Almost synonymous with the nation and the people, the spicy Vietnamese beef noodle dish Pho is now enjoyed worldwide.
The brothy dish known as pho (properly pronounced “fuh”) is a relatively new development in Vietnamese culture, arising from French colonization in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Western tastes led to a domestic beef market, which meant discarded stew bones were cheap and abundant for the lower classes. Workers easily adapted the beef bones to a similar Chinese regional dish.
The popular street food found a cultural home in southern Vietnam early after the turn of the century. Traditionally breakfast fare, pho is served with rice noodles (bánh pho) and often with thinly sliced raw beef (pho tái) that cooks quickly in the steaming hot liquid. Chicken, pork and even vegetarian varieties are also available, but the vast majority of pho dishes are beef-based.
The broth itself is the star, robustly spiced with elements of whole cinnamon, star anise, coriander, clove and ginger. The particular recipe varies vendor to vendor with many pots simmering for hours, if not overnight. After straining out the solids, the result is an amber-colored, unctuous, rich base that is boldly spiced with an incredible meaty depth of flavor. Charring the bones before cooking lends an additional smoky, earthy layer to the bowl.
The type of beef served with the noodles can range over the entire bovine animal. Usually, thin slices of fillet, flank, brisket or round are offered but native Vietnamese enjoy including anything from spiced meatballs to tripe, tendon or even testicles. Thin rice noodles (vermicelli) are included, and noodle width can vary from region to region.
More than most soups, the garnishes are as important to finishing a bowl of pho as any other ingredient. A wide number of toppings are included such as sliced shallots or scallions, mung bean sprouts, fresh cilantro, basil or mint, thinly sliced jalapeño, sambal oelek (chili paste) or nuoc mam (fermented fish sauce) as well as soy sauce or chili sauce to taste.
By no means limit yourself to only a few items, as the dish only benefits from multiple aromatics and textures. Just don’t forget a squeeze of fresh lime to finish.
1 lb filet mignon
1 pkg rice noodles (cooked)
For the broth:
2-4 lb beef bones
2-in. piece of ginger
1 yellow onion
¼ c nuoc mam
3 bay leaves
1 stick of cinnamon
10 black peppercorns
5 whole cloves
2 star anise
1 t fennel seeds
1 Under the broiler, roast the bones, ginger, and onion until charred, about 20 min. Toast the spices in a dry pan until fragrant.
2 Cover the bones with 10-12 c of water in a large stock pot along with the onion, ginger and spices. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer and cook, uncovered, about 4-5 hrs, skimming the surface occasionally.
3 Add the nuoc mam in the last hour of cooking. When finished, strain out the solids and return the broth to just boiling. Season to taste.
4 Fill serving bowls with noodles and cover with broth. Cut the filet into very thin slices and allow to cook for a couple of minutes in the hot liquid. (Rest the filet in the freezer for about 30 min to firm up for extra thin slicing.)