutes. We aren’t trying to make seawater, just give the water a hint of that flavor. This  broth is called Dashi and you can use it for so many things. After the 20 or so minutes pull the kombu and mushrooms out and return the heat to high.

Now we have a pot of dashi that is boiling so we can add the marrow bones, scallions, garlic, corriander and peppercorns. Let this boil on high for about 30 minutes and turn it down to medium low and let it simmer for about 5 hours before you add the lemongrass, basil, anise and spice cube and reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for another 5 hours. Don’t be afraid to taste this broth at every step, enjoy the dashi, sample the bone broth portion and certainly after 10 hours taste it a lot so you know if you need to add more of the things that are already in there. I am going out on a limb here and assuming that you have had pho and that you have had both good and bad pho so you have an idea of what you like. The version I make is slightly skewed towards having beef added as the protein but if you are only going to add tofu then you can skip the star anise and add extra corriander and basil.

**Side note: The dashi can be turned into miso soup just by adding some white miso paste and letting it simmer for about 10 minutes or egg drop soup by adding a bit of granulated chicken bullion, scallions, parsley, a dash of soy sauce and a pinch of salt and letting that simmer before stirring in a beaten egg or a soup when you don’t feel well, add some garlic, ginger and basil and simmer for 15 minutes before enjoying a hot toddy of sorts.

Back to the dish at hand. 10 or so hours have passed and our whole house smells wonderful and our broth is reduced and super flavored. I start with 5 gallons and end up with about 3 so don’t panic at the loss of volume, you really only need about 2 pints per serving. Taste this mostly finished product and make sure you are happy. This is where I add the soy sauce and mirin. You probably noticed that we haven’t added any salt to this because we relied on the kombu to give the saltiness but if it is lacking that level of umami that your mouth wants then the soy sauce will help. You could also add some MSG if you want more uumph.  I realize that I haven’t provided measurements or amounts of the spices and stuff and that is because this is all to your personal taste because I am counting on you to have had pho before. Now that you are happy with your broth crank the heat back up and get her bubbling, this broth will be what cooks the meat and finishes cooking the noodles.

There is more to pho than the broth but not much. We like glass noodles, round steak or rib-eye, basil, scallions, jalapenos, bean sprouts, hoisin sauce and sriracha or gochujang which is a chili paste.

For the noodles: bring a pot of water to a roiling boil and cook the noodles for about 4 minutes. Fish those babies out and put them in a large heat resistant bowl.

For the meat: ideally your market will have super duper thinly sliced meats that are just for this. Put the raw meats on top of the noodles along with a couple basil leaves and slices of jalapeno.

For the finish: add the boiling broth to the bowl making sure the meat and noodles are fully covered as the broth is what cooks the meat, top with bean sprouts, more basil and jalapenos and whatever condiments your mouth desires and enjoy the meal you have spent the better part of a day concocting!

Yes this meal is a long time coming but well worth the effort! I know you have seen the cooks who take 24 hours to make the broth but look at the size of pots they are using, those 24 hour pots are like 50 gallons and most of us don’t have enough stove space for a 50 gallon pot, 10 to 15 hours is usually enough for the average home amount.

Thanks ya’ll!! Happy cooking!!

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