My love affair with Pho (pronounced “FUH” not “FOH”) began in my fourth or fifth year in college (yes I was one of those 5 year people). At first I thought it would be a fleeting thing, but as time passed and I moved to the mecca of Pho in Northern CA it grew all the more passionate. As much as I felt I was betraying my beloved Ramen, I couldn’t help myself.
The clear mahogany soup was light, while rich and round in all the right places with a voluptuous earthy aroma of beef, roasted onions, and ginger; and gorgeous anise highlights. The various cuts of meat, basil, lime and bean sprouts add subtle texture, character and personality. Ramen on the other hand tends to be all about an intense barrage of T&A (that’s Taste and Aroma).
A move to the east coast turned the tables and gave Ramen the last laugh with an alluring selection of my long cherished Japanese noodles contrasting a poor selection of lifeless, insipid Pho. Restless with my mono-national choice of noodle soup I decided to take matters into my own hands and set out to make the perfect bowl of Pho.
Based on the Vietnamese I’ve learned in restaurants I think this would be called Pho Tai (rare eye of round) Ve Don (skirt flank skin-on), but if I have this wrong feel free to correct me. I also added the bits of gelatinous cartilage, marrow and tendon from the bones to the finished soup for some added richness. If skin-on fatty meat or creamy bits of collagen is not your cup of tea you could always just serve this with a brisket or regular flank steak (the bones however are necessary for the soup).
To cut back on the amount of skimming of fat, foam, and funk, I par boiled all the meat and bones for about 10 minutes to remove most of the crud before proceeding. This yielded a beautiful clear, rich brown soup, and I only had to skim it once to remove the excess fat. You could make this healthier by removing all the fat, but leaving a little fat adds some richness and flavor to the soup, so don’t worry about getting it all out.
A plate of basil, mung bean sprouts and lime is usually served alongside the bowl of hot noodle soup for each person to mix in as desired. I like to eat this with a small plate of hoisin and hot sauce for dipping the bits of meat, but some people prefer adding the condiments straight into the soup. Other condiments include chili peppers or onions pickled in vinegar.
6″ long ginger halved lengthwise
2 medium onions halved
2.5 lbs. beef shins (knuckle bones)
2.5 lbs. ox tail
2 lbs skirt flank steak (with skin still attached if you can find it)
5 star anise pods
2 cinnamon sticks (or a single 3″ piece if you’re using Vietnamese cinnamon)
1/4 C fish sauce
2 Tbs brown sugar (I used yellow rock sugar)
salt to taste
add to soup
2 scallions thinly sliced
1/4 sweet onion thinly sliced
handful of cilantro chopped
salt to taste
7 oz. Pho noodles rehydrated in warm water (for 2-3 people)
1 semi frozen eye of round steak (I couldn’t find one so used a fillet mignon)
mung bean sprouts
Sriracha or other hot sauce
Move your oven rack to the highest position and turn on the broiler. Place the onions and ginger an the rack and allow them to char on one side the flip and char on the other side. If you don’t have a broiler, you can do this over a gas stove.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil then par boil the beef shins for about 10-12 minutes. Remove with tongs into a bowl of cold water and gently scrub off any brown scum that’s accumulated on the outside. Repeat with the ox tail and skirt flank steak. Dump the now murky water, wash the pot out and add the onions, ginger, bones, meat, spices, fish sauce and sugar. Add just enough water to cover everything.
Bring this to a boil and season lightly with salt (it will reduce a little while cooking so go light on the salt). Skim off any scum that floats to the surface then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for at least 5 hours.
After the soup has been simmering for about 3 hours, use a spoon (or better yet a fat skimmer) to remove most (but not all) of the fat. If you’re using a skinless skirt steak, flank steak, or brisket, remove the meat from the soup when its fork tender, cool and refrigerate.
When the soup is done, use tongs to transfer the meat, bones, onions, etc to a bowl. If you haven’t already done so, refrigerate the skirt flank as it’s much easier to slice thinly when cold. Then use a fine mesh sieve to strain the soup into another pot. I like adding the bits of meat from the oxtail and the tendon and gelatinous cartilage from the shin bones into the finished Pho, so I separate this stuff before tossing the bones out.
Taste the soup and add salt if needed. Bring to a boil and add the scallions, onions and cilantro just before serving.
Bring a pot of water to a boil then boil the rehydrated rice noodles for a minute or two until they are tender (but not soft).
Remove the skirt flank from the fridge and use a sharp knife to slice as thinly as possible across the grain. Take your semi frozen eye of round steak and slice across the grain as thinly as possible (should be about 1mm thick).
To serve, put down a layer of hot noodles, top with the raw eye of round steak, sliced skirt steak, and any meat/tendon you saved from the bones. To eat, let the hot soup cook the eye of round adding basil,bean sprouts and lime juice to taste. I like using a small plate of hoisin and sriracha to dip my meat in, but some people prefer adding these condiments directly to the soup.