Vietnamese Beef Noodle Pho
I'm sure we eat more pho...
in our lifetime than we have eating pumpkin pies. In my case, eating noodles in my upbringing was a staple. Though Phở (fuh) was a slight variety that I don't get as often as a kid, I ended up eating it a lot while living in Vancouver and in recent days.
When you're in Hong Kong, you grow up on wonton noodles, fishball noodles, instant noodles (instant ramen) with chicken sausages/spam and sunnyside up, and also tons of stir-fried noodles, no brainers. But Vietnamese was not something you ate at home or made at home. Rather so, the Vietnamese community in Hong Kong were quite integrated for the longest time thus leading to Phở that was heavily influenced by the Chinese palate, allowing me think that was the standard of good Phở. Though in recent years with many Vietnamese born chef's born abroad bringing in their recipes to town the flavours have changed to reflect more authentic staples.
Living in Vancouver was also a game changer for me. With a large Vietnamese community existing + good Canadian beef = a rarely disappointing bowl of dirty beef broth late at night. That's when I really experienced Phở. Ironically all my friends have been to Vietnam since it's so close to HK, but I haven't yet! Even so, the flavours of Vancouver have stuck with me and I realized how good it can get when done right. After coming back to HK, finding a bowl of Phở wasn't hard, but finding a good broth definitely wasn't easy. Almost all either heavily laden with poor quality MSG or too catered to the local palate. I found one spot that came close to Vancouver which is Bun Cha.
In order to recreate the most familiar feeling after coming back from Vancouver I did a bit of research. I already knew what it entailed so I decided to give it a go at home with a traditional foundation of ingredients, and more premium cuts of meat/bone to ensure better quality. I was very lucky to find DEHYDRATED BONES at my local butcher! Which means...no need to roast these babies beforehand! These guys are a gem! If you live in HK I highly recommend Bone n Blades. I also eat at their restaurant Quartermaster frequently. You can call a day or 2 before to have them prepare your favourite cuts or bones for pick up. If you have a dog they also sell dehydrated dog bones. Every time my pup walks in she knows that she's in for a bone treat from these guys! Also oxtail is so good to brew in your broth for 8 hours, it turns it into this rich flavourful soup, and also your oxtail will fall straight off the bones leading to extra tasty bits to eat.
Creating a clean broth, with natural MSG, aka umami, aka fish sauce, was my main goal. If you have a stove that won't burn down the house (induction stove)? I really suggest doing this overnight. Your house may have a lingering beef smell for few days but trust me, it's worth it!
I let mine simmer for up to 8 hours for optimal flavour. I am those lucky few with a induction stove so burning down my house does take quite an effort. Definitely say no less that 4-5hours to simmer though.
Get a LARGE stock pot...remember to prepare a large stock pot that can hold up to 8-10 Quarts of water! Can serve for 8-10 bowl servings.
Ingredients For beef broth
3 Cinnamon sticks
3 Cloves star anise
1 Tablespoon fennel seeds
1 Tablespoon black peppercorn
1 large onion (peeled skin and cut in half)
1 stalk of leek (cut in half)
1 carrot (cut into 3 large pieces)
1 whole stalk of ginger (washed and cleaned)
4-6 Large chuck bones/beef bones (available at your local butchers OR local supermarket if you're lucky)
4lbs of oxtail (optional, can use more bones if necessary)
Salt (add as much as you need according to your own taste)
1/2 cup Fish Sauce (or more, optional)
8-10 Quarts of Water
1-2 Thai chilis
3-6 slices of sliced beef of your choice
Handful of bean sprouts
Handful Thai basil leaves
Handful Flat Noodles/Vietnamese Thin noodles/Vermicelli
Instructions for beef broth
1. Turn up your stove to a good mid-heat with a pan and combine cinnamon sticks, star anise, fennel seeds, black peppercorns together. Toast it all on a pan for about 1 minute to create aromatics. After toasting, put ingredients into the large stock pot.
2. Turn oven up to 180C-200C, put the halved onions, whole ginger and leeks onto a baking tray and it let bake until the roasted. Roast until you see the veggies are almost slightly black topped and soft. You may see the ginger slightly shrivelled up. Estimate 30-45 minutes depending on your oven. Once done, place in the pot.
3. I know that I am VERY lucky but most of you don't have this option of getting dehydrated bones, so roast your beef bones beforehand. Pre-heat oven at 220C, roast bones for an hour. Alternative is to boil your bones for 10 minutes to let scum out, drain in cold water then place in pot. (I personally would roast).
2. If you are using Oxtail for your broth, boil a pot of water enough to cover all your oxtail until boil and all scum and brown bloody bits have boiled out. Estimate 10 minutes. Then pour into sink, wash scum off oxtail with cold water. Once that is done, put oxtail in pot.
3. Pour in 8-10 quarts of water, fish sauce, cut carrots, of salt appropriate to your own taste, and I also added ground black pepper on top, to your own tasting as well.
4. Start your pot on mid-high heat. One you see it boiling, bring it down to a low-mid heat with lid. Let it go on a low boil, where you only see bubbles coming up here and there. let all those ingredients simmer on its own for at least 3 hours before you check in on your broth.
So the only problem with dehydrated bones are that they are extremely fat laden. The reason why many people boil their bones beforehand is so that they can extract most of the fat and scum out. I didn't have much extra scum, but I had tons of EXTRA BEEF FAT. I skimmed up to 2 bowls of delicious beef fat out. I can only imagine if I made french fries how tasty that would be (though I didn't sadly). I tried to keep it but didn't have anywhere to use it towards within that week.
When checking your broth periodically, remember to skim out any excess scum or oil you see on the top layer. It is also helpful to taste in between to see if you need to add more fish sauce or salt.
I started this at 9.30pm at night. Turned off my stove around 12pm, then started the stove again at 9am, and let it run until around 4pm.
Instructions for toppings and side ingredients
At your local grocery you maybe able to buy flat noodles/vermicelli. If you are at an Asian market it is definitely easy to buy Vietnamese/Thai/Chinese flat noodles. Buy according to your choice, cook to packing directions. Drain and place in serving bowl.
Start preparing Cilantro, Thai basil leaves, mint is optional, wash dry and put aside on serving plate
Cut Thai or small fresh red chilis and place into side dish (optional if you like the heat)
Cut lime in 4 small quarters
Bean sprouts - feel free to blanch them in water for about a minute in high-heat boil if you preferred them more cooked then drain and put aside. Or just place raw bean sprouts aside if you prefer them raw.
Choose your choice of beef. I was being fancy one day and bought a smaller cut of flank steak and sliced the beef myself. But second time around I got lazy and went to by "hotpot" sliced beef, which is basically just sliced beef available at the market, which is easily attained at any local supermarket or butchers section.
Put prepared noodles in a serving bowl, then place raw beef on top, add your chosen toppings, and add your boiling hot soup to help cook the beef.
Voila! Pho Bo at home, with extra broth that can be frozen to be eaten at anytime for your cravings! Invite your friends and family over for a "pho'n" time!