PHO-NOMENAL

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Savory. Aromatic. Flavorful. Hearty. Fresh. Satisfying. I am officially pho-ddicted.

Pho \ˈfə, ˈfō\ (noun)
1. a type of Vietnamese soup, typically made from beef stock and spices to which noodles and thinly sliced beef are added.
2. a highly addictive soup that nearly defies the bounds of a standard definition.

My pho-ddiction is nothing new.  It has been documented almost weekly on Instagram (@blonderambitions).  I have become a regular at Pho805 (they set down my machete-d coconut without hesitation and rarely hand me a menu… “Number 8 with the meat served rare on the side and extra lime and basil, please.”). My mood can get a little pho-gly if I don’t consume it at least once a week.

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The more pho I consumed, the more willing I was to venture further and further down the pho-rabbit-hole.  A dish like this allows an individual’s personal tastes to reign; with an array of ingredients that can be added by the pho-cipient (basil, bean sprouts, lime, jalapeño, onions, salt, pepper, chili, hoisin, sriracha) during the meal, each experience can be unique (in fact, each bite of one bowl of pho can taste radically different from the next if the eater is willing to continually doctor the broth with the readily available additions gracing their table).

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With a chill in the air (and some cross-promoting with @thelunchread … check out that IG account! … on my mind), I made the moderately bold determination that I (a non-Vietnamese human who rarely cooks Asian-inspired dishes at home) would attempt to recreate my pho experience away from the restaurant.  I was fortunate enough to not be traversing the terrain alone (luckily, I was graced with the company of an individual with phenomenal cooking skills); though, rest assured, if you attempt the following recipe as a solo mission, I am confident that you shall be successful.  Though my first attempt at pho was not as mind-blowing as the pho to which I am accustomed (likely due to the fact that traditional pho calls for marrow-filled bones to simmer for hours & I did not have the resources nor the time this weekend), it was still delicious, comforting, and a beautiful autumn dish.

pho recipe 1

VIETNAMESE BEEF PHO (from a recipe in Cook’s Illustrated)

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound 85 percent lean ground beef
  • 2 onions, quartered through root end
  • 12 cups low-sodium beef broth
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 1 (4-inch) piece ginger, sliced into thin rounds
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 tablespoons sugar, plus extra for seasoning
  • 2 star anise pods
  • 6 whole cloves
  • salt
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 (1-pound) boneless strip steak, trimmed and halved
  • 14-16 ounces (1/8-inch-wide) rice noodles
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 3 scallions, sliced thin
  • sprigs of fresh basil
  • lime wedges
  • Hoisin sauce
  • Sriracha sauce

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INSTRUCTIONS

1. Break ground beef into rough 1-inch chunks and drop in Dutch oven. Add water to cover by 1 inch. Bring mixture to boil over high heat. Boil for 2 minutes, stirring once or twice. Drain ground beef in colander and rinse well under running water. Wash out pot and return ground beef to pot.

2. Place 6 onion quarters in pot with ground beef. Slice remaining 2 onion quarters as thin as possible and set aside for garnish. Add broth, 2 cups water, fish sauce, ginger, cinnamon, sugar, star anise, cloves, 2 teaspoons salt, and peppercorns to pot and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes.

3. Pour broth through colander set in large bowl. Discard solids. Strain broth through fine-mesh strainer lined with triple thickness of cheesecloth; add water as needed to equal 11 cups. Return broth to pot and season with extra sugar and salt (broth should taste overseasoned). Cover and keep warm over low heat.

4. While broth simmers, place steak on large plate and freeze until very firm, 35 to 45 minutes. Once firm, cut against grain into 1/8-inch-thick slices. Return steak to plate and refrigerate until needed.

5. Place noodles in large container and cover with hot tap water. Soak until noodles are pliable, 10 to 15 minutes; drain noodles. Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot. Add drained noodles and cook until almost tender, 30 to 60 seconds. Drain immediately and divide noodles among individual bowls.

6. Bring broth to rolling boil over high heat. Divide steak among individual bowls, shingling slices on top of noodles. Pile reserved onion slices on top of steak slices and sprinkle with cilantro and scallions, if using. Ladle hot broth into each bowl. Serve immediately, passing bean sprouts, basil sprigs, lime wedges, hoisin, Sriracha, and extra fish sauce separately.

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