If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you should be familiar with the ultimate in comfort food around my house — a steaming hot bowl of Vietnamese Pho! Colin once requested it as the only meal for his birthday; Anthony Bourdain has a passionate soliloquy to the dish; It is truly one of the most deliciously comforting meals I can think of, especially when I’m hungover or sick.
Recently, I read this post on The Food Lab about how the writer, Kenji, had figured out a way to shortcut the labor intensive process of getting all those flavors steeped into the broth over hours and hours of simmering. His breakdown of the discovery process was fascinating and educational, and a prime example of why The Food Lab is one of my favorite blogs, combining food and science!
Today, I decided, was going to be the day that I tried this experiment for myself! I loaded up on supplies and headed home excited to see if this really worked or not.
The key tricks that Kenji employed were this:
- Grind up beef and chicken to expose more bone marrow more quickly to the broth
- Use unflavored gelatin, another shortcut to getting that animal bone goodness for a thicker broth
- Employ the consomme method of using egg whites to clump together the protein bits for a clear broth
I followed his recipe almost to a T. Here are the adjustments I made:
- Used 1.5 lbs chuck, 2 lbs flank steak
- Used 3 egg whites mostly b/c I used a bit more beef
- Store didn’t have just chicken wing tips, so I bought a whole chicken and hacked off the wings and back (Remember to use a heavy cleaver and a wooden cutting board for this!)
- I DOUBLED the amount of broth used (Ended up with about 6 “small” pho bowls. Would do even more broth next time)
- I didn’t have cheesecloth so I just threw the spices in there and that was fine b/c I just scooped them out at the end
Overall, it was a really excellent recipe. I was really amazed at how fragrant, deeply colored, and flavorful the broth was.
Making pho the regular, labor-of-love-intensive way will have an even deeper flavor and richer mouth-feel to the broth, but for 1.5 hours, this is a truly excellent way to get your fix!
- 3 whole star anise pods
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 4 cloves
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 1 pound beef chuck, cut into rough 1-inch chunks, very cold
- 1½ pounds chicken backs or wing tips, roughly chopped with a cleaver or cut with kitchen shears into 1-inch pieces, very cold
- 3 egg whites
- 12 cups low-sodium homemade or store-bought chicken broth
- 1 ounce (four packets) powdered gelatin
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 (4-inch) hand ginger, split in half lengthwise
- 2 medium onions, split in half
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- ¼ cup fish sauce, plus more to taste
- ¾ pound flank steak, divided into two pieces
- To Serve:
- 4 servings pho noodles, prepared according to package directions
- 2 cups mixed herbs (cilantro, basil, and mint)
- 2 cups trimmed bean sprouts
- ½ cup sliced scallions
- Thinly sliced onions
- Thinly sliced Thai chilis
- 2 limes, each cut into 4 wedges
- Hoisin sauce and Sriracha
- Place star anise, cinnamon, fennel, cloves, and coriander seeds in the center of a 6- by 6-inch double-layered square of cheesecloth. Tie into a pouch with butcher’s twine. Set aside. (Or just set aside in a bowl if you have no cheesecloth)
- Combine beef chuck, chicken, and egg white in a large bowl and toss to combine. Transfer ¼ of mixture to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until a very rough puree is formed, about 15 one-second pulses. Transfer to another bowl. Repeat with remaining beef/chicken mixture until it is all processed. Set aside.
- Place 2 cups chicken broth in a small bowl and sprinkle with gelatin. Set aside.
- Heat oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over high heat until smoking. Add onions and ginger, cut side down. Cook without moving, reducing heat if smoking excessively, until onion and ginger are well charred, about 5 minutes. Flip over and cook until second side is charred in spots, about 5 minutes longer.
- Add remaining 6 cups chicken broth and scrape up any browned bits from bottom of pan. Add bundled aromatics, fish sauce, sugar, 1 pieces of flank steak, and chicken broth/gelatin mixture. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
- Pour ground beef/chicken mixture into broth and whisk vigorously to break up. Allow broth to simmer, uncovered, until intensely flavored and aromatic, 30 to 45 minutes. Beef and chicken mixture should rise to surface and form a distinct layer. Do not break this layer up.
- While the broth is cooking, cook the pho noodles and set aside. Slice the onions, chop the cilantro & scallions and set aside.
- Using a slotted spoon or wire mesh spider, carefully remove ground beef mixture from surface of broth (it should form a relatively solid mass), along with onions, ginger, and spice packet and discard (or save any pieces of beef you’d like for the finished soup). Remove cooked flank steak, rinse thoroughly under cold running water, and transfer to a cutting board. Season broth to taste with more fish sauce, salt, and sugar. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a clean pot.
- Thinly slice cooked flank steak and raw flank steak against the grain with a sharp knife.
- To serve, place re-hydrated pho noodles in individual noodle bowls. Top with cooked flank steak (and any reserved chuck), and slices of raw flank steak. Pour boiling broth over beef and noodles to cook the raw beef. Serve immediately, allowing guests to add herbs, aromatics, lime, and sauce as they wish.