Growing up 20 minutes from “Little Saigon” in Los Angeles, I distinctly remember my first taste of authentic Vietnamese Pho. I was used to Campbell’s condensed soups — what were all these bean sprouts, basil leaves, and onions for? Thankfully, having a Vietnamese cuisine expert by my side, I quickly learned all about the art of eating Pho…and I was quickly hooked. And while the Pho in Los Angeles never disappointed, there is just something magical about eating it in Vietnam.
We were in Saigon a year ago and I think I had Pho two or three times a day because I just could not get enough (even room service at the Intercontinental Hotel!) There are a few places in Taipei that serve decent Pho, but they are not always convenient to get to (and typically quite crowded) so I decided to take matters into my own hands. Upon moving to Taiwan two years ago and picking up an Asian Cuisine Feature Writer position shortly thereafter, I decided I needed to learn more about cooking Asian specialties at home rather than just eating them out all the time.
One of the cookbook authors I’ve reviewed several times is Nancie McDermott, who has several books on “quick and easy” Asian cuisine types. I started off making her Hanoi Beef Pho recipe and have since changed things up a bit and started making my own, a similar version to hers. Quick and easy Pho is still a bit misleading as it does take 1 1/2 hours to prepare, but most of that is just the broth cooking time.
I’ve had a number of people ask me over the last few months for the recipe I am using to make Pho at home, so here it is. While it may not be completely traditional in the Hanoi Pho sense, the broth is delicious and I alter some steps in an attempt to make it a bit more healthy than what we normally order out.
- 8 cups broth — I use a combination of beef, pork, and chicken bouillon cubes (If you use canned broth, get low sodium)
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 3 star anise
- 1 teaspoon ground cloves
- 5 or 6 whole pepper corns
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted
- 1 large white onion, quartered lengthwise
- 1/2 cup peeled, coarsely chopped ginger
- 1 stalk lemongrass — separated and slightly bruised
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped coarsely
- 2 shallots, peeled and chopped coarsely
- 1/2 pound rice noodles (or any type of noodles you prefer)
- 2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 – 1 1/2 pounds thinly sliced flank, rib-eye, or other lean cut of beef (or lean pork) We get pre-sliced meat here in Taiwan that is good for soups, hot pots, etc.
- Bean sprouts
- Thinly sliced white onion
- Chopped green onion
- Basil leaves (Asian basil is preferred)
- Lime wedges
- Red chilies or jalapenos sliced thinly
- Hoisin Sauce
- Sriracha “Rooster” sauce
Bring stock, cinnamon sticks, star anise, pepper corns, toasted cumin seeds, and cloves to a gentle boil in a large stockpot. (Note: You can make your own stock from scratch using meat, but I have found this to be a less fatty option that doesn’t require skimming the broth).
Clean the lemongrass and hit the stalk with the flat handle side of a knife. Cut off the top part and discard. Separate the root pieces and add to the pot. Cover and let simmer for one hour.
Once the broth has cooked an hour, remove from heat and strain into a large saucepan, while throwing everything else away.
Add sugar and fish sauce to the soup broth. Note: I do not add any salt to the broth because I use bouillon cubes and the fish sauce has enough of a salty taste. We are trying to cut down on sodium, however, if you prefer, you can add salt to taste.
If you are using rice noodles, they need to be softened beforehand. Place them in warm water until they are soft and white. If you are using other noodle types, prepare according to package directions and time so they are done before broth is finished cooking.
Cooking your meat apart from the soup helps keep the broth more lean and healthy. You can cook the meat any way you like, but I typically just place the strips in a frying pan and sear on each side. When using pork, I cook thoroughly to avoid any potential food poisoning issues.
Divide noodles between two large bowls or four small ones. Add pork or meat slices on top. Add broth to each bowl and serve. I always add garnishments after as Brett and I have different tastes in regards to what garnishments we like. He likes a five-alarm fire while I am like the Boy Scout rubbing two sticks together for the first time in hopes for a tiny puff of smoke.
Tips: I usually double the recipe and get two full meals out of the broth. Also, the bowls we use when serving two are huge — more like western size serving bowls. We usually only finish half and let the rest sit overnight for breakfast. It’s quite tasty in the morning as the flavor of the basil and other garnishes have a chance to really blend together. Since we found it was common to eat Pho for breakfast in Saigon, why not keep that tradition going back here in Taiwan?