Heaven in a bowl – Vietnamese Beef Noodle Pho

Vietnam is a country with a history spanning more than 3,500 years, but pho is a relatively new food. It was born at the beginning of the twentieth century in and around Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, located in the northern part of the country.

Where does the original pho come from? Some say that long before pho was popularized on the streets of Hanoi, it was being prepared in Nam Dinh, an agricultural province located about fifty-five miles southeast of Hanoi. The village and province produced generations of pho masters, many of whom relocated to the capital to open well-regarded pho shops. The others say that the dish was heavily influenced by both Chinese and French cooking. Rice noodle and spices were imported from China.

The original pho was a simple bowl of broth, noodles, and boiled beef. Then cooks began offering slices of rare beef as an optional add-on. In the late 1920s, people debated the merits of pho featuring Chinese five-spice, sesame oil, tofu, and ca cuong (a pear-scented water-beetle pheromone). Around 1930, pho xao don—pan-fried pho rice noodles topped with a saucy beef and vegetable stir-fry—was introduced.

Pho is about tradition as much as it is about change. It comforts as well as provokes. It’s simply a bowl of heaven.

PREP: 25 minutes     COOK: 50 minutes     SERVES: 4

Ingredients:

  • 2 large onions
  • 4 inch fresh ginger
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 whole anise star
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 2 tsp of coriander seeds
  • 1.5 litre of beef broth (I use 2 pots of Knorr Beef Stock)
  • 1 tbs of soya sauce
  • 1 tbs of fish sauce
  • 3 carrots peeled and roughly chopped
  • 450 gr of diced brisket or shin of beef (any cut ideal for slow cooking)

To serve:

  • 1 to 2 limes
  • 1 cup of bean sprouts
  • 1 cup of fresh herbs (parsley, coriander, mint)
  • Freshly cut chillies (of your choice)
  • 3 spring onion finely chopped
  • 200 gr Dried Rice Noodles (I use Mama Instant Rice Noodles)

Method:

Peel the onions and cut them into quarters through the roots so they do not fall apart. Peel the ginger and slice it into quarters. Using tongs, char the onion and ginger on all sides over high heat in the oven or grill (about 5 minutes each side). Rinse the pieces under cool water and remove any overly charred bits.

In the meantime heat the oil in a medium-large pressure cooker and fry the meat, stirring frequently. Fry for about 10 minutes, until golden-brown all over. Do this in two batches if necessary. when the meat is browned transfer it to a colander set over a bowl (do not pour any juices out as they enrich the flavour of the soup).

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Place cinnamon sticks, star anise, coriander seeds and cloves  in a frying pan and dry-roast over low heat for 1 to 2 minutes, until toasty and very fragrant.

Now let’s combine all the ingredients together to start creating this yumminess. Pour the prepared broth mixture into the pot which we used for browning the beef. Followed by toasted spices, soy sauce, fish sauce, chopped carrots and the charred onions and ginger. Then return the beef and any drained juices to the pot and stir through.

Seal the pressure cooker and bring it to high pressure. Cook for 15 minutes then reduce the heat on lower temperature so that it maintains the pressure without exceeding it. Cook for further 45 minutes or until meat and vegetable very soft and tender. (If you need to release some pressure and steam during your cooking use the quick float valve –but be careful as the air is extremely hot!)

Whilst your broth is simmering and cooking to perfection you can prepare the toppings. Thinly slice spring onions and chilli peppers. Cut the lime into wedges. Place the bean sprouts into a serving bowl and roughly chopped the herbs. Now arrange all the toppings on a serving dish and place is on the table.

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Bring a saucepan of water to boil, drop in rice noodles and cook according to package instructions. Strain the noodles and run them under the cool water to stop cooking.  As the noodles tense to stick together after cooking, so either divide them between serving bowls or toss them with a little oil, alternatively you can leave them in a cold water.

When the broth is ready, strain the pho broth through fine strainer. Remove and discard all the solids and bits BUT keep the beef! As I prefer for my pho soup to be clear in colour I go that extra mile and strain the soup again but this time through cheesecloth (any cotton cloth or old fashion clean handkerchief will do). This step is extra and not essential.

Then you can either return the beef to the soup or keep in onside and divide it straight between the bowls.

Now for the grand finale! Make sure that your broth is piping hot. Divide the noodles between serving bowls, top it with generous portion of beef. Ladle the steaming broth into each bowl and add toppings of your choice.

Enjoy!

Photo Credit: Kitchn.com

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