To us Asians, there is no greater comfort food than a steaming bowl of noodle soup. Noodle shops abound providing instant satisfaction to those craving their regular fix. It is habit forming, which is good because, not only is it delicious, it is very nutritious, too.
The Vietnamese pho bo (beef noodle soup) is one of my absolute favourites. The broth is aromatic and rich from beef bones and spices. The variety of herbs to accompany it, I think, is its crowning glory. The sudden freshness of coriander, mint and basil contrasts yet punctuates the already delicious dish. The comfort comes from soft rice noodles and tender beef. Hands down, my favourite part is the soup. I can't find the right words to describe how delicious it is.
I have been meaning to cook pho bo for some time now but it is only today that I found the ingredient that makes it what it is. Beef bones! It is a rarity here in these parts because it is has been banned from the shops since the outbreak of mad cow disease.
The pho broth is usually simmered for almost a day. I took the easier and quicker route by using a pressure cooker. This is my take on pho, cooked to my own taste and liking. Feel free to adjust it to your own taste. I also used the ingredients that are available to me such as Mediterranean basil and mint. Still, in all, it was a fantastic pho bo, pure and simple and completely home made.
Yield 4-6 servings
Ingredients for the broth:
1 kilo of beef shank with bones
3 1/2 liters of water
1-3" piece of unpeeled ginger
1 onion, sliced
1 cinnamon stick
3 segments of star anise
1 tsp. black peppercorns
2 tbsps. fish sauce
1 tbsp. sugar
Cut the meat into 4" square pieces. You could use also just use beef shank meat if you can't find bones. Put them in the pressure cooker with 3 1/2 liters of cold water. Bring to the boil. Skim off the scum as it rises to the surface.
While waiting for your stock to boil, grill the ginger and shallots by putting on a trivet that's directly on the burner. This will only take a few minutes. The skin will char, the inside will slightly soften. Take off any loose skin from the shallots. Cut each in half to expose the flesh. Cut the ginger into thick slices.
When the stock has boiled and been skimmed of scum, add the grilled ginger and shallots and the rest of the ingredients. Put the lid on the pressure cooker and lower the heat when it whistles. Cook for 20 minutes. You can cook this in a regular pot until tender (2-3 hours).
Take out the meat but keep your bones (if using) on the boil until you are ready to use the stock.
Ingredients for the noodle soup:
800 gms. fresh ho fan noodles or 400 gms. thick dried rice noodles
150 gms. sirloin steak or rump steak, sliced very thinly
1/4 c. roughly chopped coriander leaves
1/4 c. torn basil leaves
1/4 c. roughly chopped mint leaves
1/4 c. chopped spring onions
1 c. bean sprouts, blanched
1 red chilli, sliced
1 lime, cut into wedges
extra fish sauce
Blanch the fresh ho fan just to soften. All it needs is to be dropped in boiling water, stirred then quickly drained.
If using dried noodles, cook until just al dente. Portion into bowls.
Top with the sliced boiled beef and blanched bean sprouts. Divide the steak slices between the bowls. Ladle boiling stock over it. Serve the herbs, lime wedges, chillies and fish sauce on the side so each one can put the desired amount on their portion.
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