How many times have you seen Tony Bourdain on “No Reservations” eat noodle soup for breakfast – and completely rave about it? I would say about a million for me. (Love that guy!)
A year ago I was on the road and saw a restaurant named, “Pho ’79.” Pho! That is THE soup Tony eats! So I moved my bravery switch up a notch and stopped in. And thank goodness I did.
Pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup that arrives at your table with a plate of fresh Thai basil, bean sprouts, lime and jalapenos. People often add Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce (aka Rooster Sauce) and Hoisin sauce as well. In my favorite restaurant, you can get different types of thinly sliced meat in the soup, that cooks as it sits in the hot broth. And for the brave at heart, there is also bible tripe (stomach) and soft tendon. I tried the tripe from my brother’s bowl – and it honestly wasn’t bad. Personally, I enjoy the soft tendon – which for me (food weenie) is huge.
Strolling through an Oriental market I discovered pure gold in a bag – a mix of Pho spices! Nearby was a bag of Pho rice noodles. My mind began to turn. “You know, I could MAKE this stuff at home!”
After searching the internet, I found that making Pho is an art. Many people cook all day, adding everything from shrimp to beef and more. But there were indeed home recipes, so I gave it a shot. And what a shot it was – bull’s-eye!
My recipe is against everything true Pho makers believe in, I’m sure. But for people like me, it honestly does come close. The secret? That $1.50 pack of pre-mixed Pho spices. Also, purchase the fresh frozen noodles. And finally, what we lovingly call Rooster Sauce.
Homemade Pho – The Easy Way
I begin my pho noodle soup with either homemade chicken broth or a mix of store-bought chicken broth (or stock) and beef broth. I simply pour as much as I think everyone will eat into a pot, and then a bit more. Then I throw in some thinly sliced onions. Some enjoy chopped green onions in the broth too. The package of Pho spices contains much more than you need for one pot. I cut mine into thirds and place the spices in the brewing bag that comes with the pack. (Once I purchased a packet of spices that didn’t include the bag – so I made one with a twist tie and cloth!)
Now for the stewing meat. I find what we call “bone meat” in our local grocery store. It is simply beef connected to large bones that contain marrow. This is almost the cheapest meat you can get, and it makes the best soup on the block. If you can’t find the kind with the marrow, try to find any type of beef that includes a bone. Our Pho restaurant uses brisket and flank. Add this to the pot. Sometimes I will throw in a few chicken thighs for added flavoring. I think using the combination of both beef and chicken makes the richest broth – I highly recommend it.
Believe it or not, you are pretty much done. I let the soup cook all day (or at least a few hours) with the spices. However, my friend at the Pho restaurant said they only put the spices in at the last minute – a trade secret! My method works for home cooking because I don’t use the full bag of spices.
When you are ready to eat, take out the beef and the chicken thighs.
The Pho noodles only take a few minutes to cook. If you can find them, purchase the fresh noodles found in the freezer section. Read the directions AND DO NOT OVER COOK THEM. If you do, not that I’ve EVER over-cooked my Pho noodles, they will turn into a big gummy ball. The dried noodles work fine, but I was told “fresh” is the key – so try the frozen kind first.
Now for the meat. I don’t have a butcher nearby, so I have to settle for steak types of beef. I look for something that appears tender, freeze it a bit and then cut it as thinly as I can. Again, the meat cooks in the bowl, so let your family place their own slices of meat in their bowls. My daughter prefers chicken, so I give her the meat from the chicken thighs to put in her Pho.
Arrange Thai basil (you can find this in your Oriental mart – but if you don’t have any, use regular basil), sliced jalapenos, bean sprouts (again, the Oriental mart) and lime slices on a pretty plate. People can add these to the top of their soup by taste, as well as the Hoisin sauce and Rooster sauce.
We eat Pho with chopsticks, and then use a spoon to slurp up the broth.
I have to be honest – the picture below is NOT my Pho. It is from my favorite – Pho ’79 in Virginia Beach. In my eyes, this is a picture of sheer beauty. Enjoy!