Daring Cooks’ Challenge: Beef Pho

The October 2009 Daring Cooks’ challenge was brought to us by Jaden of the blog Steamy Kitchen. The recipes are from her new cookbook, The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook.

During our years in Seattle we discovered Pho and fell in love.  Pho is a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup with a very distinctive, delicious broth garnished with basil, cilantro, bean sprouts, limes and fresh chiles.  (And, by the way, the pronunciation of Pho is “fuh?” like a question.  Funny huh?)  It can be chicken or beef or vegetarian…it’s all about the broth.  When it’s done right, nothing beats it on a cold, dreary day.

Pho photo from The Steamy Kitchen
Pho photo from The Steamy Kitchen

Since moving back to Texas we’ve searched for the elusive broth and some place that does this yummy soup justice.  My husband has found a place or two that will satisfy the craving, but none that have totally knocked his socks off.  He was hopeful and excited about this challenge.

There are some key elements to the broth: charring the onions and ginger, toasting the spices, the right amount of fish sauce and allowing the broth to simmer long enough for the flavor to really deepen as it should.

Ginger and onions ready to be charred
Ginger and onions ready to be charred
Toasting fennel seeds, cinnamon stick, star anise, coriander seeds, cloves and cardamom pods
Toasting fennel seeds, cinnamon stick, star anise, coriander seeds, cloves and cardamom pods
Beef bones, charred ginger and onions and toasted spices simmering to make the broth.
Beef bones, charred ginger and onions and toasted spices (in mesh bag) simmering to make the broth.

The broth simmers for about 3 hours and the aroma is so yummy and distinctive it is nearly impossible to wait that long!   When it is finally time to serve you place cooked rice noodles in a bowl with very, very thinly sliced raw beef and some of the beef from the bones used to make the broth.  The hot broth gets ladled in, “cooks” the beef and gets soaked up by the noodles.

pho

Then comes the fun part: garnishing with an assortment of delicious greenery and sauces – basil, cilantro, bean sprouts, fresh chiles, limes, Sriracha and Hoisin sauce.

Accompaniments
Accompaniments

And when it all comes together…mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Beef Pho
I know that beef looks rare in the photo, but in a matter of a minutes it was cooked perfectly.

So, the verdict?  Well, it was mixed.  The flavor was definitely there and nearly perfect…but it was light or thin…it didn’t quite have the depth we were looking for. Naturally, the next day the broth was a little more complex and much closer to the pho grail we seek.  Also, I think it needed more fish sauce.

Pho

Next time – and oh yes there will be a next time – I will up the fish sauce, allow the broth simmer for a bit longer and let it sit overnight before serving.  I suspect it will make us happy, happy…like, maybe even Seattle happy.

For the full recipe and instructions, visit The Steamy Kitchen.  And for a gazillion other versions of Pho, see The Daring Kitchen.

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