Slurppppp. SLUUUUUURRRRRRPPPPP! There is nothing as comforting as a hot steamy bowl of soup. Something you throw your face over and gingerly bring the first hot spoon to your mouth...blowing gently to cool so you don't scald your mouth. Usually the first one still does no matter what. But that comforting bowl of soup becomes something magical when you take the time to recognize the years of wisdom and tradition that have gone into the soup by those before you. Even when if that wisdom and the tradition are not your own, they become yours.
During the past snowpocalypse, I took on the task of making Pho, a beef broth based Vietnamese soup. Pho has the power to take you away with it's beefy steam, silky noodles and rich, exotic flavors.
More than vegetable or chicken based broths & soups, beef based soups need time. At least six hours to extract all the flavors necessary to create a perfect bowl.
For more reading on Pho, check out this delightful story & another recipe at the SanFran Gate.
Before you start, make sure you have time to let a pot simmer for several hours. If you have a pressure cooker might be able to speed the time up, but really, why do that? Take the time! The first part of the recipe is to caramelize onions. Cook until they start to get dark brown on the edges. Scoop out and reserve them in a bowl.
In the same pot add beef bones. This is a good time about this soup. You're going to be using parts that you normally would just scoot on by. Bones and ox-tails and other scraps. This recipe also pulls in some chicken bones as well. I had less luck finding chicken bones, so I used a few things and wings. Cover with lots of water and bring to a simmer. What you see happen will be kind of disgusting. There will start to be a variety of foams and crud floating to the surface. You will need to scoop that out and discard. Get as much as you can. The more you can remove, the clearer the broth will be at the end.
Once you simmer and remove the scum for about 30 minutes, add the onions back to the pot as well as the rest of the aromatics. Ginger, carrots, star anise, cinnamon, cardomom and garlic. Bring to a simmer, cover most of the way and simmer for 6 hours.
When the broth is done, scoop out all the bits and pieces and discard them. Don't worry about trying to save any of the meat on the bone. Yes it will be tender, but there won't be any flavor left, it's all in the broth. Strain the broth two or three times through cheesecloth to get out any bits and crumbs leftover.
Part of the fun of Pho are the condiments. Basil, onion, peppers, limes, bean sprouts, hot sauce, hoisin sauce, cilantro. Traditionally the Pho is served with pieces of beef. The times we've had it in restaurants, we found we enjoy it more without beef, so once we have the broth, we move on to the noodles and condiments!
Noodles and fresh cracked pepper swirling in a shimmering broth.
Dressed up. Pho can be highly individualized. For me, my favorite condiments are lime juice, hot sauce and cilantro. Without those, it won't be the same. But with the addition of the onions and sprouts and basil, the flavor changes. It's undescribeable. It's unami. You start to taste things you didn't before. It's tradition.
Adapted from Serious Eats
For the Broth
1 tablespoon peanut oil
2 large onions, cut into 1/4-inch slices
2 1/2 pounds meaty beef soup bones
2 1/2 pounds cooked chicken carcass or chicken wings, backbone, and/or feet
5 quarts water
2 carrots, peeled and julienned
4 slices fresh ginger, peeled and julienned
1 small cinnamon stick
5 pods cardamom, lightly crushed (or 1/8 tsp ground cardamom)
2 star anise
2 whole cloves
2 whole garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
Accent/MSG & Fish Sauce, to taste (start small, stir in additions, taste and adjust)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
onion, sliced as thin as paper
scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
fresh bean sprouts
fresh chopped cilantro
fresh basil, whole leaves
jalapeno chiles, sliced in rings or julienned
limes, quartered for squeezing the juice
Srirachi hot sauce
Cooked rice sticks (thin rice noodles)
1. To make the broth: The day before you plan to serve the soup, in a large stockpot, heat the peanut oil over high heat, then add the sliced onions and cook until browned on the edges, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the onions and set aside.
2. Place the beef and chicken pieces in the stockpot and cover with the water. Bring to a near boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, skimming the surface foam, for 15 minutes. Add the reserved cooked onion slices and the carrots, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, star anise, cloves, garlic, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to low and simmer, partially covered, for 6 hours, skimming the surface of foam when needed. Strain the stock through a strainer into a large bowl. Strain again through a cheesecloth-lined strainer back into the cleaned stockpot or bowl (I did this step twice). Refrigerate overnight or until the layer of fat forms on top, then remove and discard the fat. You will use 12 cups of broth. (The broth can be frozen at this point if you wish.)
3. When you are ready to serve, attractively arrange a platter with the sliced onions, scallions, bean sprouts, basil, cilantro, chiles, and limes. Place sriracha and hoisin sauces in small bowls for serving.
4. Meanwhile, bring the beef broth to a boil over high heat. Serve with prepared rice noodles and garnish as you wish. *A little bit of everything is very tasty and a great unami experience. My favorite though is a little onion, basil, cilantro, lime juice and sriracha.