Shortcut Beef Pho

Thursday, 06 Oct 2011

Just what is pho (“fuh,” more or less)?  Since this is a “shortcut” recipe, here’s my shortcut answer: pho is super-delicious Vietnamese noodle soup that will cure what ails you.  If you want to know more, here’s the trusty Wikipedia entry.   Pho is one of my favorite things to eat when I have a cold, and that’s what prompted me to try making it at home.  We’ve recently gotten hooked on a place in Falls Church called Pho Golden Cow, but I didn’t feel like traipsing over there.  Also, pho can be very salty, and I figured it would be nice to be able to control that variable.

I found this recipe with potential at Food and Wine: Spiced Beef Pho with Sesame Chile Oil.  But with 28 ingredients and 2 days of cooking time, it wasn’t going to work because I wanted pho NOW.  I stripped down the recipe to the essentials for “emergency pho” and got it down to about 2.5 hours.  It tasted great and I think it helped end my cold.  So, here goes my edited version of the Food and Wine recipe:

Beef Broth

  1. 4 pounds oxtails or beef short ribs
  2. 18 cups water
  3. 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  4. 1 medium onion, halved
  5. One 3-inch piece unpeeled fresh ginger, halved lengthwise
  6. 2 bay leaves
  7. Two 3-inch cinnamon sticks, broken into pieces
  8. One 2-inch piece of rock sugar or 6 sugar cubes 1 tsp. turbinado sugar (what I had)
  9. Kosher salt
  10. 4 whole cloves
  11. 4 star anise pods, broken into pieces
  12. 2 teaspoons fennel seeds

[Add to recipe:  1 sliced jalapeno and 1/2 bunch cilantro leaves.]

Sesame-Chile Oil

  1. 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  2. 3 large garlic cloves, chopped
  3. 2 tablespoons crushed red pepper
  4. 1 1/2 teaspoons sesame seeds
  5. 1/2 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
  6. Kosher salt

Soup Garnishes

  1. 1 pound 6-8 oz. rice vermicelli
  2. 1 pound beef round, partially frozen and very thinly sliced across the grain
  3. Asian fish sauce
  4. Asian sesame oil
  5. Sriracha chile sauce
  6. Lime wedges
  7. Cilantro sprigs
  8. Basil leaves
  9. Sliced onion
  10. Sliced chiles jalapenos
  11. Escarole leaves
  12. Mung bean sprouts

MAKE THE BEEF BROTH In a large soup pot, cover the oxtails or short ribs with cold water and bring to a boil over high heat. Drain off the water. Add the 18 cups of water and bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a small nonstick skillet. Add the onion and ginger, cut sides down, and cook over moderately high heat until richly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the onion and ginger to the pot along with the bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, rock sugar and 1 tablespoon of kosher salt.

Put the cloves, star anise and fennel seeds in a tea ball or tie them up in a piece of cheesecloth. Add them to the pot and simmer, skimming occasionally, until the oxtails are tender, about 2 hours. [Note:  At this point, I also added a sliced jalapeno and half a bunch of cilantro to the broth for extra flavor.]

Strain the broth in a large sieve set over a heatproof bowl.  Remove the meat from the oxtails.  [Note: I first removed the shortribs into a separate bowl, then strained the broth three times.  Once through a collander to remove the big stuff, then through a sieve, then through cheesecloth to catch some of the grease and cinnamon particles. ] Refrigerate the broth and the oxtail meat separately overnight. [While the overnight refrigeration would make an even better soup, I skipped this step in the interest of time.]

MAKE THE SESAME-CHILE OIL Heat the vegetable oil in a small saucepan. Add the garlic and cook over moderate heat until golden, about 2 minutes. Add the crushed red pepper and sesame seeds and cook for 1 minute; transfer to a bowl. Stir in the sesame oil and a pinch of salt. [Let me just say, this stuff is inferno-level hot.  Even the air above it while it was cooking burned my nose and mouth. Two tablespoons of crushed red pepper is a LOT!  However, the heat, garlic and the toasted sesame flavor make this stuff addictive.]

ASSEMBLE THE SOUP Put the rice vermicelli in a large bowl and cover with cold water. Let the vermicelli soak until pliable, about 20 minutes. [Note:  one 6 oz. package of rice noodles made more than enough noodles for 6 servings of soup.  There would have been way too many noodles if I had used the 16oz. called for in the recipe.]

Skim the fat from the surface of the beef broth and discard. Bring the broth to a simmer over moderately high heat. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil.  Place the thinly sliced raw beef in a large strainer and lower it into the simmering broth for 4 seconds; transfer the meat to 6 soup bowls. Drain the vermicelli. Working in 6 batches, put the vermicelli in the strainer and lower it into the boiling water for 30 seconds, or until the vermicelli is barely tender. Drain and transfer to the bowls. Ladle about 1 1/2 cups of the broth over each bowl of vermicelli and add the chilled oxtail meat. [I skipped pretty much all of this in the interest of time and simplicity.  At this point, I put some of the soaked rice noodles in the bottom of each serving bowl.  I removed the short rib meat from the bones, and put shredded meat into each bowl.  This was more than enough meat without also cooking and adding thinly-sliced round as the recipe calls for.  I brought the broth to a boil and poured it over the noodles and meat in the bowls just before serving.]

Put each of the remaining ingredients in seperate bowls or arrange the vegetables and herbs together on a platter. Serve the soup with the condiments and the sesame-chile oil.

My favorite part of pho is adding lots of lime juice and jalapenos, especially when trying to cure a cold.  This time we also served it with basil leaves fresh from the garden and some cilantro.

We had some leftovers, so I put the broth, meat and noodles all together in a container in the refrigerator.  The next day, I skimmed the fat from the top of the broth and brought the soup to a boil before serving again with condiments.  Not surprisingly, it tasted even better the next day.  Now that I know pho can be done in an abbreviated timeframe, I will probably try this again, maybe with chicken next time.

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