By Diane Rossen Worthington
Having written two books on soups, I know my way around a soup pot. I love soups made with any kind of noodles, and rice noodles are the stars in this Vietnamese soup. Pho, pronounced “fuh” (like duh), is a popular noodle soup that many consider to be the national dish of Vietnam.
There are many stories about how pho became a Vietnamese classic dish. Literary accounts suggest that pho originated in the north in Hanoi in the mid-1880s. Others debate that the French influence can be seen in the beef broth, similar to Pot au Feu. Saigon popularized pho in the late 1950s, stamping their flavor profile on the soup. You can also see the Chinese influence through such Asian ingredients as star anise pods, cilantro and fresh ginger.
“The Pho Cookbook” by Andrea Nguyen ($22, Ten Speed Press) offers the reader a world of pho recipes. This cozy bowl of comfort comes in all versions. If you are interested in trying out different styles, this book is for you. It also describes in great detail the ingredients, equipment, unusual broth techniques and bowl assembly tips. Nguyen promises that “if you can boil water, you can master Vietnam’s national dish.” There are sections for simple, fast, meatless and old-school stunners.
I developed my pho version when I wanted a one-dish meal with some exotic flavor. If you have the broth cooked ahead, it takes little time to put this together and will be a welcome surprise to your family and friends. The base is a strong beef broth perfumed with star anise, peppercorns and ginger. Look for a good quality beef broth in your local supermarket; or, if you have the time, make it yourself.
Translucent rice noodles float in the bowl topped by thin beef slices and sautéed sweet and crisp shallots. Some cooks add beef meatballs, but sprigs of fresh Thai basil, mint and cilantro always accompany pho. Bean sprouts, chilies and fresh squirts of lime also are added for a burst of flavor.
Some people prefer the hot sauce squirted into the soup, but I like to add a spoonful of hoisin for another layer of Asian flavor. Look for many of these ingredients at an Asian grocery store.
Vietnamese Beef and Noodle Soup (Pho Bo)
For the broth:
- 8 cups best-quality beef broth
- 5 whole cloves
- 4 thin slices peeled ginger
- 3 star anise pods
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1 onion, sliced
- Salt and pepper
For the pho:
- 1 package (6 3/4 ounces) dried medium rice sticks
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 8 shallots, peeled and sliced
- 1/2 pound very thinly sliced eye of the round beef (have your butcher do this for you on the thinnest setting), cut into 2-inch widths or bite size pieces
- 1 small bunch cilantro leaves
- 1 small bunch mint leaves
- 1 small bunch Thai basil leaves (do not substitute other basil for this variety)
- 1 cup bean sprouts
- 2 small red chilies, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced
- 1 lime quartered
- Hoisin sauce or hot sauce like Sriracha (for serving)
- In a medium soup pot combine all of the ingredients for the broth on medium high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 10 minutes or until the broth is fragrant and infused with the spices. Strain the broth into a medium soup pot. Reserve.
- Meanwhile, place the rice sticks in a bowl and cover with warm water for about 20 minutes or until very pliable.
- While the broth is simmering and the noodles are softening; heat the oil in a nonstick skillet on medium high heat. Add the sliced shallots and brown, turning with tongs to evenly brown for about 3 to 4 minutes or until nicely browned. Drain on paper towels and reserve.
- Have ready 4 large deep soup bowls. Reheat the beef broth on high heat to a boil.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil on high heat. Drain the noodles. Place 1/4 of the noodles in a strainer and immerse in the boiling water for about 10 seconds or until tender but still firm. Drain the noodles and place in a soup bowl. Repeat with the remaining noodles in the other bowls.
- Divide the beef slices among the bowls. Ladle over the boiling broth (the hot broth will cook the meat). Divide the herbs, bean sprouts, chilies and the shallots among the bowls. Serve immediately with lime wedges, hoisin sauce and large spoons.
– Diane Rossen Worthington is an authority on new American cooking. She is the author of 18 cookbooks, including “Seriously Simple Parties,” and a James Beard Award-winning radio show host. You can contact her at www.seriouslysimple.com.