Until recently Pho wasn’t something I’d ever made, and it has never really been in my regular dining rotation. No reason why, I enjoy it, I guess there just aren’t many places offering pho near me. If I lived near Buford highway this blog may be a lot different. It’s funny how proximity drives my eating habits, even when I know I could drive 20 minutes for some really good grub.
I decided to look up some pho (pronounced fa) recipes and found a recipe using a quick water-based broth, though pho is generally comprised of a beef broth. Though a distinctively Vietnamese dish, there is strong French influence, particularly in the broth, in which charred onion is often used in the base as is done with pot-au-feu. As I didn’t have the time or resources on-hand to create a homemade beef broth, and I was cooking for a vegetarian as well, I decided to give the water base a try.
I started by boiling water with cassia bark, ginger slices, and star anise.
While that simmered down I prepared the meat and vegetables, starting with green onion. I sliced the green ends in a vertical fashion, then cut the white part of the onion at a sharp angle to create the so called “horse ear” shape. I think the bottom parts of a green onion deserves more respect than it gets. I love sautéing them in butter and cooking with scrambled eggs, or using them at the end of a stir fry.
Next I cooked my rice noodles. I just had these Thai noodles on hand, which are a little larger than most pho noodles I’ve had. These noodles actually need to be boiled for a few minutes like traditional pasta, whereas some thin rice noodles are simply cooked in the serving bowl by pouring the boiling broth over them before serving. Traditionally, the same cooking method is applied to the super thin slices of raw steak – the beef is instantly cooked to rare by the boiling liquid.
I had some Serrano pepper which I used in place of the traditional jalapeno, some lime, bean sprouts, cilantro, and some chopped rotisserie chicken for this pho. Again, the chicken isn’t traditional, but bear with me.
I added some salt to the broth (aka water) then loaded up my bowl with all the veggies and a healthy dose of sriracha. You may notice I added some snap peas to the broth when I was almost ready to plate.
The “pho” tasted pretty decent, the whole thing was really fresh, and it was obviously very vibrant, but the flavor of the broth was more than lacking. Also, the sriracha eventually turned the whole broth into a funky soft red color that wasn’t visually appealing. The whole dish was nourishing, and not a complete waste of time, but when I attempt pho again, I’m going to take the time to make it properly.
Armed with some new pho knowledge and a baseline for comparison, I headed up to What the Pho in Duluth. Gotta love a good pun.
There are dozens of meat combinations you can choose for your pho, but I kept it fairly straight forward with a medium sized bowl with sliced beef and brisket. I couldn’t imagine the large size, because only a few minutes later, a huge bowl came filled to the brim with super hot beef broth, a lot of meat, sliced onions, and some cilantro.
On another plate was the usual accompaniments – plenty of lime, jalapenos, bean sprouts, and Thai basil. There was not shortage of sprouts or basil, and they were all fresh.
This soup was extremely satisfying, and the portion was very filling. The beef broth was thin, with a fair amount of spice, probably from some combination of star anise, clove, and ginger. It was well seasoned, but not overly salty. The sliced beef was soft, lean, and appropriately thin, but the brisket was my favorite. It was also shaved thin and cut into chopstick manageable pieces, and it had that obvious brisket texture which soaked up a small amount of broth for added flavor in each bite. It was also quite lean and tender, so there were no messy chopstick/fatty brisket disasters. While I’m not well versed in pho around town, I would highly recommend for both quality and value.