Monday, January 9, 2017

Pho Rare Beef

In 2012, I posted an entry with a list of dishes I wanted to try to make as a New Years' resolution type thing. I ended up only making a few things from the list each year but I finally managed to finish it up, five years later (which just means I need a new list now and according to my track record, it's something I'll accomplish by 2022).

The second to last dish I tackled on that list is phở, which, if you didn't know, is a Vietnamese noodle soup, and it's what I'm sharing today. (By the way, the last dish I tacked on the list is something I'll be sharing next week so stay tuned because it's a really good one!)

I'm really excited to share this post because I think the dish turned out really delicious. I developed this recipe by combining my personal preference with a bit of research and working with ingredients that were readily available to me. I did have to take a special trip to the Asian market for the yellow rock sugar, but everything else I found in my local grocery store, which makes this a relatively accessible dish to make at home. However, simmering a pot of hot beef stock on the stove that's been enhanced with fish sauce will make your house smell not-so-great so that could be one great reason to go out for pho; you've been warned.
Ingredients [yields 6 to 8 servings]:
stock
2 lbs. beef shank
1 lb. oxtails
1 lb. beef marrow bones
4 quarts + 8 quarts water
1 large onion, quartered
6" piece ginger, split in half
3 whole star anise
½ teaspoon coriander seeds
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
2 cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
1 oz. yellow rock sugar
2 teaspoons salt
¼ cup fish sauce

pho
rice noodles
beef eye of round, sliced
sliced onion
chopped scallions
chopped cilantro
lime wedges
sprouts
jalapeno slices
culantro leaves
Thai basil leaves

I basically bought out the meat department of my grocery store for this project. The goal is to grab loads of flavorful cuts of meat to enhance the flavor of the broth. I went with shank (both bone-in and the slab-y kind), beef marrow bones, and oxtails. I also got eye of round so I could slice it thinly for the rare beef element of the soup. If you can't get your hands on the exact cuts of meat I mentioned, work with what you can. I recommend having at least one bony cut since the bones and marrow have loads of flavor.
Add all of the meat (except for the beef eye of round, of course) to a large stock pot and cover with water. Pop on the hob over high heat and bring to a rapid boil for 10 to 15 minutes. The goal of this step is to quickly boil the impurities and excess myoglobin out of the meat, which is crucial to achieving a clear broth.
Once the water looks pretty gross and scummy, drain the pot and rinse all of the gunk off of the meat.
Meanwhile, quarter an onion and split the ginger. Spread out onto a sheet pan and pop under a high broiler until they're good and charred. It'll take about 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the strength of your broiler; it's a perfect step to do side-by-side with the 15 minute beef impurity boil.
And, while the boil and broil are happening, grab a cheesecloth and wrap up the spices: a cinnamon stick, fennel, cloves, star anise, coriander seeds, and cardamom pods.
Refill the cleaned pot with the rinsed off meat and top it off with plenty of water. Drop in the cheesecloth full of spices, the charred onion and ginger, and drop in some yellow rock sugar and fish sauce. Bring the broth to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. After that, it's basically just a waiting game. Simmer the broth for 3 hours, or until the shank (or whatever cut of beef you decided to use) is tender.
After a few hours, the broth will have reduced a bit. Taste to make sure the seasoning is where you want it - add more rock sugar or fish sauce as necessary.
Remove the beef from the pot and set it aside. Then, strain the broth to get rid of everything else.
This step isn't 100% necessary, but if you despise greasy soups the way that I do, chill the broth for a few hours until the fat congeals. Then, skim it off the top.
After this step, I also poured off some broth into containers to be frozen, because we weren't going to be chowing down on 8 servings of pho in one weekend.
Get the broth nice and hot again and chop up the shank meat to serve in the soup, if you like.
And grab all of the accoutrements you want to serve with your pho. I love cilantro, Thai basil, culantro (which is like cilantro's leafier cousin), sprouts, jalapeno, and lime wedges.
And slice up the eye of round nice and thin. I popped the eye into the freezer for about 20 minutes and I sharpened my knife so that it would be really easy to slice thinly.
I also like thinly sliced onion, scallions, and a bit of chopped cilantro to serve hot in the broth too. But you do you.
Cook up some rice noodles, per the package directions. I found these fresh rice noodles and gave them a go and they were awesome. I never want to use dried noodles again.
Add the noodles to the pot and top off with the shank meat, the eye of round, onions, scallions, and chopped cilantro. Pour the hot broth over the top (which will cook the eye of round)
Serve immediately and allow everyone to personalize their soup as they please.
This pho turned out pretty spot on. I was trying to mimic the flavors of the pho from my favorite local Vietnamese restaurant and I'm going to say I was pretty successful. The broth itself was really rich in flavor but also clean tasting (thanks to that oil-skimming step). And I love that when I make this at home, I can serve up all of my favorite toppings. My local restaurant doesn't serve culantro (it's an ingredient I learned about when I went down to Florida last year and I'm obsessed) and sometimes they run out of cilantro and jalapeno so it can be kind of annoying. In fact, sometimes we bring our own jalapeno to the restaurant, ha!
Here's the recipe page:

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