In the last couple of weeks, the crisp, cool autumn suddenly turned to winter. The temperatures took a nose-dive and snow coated the city. I’m a summer girl, to be sure, so when the cold sets in, I’m ready to avoid the outdoors at all costs, start up the fire, and make some nice warm comfort food. I’d been wanting to try making phở bò for a while, and finally the perfect time had arrived.
The recipe I’d been waiting to try for so long is from the ever-inspiring blog Wandering Chopsticks. The site has a lot to offer, from recipes for all sorts of cuisines, reviews of restaurants and crafty how-to’s, but for me the highlight is the extensive and well-organized collection of Vietnamese recipes. And when I think of Vietnamese food, I think of phở.
Phở bò features a flavorful beef broth, rice noodles, beef slices, and an array of delicious garnishes. The recipe from Wandering Chopsticks takes two days to make, and is so worth it. Most of the cooking time is not active, so don’t think you’ll be laboring away for two days straight! Actually, just a little bit of work and a lot of sitting back and letting it simmer results in a really amazing soup!
Most of the ingredients are very easy to find at pretty much any grocery store. I ventured up to Tai Nam Food Market, an Asian grocery store up in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood. Here I found the rest of what I needed, although most of it I could have gotten at any Asian market… I had just wanted to check this place out anyway. By the way, if you’re in Chicago, this place was great: it had a wide variety of all kinds of Asian food, including fresh produce, and the prices were hard to beat. The beef marrow bones were waaaaay cheaper there than at a regular supermarket, and although the butcher barely spoke any English, I was still able to get what I needed just fine.
Phở Bò (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)
Makes about 4-6 bowls (I used an 8-quart stock pot)
- 3 lbs beef marrow bones
- 1 large onion, studded with 12 cloves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 6 star anise pods
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 1 piece of ginger, about 2″ long
- 6 cloves of garlic
- 1 large carrot, cut into large pieces
- 2 celery stalks, cut into large pieces
- 1 daikon radish, cut into large pieces
- 2 tablespoons Vietnamese fish sauce (Nuoc Mam)
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 package bahn pho noodles (Vietnamese flat rice noodles)
- 1/2 lb eye round beef, sliced as thinly as possible
- 1 small package of beef meatballs or beef tendon meatballs (optional)
- Cilantro, finely chopped
- Ngo gai (Vietnamese sawtooth herb, also sold as “culantro”), chopped
- Green onions, finely chopped
- 1/2 white onion, thinly sliced
- Bean sprouts
- Thai basil
- Lime wedges
- Chilies (bird’s eye or jalapeños), sliced
- Sriracha chili sauce
- Hoisin sauce
1. Wash the beef marrow bones in cool water and put them in a 7- or 8-quart stock pot. Add enough water to the pot to cover the bones. Heat the pot on high heat until the water boils, then adjust the heat to medium. Let simmer for 10 minutes. This will further cleans the bones and remove impurities. Pour everything out into a colander and wash the bones again. Rinse the pot well before putting the bones back in. Fill the pot with water again, this time until it’s about 3/4 of the way full. Return the pot to stove and heat on high.
2. The next step is to dry-roast the spices. If you have a stove with gas burners, like me, you can use tongs to carefully char the clove-studded onion, cinnamon and star anise over the flame. If you don’t have gas burners, you can just heat a pan and dry-fry the spices until fragrant.
3. Add charred spices, onion, coriander seeds, ginger, garlic, carrot, celery, and daikon radish to the pot. Then, if needed, fill the rest of the pot with water until it’s almost full. Keep at high heat until the broth begins to boil.
4. Once boiling, bring the heat down to medium low or until the broth is at a nice, steady simmer. Now you can walk away and just let that broth simmer for at least two hours. I think mine simmered for about 4 hours. The longer simmering time just gets more flavor out of those bones, spices, and veggies and into your broth!
5. Now that the broth as simmered for a few hours, remove the pot from the heat so it can cool. When the pot has cooled, move it to the fridge (or in my case, our chilly stair-well). Let it chill overnight, which will make the fat rise to the top of the pot and solidify. In the morning, take the pot out of the fridge and skim off the fat. This will keep the broth from getting too greasy.
6. After removing the fat, return the pot to the stove and bring to a boil once again. Then bring back down to a simmer at medium low heat and let it simmer for a few more hours. Add the salt and fish sauce to taste, and over the course of the simmering time, check on the broth now and then and season as needed.
7. A couple hours before you’re ready to serve the pho, remove the beef bones and onion from the broth. Then strain the broth into another pot, or use a slotted spoon to remove the spices and veggies. Now you’re left with a clear, savory broth.
8. If there’s any meat left on the bones, you can cut that off and add it to the soup. If you’re using meatballs, add those in as well so they can cook. Taste the broth again and season with fish sauce and salt if needed.
9. Cook and drain the noodles as instructed on the package. Have your thinly sliced eye round beef slices on hand; these get added to the soup raw, as the boiling hot broth will cook them almost instantly. Also prepare a plate of garnishes with any combination of the ingredients for garnishing listed above.
10. When you’re ready to serve, bring the broth to a rolling boil. Like I mentioned, it has to be piping hot to cook the beef slices! Prepare serving bowls with noodles at the bottom, then place the (still raw) beef slices on top. Ladle the broth over the noodles and beef so the meat cooks from the heat. Have everyone add their garnishes and sauces, and you’re ready to enjoy some homemade pho bo!
Thanks again to Wandering Chopsticks for this fantastic recipe. I’m never deterred from recipes that take some time, but as I said before, this one has very little “active” time anyway. The broth had so much flavor and everything worked out just perfectly. If you saw last week’s bento post, you know I even was able to bring myself a pho bo bento lunch the next day! Making pho bo from scratch was a rewarding, fun experience, and I very much hope you try it yourself!