February 4, 2015

Taking a stab at making... phở ?

Sometimes, L and I will go out to a meal and think to ourselves, "We totally could have made that." And we go home and try. And if we can actually pull it off, it's terrific because we're usually able to do it at 1/3 to 1/4 the cost of a restaurant.

Well, one of our favorite things to eat is phở. But wait. Phở seems like the kind of thing that takes years to perfect. Proof? All of the disappointing phở places that exist. But 1 out of 10 has broth that takes to the next level. Super rich flavor. Velvety, substantial texture full of melted and integrated collagen. The perfect combination of spices to highlight pure beef flavor.

And then there's the cost. When you do find a go-to phở joint, you can get a steaming bowl of your favorite for $7-8. Would it be worth the cost and effort of going through the lengthy process to extract that amazing elixir from a batch of beef bones?

The answer: yes and no. After a day of slow simmering, I can tell you that learning what it takes to make phở broth was absolutely worth it. We ended up with a really delicious bowl that tasted like every bit of effort and intention that went into it.

On the other hand, at best the cost of ingredients alone (~$40 for 8 servings) was almost as much as just going to a restaurant. So, at the end of the day, we really enjoyed the product, but this definitely isn't something that'll happen more than once a year.

Here's the recipe we used, adapted from Charles Phan.

Beef Stock
  • 1 large yellow onion, unpeeled
  • 3-inch piece of fresh ginger
  • 2 pounds oxtails, cut into 2-3 inch pieces
  • 2 pounds beef neck bones
  • 2 pounds beef shank bones
  • 2 pounds beef marrow bones
  • 1 ounce light brown palm sugar or 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 3-inch piece Chinese cinnamon
  • 1 whole star anise
  • 1 whole clove
  • 1 black cardamom pod
Prehead the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the onion and ginger on a rimmed baking sheet and roast until the onion is soft and beginning to ooze, about 1 hour. Let cool. Peel the onion and cut in half. Slice the ginger into 1/4-inch thick coins.

Meanwhile, blanch the bones. Bring a very large pot of water to a boil (make sure there's enough room for the bones). Add the oxtails, neck bones and shanks. Return the water to a boil and boil for 3 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold runing water. Rinse the pot and return the rinsed oxtails, neckbones and shanks to the pot. Add the marrow bones.

Add the onion halves, ginger slices, sugar, salt and 8 quarts of fresh water to the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Skim off scum that forms on the surface. Lower the heat to a gentle simmer, and simmer for 4 hours. Continue to skim as needed.

Add the pepper, cinnamon, star anise, clove and cardamom and continue cooking (and skimming, occassionally) for another 3 hours.

Remove from heat. Remove solids, reserving any meat from the oxtail and shank for use later. Strain the liquid through a fine mesh strainer. Let the temperature come down for 30 minutes, then refrigerate overnight. This will make it easier to remove the rendered fat--do not discard that fat, as it is basically a purified bone marrow marmalade that can be put to all sorts of interesting uses.

Broth can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months.

Phở bò: Beef Noodle Soup
  • 1 pound beef brisket
  • 3 quarts beef stock (from above)
  • Fish sauce, for seasoning
  • 1 (16-ounces) package of dried wide rice noodles, cooked according to package directions
  • 12 ounces beef top round, thinly sliced
  • 1 bunch scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • Garnishes
  • Thai basil
  • Mung bean spourts
  • Lime wedges
  • Jalepenos, sliced
  • Sriracha
  • Hoisin
Place the brisket in a large pot and add the stock. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower to a simmer. Cook for 1 hour until cooked through.

Just before the brisket is ready, prepare an ice-water bath. When brisket is done, remove it from the pot and immediately place it in the ice bath to stop the cooking and give the meat a firmer texture. When the brisket is cooled completely, remove it from the water, pat dry, and thinly slice it against the grain. Set aside.

Return the stock to a boil over high heat. Taste for seasoning and add fish sauce as needed.
Arrange the garnishes on a platter.

Divide the cooked rice noodles evenly among warmed soup bowls. Top with the brisket slices, then the raw beef slices. Ladle hot stock over the top and top with the scallions. Serve immediately.

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