Pho is probably one of my all-time favorite foods. I don’t think there’s ever been a time when pho didn’t sound good. And since in Vietnam it’s considered a breakfast food, I don’t even feel weird craving it in the morning.
Salty, sweet, savory, spicy from the sriracha sauce, freshness from the onions & basil & cilantro, the different textures in the meats, the chewiness of the rice noodles, the broth. Just everything about this food makes me hungry for it right now, and I just finished lunch!
So, while planning meals for the family (outside our week-o-burgers) I wanted to take another stab at making pho. Normally I cheat and get ready-made pho broth I pick up at my local Walmart, and don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty good. But I wanted to try to make it myself from scratch. And that means bones and fatty meats for the broth.
I found this recipe and decided to use it for the broth. It sounded authentic, but what do I know? I know it had some of the basics I’m used to tasting in pho: star anise, onions, ginger, beef…So slowly I gather my ingredients.
One thing it called for was roasting the onions & garlic until blackened. They suggest over your gas burner, but I have electric so I put them under the broiler in the oven. Then I remembered I have a butane torch! So a few seconds playing with fire, I had some nice char on them, ready to be used.
Next, I boiled the meats and bones for 5 minutes and drain to remove a lot of the impurities. It’s suggested if I do that first to get a clear broth.
Then it suggested I add 5 quarts of water – problem! With all the bones and ox tails in there, plus adding the onions and other items that take up a lot of the volume of my pot, I could only fit about 4/5 gallon of water. 1.2 quarts short. I figure, cook as-is, then when I remove most of the stuff from the pot, just add some more water. Should be okay, right?
Brother was simmering for 4 hours, and man, the kitchen & house smelled great! Who wants apple pie or pumpkin spice Febreze? Give me Pho-breze instead!
Once cooled, I transferred to a gallon pitcher and cool completely in the fridge. This makes it easy to remove the fat that solidified at the top. Then it’s just portioning into 5 quart Mason Jars, freeze with the lids off to prevent them from exploding, lid & seal them and they’re ready to go at a later time.
For the meats, traditional pho used fatty & lean meats. I picked up a sirloin steak I plan to slice as one of the meats. Fairly lean cut, but that’s okay.
I also separated a packer brisket into separate flat and point cuts. The flat I used for making ground beef and the point I plan to use for burnt ends, but I cut a few ounces from the point to also add to the pho when we fix it.
I also wanted Vietnamese meatballs. No deviation from this recipe, except I used 1.5 lbs of ground beef instead of 4 lbs of chuck or shank. Also used regular baking powder instead of Alsa baking powder. Partially because I didn’t want to hunt this down, but also apparently Alsa it has wheat in it. A no-no with my family.
One suggestion after making mine. Really, really make sure the beef is fully emulsified when blending in the food processor. While mine is fine, after making meatballs and boiling them, the slightly irregular pieces of ground beef caused the balls to shape weird when cooking. Not a huge deal, but it’s not as pretty as the ones I get at my local pho noodle shops.
And I also wanted tripe to go with it. Fortunately, living in Texas there’s a heavy Mexican influence, so this is common to come across. Got a pound of tripe, but wanted these really tender with some chew. So I looked up a few tripe recipes, like Menudo, and all basically said the same thing. Simmer for hours. So I got a pot of salted water and simmered them for about 2 hours. Cooled, sliced thin and store.
The only ingredient I couldn’t find was fresh bean sprouts. I guess it’s not in season right now. I could used the canned stuff, but it’s not the same so I’m opting out of this.
After that, it’s just gathering basil, cilantro, onions & scallions and time to assemble.
Putting it all together
First, anyone who tried to make pho in a day – hats off to you. This is an incredibly daunting journey and this took me, off and on, over a week to make, doing a little at a time & freezing each element until I had time for fixing another portion of this when I had free time from fixing other dinners and work. My recommendation: the freezer is your friend. Large, complex meals like this with multiple factors: plan it out and freeze as you go along.
So now, let’s review what I have so far for my pho:
- 5 quarts of Pho broth
- Sirloin Steak
- Fresh Basil
- Fresh Cilantro
- Rice Noodles
- Plum Sauce
- Soy Sauce
First thing is defrosting everything. I moved all the frozen foods to the fridge to thaw, so they’re at the ready. Started this yesterday morning.
Once the steak & brisket were mostly thawed, I sliced as thinly as possible, wrapped and placed back in the fridge.
Next, is the noodles. At restaurants, noodles are already cold, or room temperature, so I can cook these, shock in ice water and plate for the broth when I ladle.
So for dinner, I heated the broth to a rolling boil, set out the meats to get to room temperature so it’ll cook quicker in the broth, sliced the onions as thin as possible, chopped the scallions, and made bowls for the garnishes; onions, basil, cilantro & lime wedges.
Results: Turned out really good. It will never have that same umami as Pho noodle shops, but it was good. Maybe if I reduce the broth some to concentrate. But all the flavors were there and we were very happy with it. Besides reducing the broth, I would also slice the meats with a deli slicer to get it as thin as possible, instead of just with a knife. It was a bit thick and made it chewy, but still good.
Lastly, the only other thing I cannot figure out: broth temperature. As mentioned, I had it at a rolling boil when I ladled into bowls. But for some reason it cooled really quickly, and because of this it didn’t cook the meats as thoroughly as if you went to a noodle shop. We’ve even brought Pho home and it still seemed hotter than my broth (it seems) even after a 7-10 minute car ride.
But as I said, I’m happy. Yes, I would definitely make this again. It’s probably more expensive to make from scratch than to just call Uber Eats for delivery, but it’s a nice, fun cook that allowed me to span across multiple days and able to put it together when we’re ready (And I had to delay for two days because someone wasn’t home or at work)
And the best bonus? I had Pho for breakfast this morning!