Winter is the perfect time for pho (pronounced FUH), and in between checking out several Vietnamese restaurants around the city, Baseball Boy and I decided to try to make it ourselves. He got a new crock pot for Christmas, and I live within walking distance of three Asian grocers; in short, pho was practically begging us to make it.
Shopping for the ingredients is about 50% of the work of making this Vietnamese noodle soup, known for its savory broth of long-simmered bones and toasted spices. I asked Crestview Market to cut the beef bones for me, while BB wandered the aisles looking for fish sauce, hoisin and rice noodles. Back in his kitchen, we started the process by adding the bones to boiling water for ten minutes, as prescribed by the folks at Steamy Kitchen (whose logo, by the way, is very similar to the one for Smitten Kitchen).
Next, the spices. Most recipes I found called for whole spices: cardamom pods, coriander and cloves, to name a few. Purists may balk, but if I had ground versions of the seasoning, I used them. Though I did use fresh ginger; there’s no substitute for that. (I suspect that as I continue along my culinary adventures, one day I will look back and cringe at the fact that I used ground coriander. I’m willing to bear that epicurean cross when the time comes.)
I did pick up a few whole ingredients, in the smallest containers available at the market, which were huge in comparison to the tiny jars available at mainstream grocers. I now have dozens upon dozens of cinnamon sticks. Do not be surprised if star anise- and cinnamon stick-based recipes appear for the next few months on IF. (Though if you ask BB, we’d be making pho twice a week until we need to run out and restock.)
The best part of pho is that once it’s assembled in the pot, it requires almost no work. We watched several episodes of Lost while the broth simmered, and by the end of the day the aroma was overwhelmingly tempting. Once it was finally ready, we added the noodles and beef and garnished with the traditional basil, fresh lime, bean sprouts and a combination of hoisin sauce and sriracha. And life was good.
Pho, it turns out, cures all ailments, from colds to hangovers to early February. And if you live in Ohio, early February is an ailment in itself.
Crock Pot Pho
From Steamy Kitchen
For the Pho Stock:
4 pounds beef bones
4 inch section of ginger, sliced
2 cinnamon sticks
2 teaspoons whole coriander
1 teaspooon fennel, 3 whole star anise
3 whole cloves
1 cardamom pod
9 cups water
2 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce or to taste
1 teaspoon sugar
For the Pho Bowls
16 ounces fresh or dried rice noodles
1/2 pound flank, london broil, sirloin or eye of round steak, sliced as thinly as possible (I got the butcher to do it)
11 ounces Vietnamese beef balls, cut into half (I omitted, but these are available in the frozen food case at most Asian groceries.)
For the Table
1-2 limes, cut into wedges
fresh herbs: cilantro, Thai basil, mint
2-3 chili peppers, sliced
2 big handfuls of bean sprouts
Sriracha hot chili sauce
1. Bring a large stockpot with water to boil over high heat. When it comes to a rolling boil, add the beef bones and boil vigorously for 10 minutes.
2. In the meantime, heat a frying pan on medium-low heat. Add the spices and toast until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Dump the spices to the empty Crock Pot or slow cooker immediately. Return frying pan to medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon of oil. When the oil is hot, add the ginger slices and the onion half. Cook until the ginger is browned on both sides and the onion half is nicely browned and softened. Add the ginger and the onion to the Crock Pot or slow cooker.
3. When the bones have been pre-boiled, drain, discard water and rinse bones briefly to clean them. Add the bones to the Crock Pot or slow cooker. Fill the Crock Pot with fresh, clean, cool water to just 1-1/2 inches below surface, add the fish sauce and sugar. Cover and set the Crock Pot or slow cooker to cook on low for 8 hours. Taste and season with additional fish sauce if needed.
4. When you are just about ready to eat, you’ll prep the rest of the ingredients for the pho bowls. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the beef balls and cook until heated through, about 2 minutes. Remove the balls, keeping the water boiling and now cook the noodles according to package instructions. If you are using fresh noodles, all they need is a couple of minutes. Drain immediately.
5. Strain the stock with a fine meshed sieve. Discard the solids.
6. Line up 4 large bowls on counter. Distribute the noodles, beef balls and thin steak slices evenly amongst the bowls. Ladle the hot pho stock into each bowl. The hot stock should cook the thin steak slices. Serve with lime wedges, fresh herbs, chili peppers, hoisin sauce and sriracha hot chili sauce at the table.