19 December 2010

Best PHO in town

Last weekend was very busy for us. On Saturday my hubby and I woke up early to go to the Toko (Chinese supermarket) and the Haagse Markt (open air market). We had to get some stuff for my famous pho (beef noodle soup). One of our good friends would come over for dinner on Sunday and I always like to cook to impress. Pho always wow people, especially since Vietnamese cuisine is not really well known in Holland. There is just a small Vietnamese population, noting compared to the population in other countries or the States, where almost more Vietnamese people live then in Vietnam
However the Chinese population is very big here, so we get to profit from that. Not everything is available so we learned to substitute one ingredient for another. So thank god for the Tokos for selling similar stuff we use in the Vietnamese kitchen.

To be honest I have never been a big fan of pho. My favorite is bunh rieu or bunh bo hue (recipe will follow) but since my hubby loves pho I get to make it more often. Got to keep the hubby happy right? My baby sister is a big fan of pho also. Both of them can eat it all day every day.

Pho always taste better when you cook it one day ahead. So Saturday was pho cooking day. The most important part of pho is the broth. This is how I made it.

I started with searing one onion which I chopped in quarters and some pieces of ginger in a hot pan without any oil. Searing will give the broth more flavor.
Then I removed the onion (I want them seared not black) and put some star aniseed and one cinnamon stick in the pan. I crushed the cinnamon so it will be easier to put them in a bag later. By heating the spices they will release more flavor. When you start smelling the spices it is time to put them in a bag. I always use two coffee filters to put my spices in, but a little cotton bag would work too. A tea egg would also work, but it might be a little bit too small to hold all the spices. At this time I decided to put the spices in two different coffee filters so the bag hopefully don't rip. I tied the bags with a string at set it aside. If you put your spices straight in the water, it will be difficult to get them all out in one time and the long cooking time will make the broth very dark.
The ginger and the onion will go in the pot separately so they will not crowed the coffee filter.  I got some beef bones and marrowbones which I rinsed in water first. Then I boiled some water and put them in. After the water cooks for about 2 minutes I drained the bones and rinsed them with water again. This will give me a clear broth. 

I use beef bones because this is a beef noodle soup. This same dish can be made with chicken also. It’s the same recipe but all the beef is substituted by chicken. 
Then I rinsed some stew beef, since it was the cheapest meat I could find. But oxtail would also be good also. Anything that can be simmered for a long time is good.I filled a big pot with water, added some salt, the ginger, onion and some fresh bay leaves and wait for it to boil.After the water boils I added all the meat. When the foam forms on top of the broth remove it with a big scooper. Every couple of minutes I would check the pot and remove any foam I see. The more foam you remove the more clear the broth will be, so make sure you do it every couple of minutes.Only after most of the foam is gone I'll put in the bags of spices. The spices will release a flavor that's very typical for this dish.

This is how my broth looks like after a few hours cooking. I added more water and seasoned it with salt when needed. Now get it off the fire and let it rest till the next day, either on your kitchen counter or in the fridge. Then whatever fat is on top can be scooped out before putting it on the fire again.

The next day while the broth is back on the fire I started preparing the rest of this dish.
I bought a really nice piece of steak (biefstuk or kogelbiefstuk). For the raw meat I need the softest meat I could find. I sliced it as thin as I could and put it in a box to store it in the fridge.
The way to keep the meat soft and tender is to slice it against the grain. Look for the part that looks like the one I’m holding and start slicing from that part on.
Pho will not be complete without beef balls (bo vien gan). I always buy them precooked and frozen at the Toko and this is the one I like. I try to keep at least one package in my freezer so I have it at hand when needed. Saves me a trip to the Toko.After defrosting you can slice it anyway you like. I like to slice in three parts so it looks like there is a lot.I soaked 2 packages of dried pho noodles, again to be found in the Toko. They have small, medium, larger or extra large noodles and I prefer the small or medium one. The large or extra large have just a bit too much noodle for me.I washed and thinly sliced some spring onions. I did the same for the cilantro or coriander and put them in a box for storage. I also added some thinly slice raw onion.About 15 minutes before dinner I added the beef balls. Since they are already cooked they don’t need to cook long and I like them to be a little bit chewy.
I already cut the stew meat in little pieces and put them back in the broth. Now it's time to plate up.First boil water some water in a separate pot. In the boiling water I first put a strainer with some bean sprouts to soften them a bit. After that I put in some noodle. Since I soaked them in water first, they only need about halve a minute. A quick plunge in cooking water is already enough. If you put them in the boiling water too long the noodle will break up in little pieces.
Then the spring onion, coriander and onion mixture goes in. Some people like to put this on top of the raw meat, but I like the spring onion to cook a little so I put them under the meat.I rearranged the raw meat so that they covered everything. This is for people who love meat! The hot broth will cook the meat in the bowl, but for people who can not eat raw meat I would dip it in the broth first before putting it in the bowl.And this is how I serve it.
I like to eat it with lots of herbs (sweet Thai basil, coriander and mint) some hoi sin sauce, chili pepper sauce and of course a little bit of lemon juice.
My hubby needs his dipping bowl with part hoi sin sauce part chili sauce for his meat balls.

We end up eating this for the next 2 days. My family was so lucky…got to eat their favorite food for 2 days in a row. And I was so lucky…no cooking for 2 days.


  1. So you don't add any fish sauce to your pho? Interesting! I can't wait to try this recipe, any pointers?

  2. No fish sauce. That would give your broth a different flavour. Just use all the spices I did and try to cook it one day ahead and you should be ok. Let me know how it turned out!

  3. This is great, Lilly! Thanks so much for the link!! I LOOOOOOOVE pho!

  4. Hi Lilly,
    Your husband is a lucky man!!!

  5. Amazing! Lilly. Thanks for sharing!


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