I love pho. I really do. Broth that I can personalize into a bright, tart, deep, heat building wonder. Filling noodles, tons of herbs, and bean sprouts. Spoon in one hand and chopsticks in the other. Slurping until there is nothing left at the bottom of my bowl. Yep, it’s not just food, it’s an experience.
Making the broth at home, aside from being home made, also has the added advantage of perfuming the house (and further) for a few days. It takes time, but it’s not labor intensive. Bones, onions, garlic, spices. That’s kind of it. I will use whatever leftover bones that I tend to horde in the freezer - turkey, chicken, pork, beef - the more the merrier. I like to roast them in the oven to get some good dark color before tossing them in a big stock pot (that will fit in my oven) along with a couple of cut up onions, some garlic, and classic pho spices. Black pepper, black cardamom, ginger, Vietnamese cinnamon, cloves, star anise. You can try mixing your own loose spices in a bouquet garni pouch, but you can buy some pretty awesome ones in Asian markets and online.
Put all of these ingredients into the pot, cover with water and on the stove top it goes for several (4-5?) hours over very low heat. I let the stock reduce and then add more water - repeat. I do this until it’s time to go to bed and then top it off before covering with foil and putting it in the oven over night at about 200º. The next day I will taste it to see if any adjustments need to be made. Depending on what kind of bones I had to use, sometimes I will add a bit of fish sauce to give it a little bit more umami. Then I strain it and put it into jars while still hot so that they will seal and last a bit longer in the fridge. Leave the fat to settle to the top of the jar. This will help with longevity too. Now, whenever I want soup I am ready to go.
This soup seems like such a virtuous meal. it makes me feel all healthy-ish when I eat it. For this recipe I made it even more so by 'making' zucchini to make noodles instead of using the traditional rice noodles. At first I was a little leery of this substitution, but damn if it didn’t turn out MUCH better than I expected. I have had ho hum results in replacing regular pasta with the zucchini noodles for spaghetti. The starch from the pasta really is necessary to keep the tomato sauce from separating. This was a soup that didn’t need starchy thickness though, so I was willing to keep an open mind.
If I had had some Vietnamese meatballs in the freezer I would have used them. For some reason I really like those weird, bouncy, chewy things. If I had had the ingredients to make some from scratch I would have (the Lucky Peach meatball recipe is pretty tasty). However, I did not, so I ended up making some ginger-y ground pork meatballs instead (leftovers to be used for other applications). If you don’t like meatballs, use traditional thin sliced raw beef, or leftover shredded chicken.
Pork and Ginger Meatballs
• 1 Pound ground pork
• 1 Bunch of scallions sliced
• 3 Garlic cloves minced (I actually like to use a micro plane)
• 1 Tablespoon of fresh ginger minced (again, the micro plane does a great job)
• Drizzle of toasted sesame oil
• 1 Egg
Mix all ingredients, shape into meat balls of the size you prefer.
Fry or roast until golden brown.
Use in soups, curries, by themselves, or use the raw filling for dumplings.
After you have the broth, the protein, and the noodles all you need are the toppings and you are good to go.
I used a spiral thingy to make the noodles and put them into the bottom of the bowl first. Raw - no cooking necessary for these guys. The hot broth will soften them up just enough. I like to put my thinly sliced onions (shallots in this case because that’s what I had) in the bowl at the same time so they can soften a little bit as well.
After you remove most of the fat cap and put enough broth for the portions you need into a pot and turn the stove on high, it’s time to assemble the toppings for your pho.
• Protein of choice
• Thinly sliced onion
• Bean sprouts
• Wedges of lime
• Fresh cilantro, Thai basil, Mint, Culantro, Rau Ram (any combo that you can muster)
• Fish sauce
• Chili sauce or paste - Sriracha is popular, but I like Sambal Oelek
• Slices of fresh chili if you want
When boiling, pour your broth over the noodles. Now it’s time to season as you see fit, add your bean sprouts, herbs and dig in.