Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Cooking Experiment #2: Learn Pho from the Pro

A few months ago my chef friend Peter showed some of us at the kitchen of his (previous) restaurant the way to do a proper Vietnamese Pho Bo, using a modified recipe which is easier and more practical for home cooks. I have always wanted to try that at home, but never got a chance until this week when I had more time playing around in the kitchen.

While at his restaurant a mixture of bones were included in the making of the rich broth base, Chef Peter recommended us to stick with ox-tail, which got enough bones and collagen for the soup, and also the meat which I could add in to the bowl of noodles. And I blamed myself for not taking notes for all the herbs and ingredients he used, so I pretty much stuck with just whatever I got at home, which included cinnamon stick, fennel seeds, cumin, star anise, whole black peppers, bay leaves and of course, fish sauce. I am pretty sure his version has a bit more than just that.

But I did remember a few things he said – the bones had to be blanched a few times in clean boiling water to get rid of the impurities and blood clots attached (the key step to make sure the broth came out clear), and I added plenty of sugar to balance the strong flavor from the fish sauce. I sliced an onion and some ginger in a frying pan and put that into the soup pot as well. After I put everything in and brought it to a rigorous boil over high heat, I used a "thermos cooker" and left the soup in the insulated pot for 18 hours, right on time to be ready in the morning when I wanted to serve myself a bowl of Pho Bo for breakfast, just like the way it's usually eaten in Vietnam.

I did like my broth with the clear color and with good flavor, despite I didn't load it up with a lot of bones (so it's more herbaceous than meaty). First I brought the soup back to a boil on the stove; then I also sliced up a few fresh beef (from the chunk cut), cooked it briefly in a separate pot with the rice noodles that I brought at the local market (the thin type), and served with a piece of oxtail from the soup, some raw onions, plus of course, the usual condiments (lime, bird eye chilies, Sriracha, fish sauce, Thai basil and mint) on the side.

I am quite happy with my version of Pho Bo at home. Not a perfect bowl, but it was satisfying. A few months ago I did a similar experiment with making ramen from scratch, and from my personal experience, when cooked at home it's much easier to achieve the right consistency for the pho broth then with the tonkatsu broth for the ramen. I will definitely try again in the future. Sorry, there’s no recipe posted this time since I don't have one – but there are a few online that can be used as a good reference. Or just ask Chef Peter - I am sure he's more than happy to show and share.

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