The Big Gay Al's Food Adventures
Phở – so many puns so little time. For example;
#You and me Phở-ever
#I’m just a Phở boy from a poor family
Most of these puns, whilst amusing, are based on a mispronunciation of the word Pho anyway. I’m assured that it is pronounced more like ‘pha’ – but I could well be wrong. I suspect it’s pronounced differently from region to region in Vietnam anyway.
Wikipedia has a great article here that explains Pho in some detail. It’s history and origins, regional variations and international attempts to claim they inspired the dish (for example the French claim it originated from their own pot-au-feu).
Certainly it seems likely that Pho is a 20th century invention – although surely rice noodles and broth had been around for millennia (or certainly centuries) in various guises and far eastern countries. Japan’s ramen for example are surely just a variation on a theme? Even the Korean hot pot is not too dissimilar. However, that it is a relatively new dish means that I feel less guilty to play around with the conventional recipes!
Traditionally a Pho is a beef broth with flat rice noodles and your choice of meat, vegetables and condiments. It is an original street food that was served by wandering vendors. Here I have used some of the traditional methods while adapting it to what I had available and my taste. I like to think that this is in the spirit of the dish. So here is my recipe, of sorts, but please adapt and change it to your personal preferences – and let me know how you get on!!
You will need some stock as a base. I’ve used a quality chicken stock here but homemade is obviously better if you can. Do NOT use stock cubes please! The flavour is just never the same. The Knorr Stock Pots concentrated stock are a suitable substitute and give a much better flavour. Traditionally this would be made with a beef stock from roasted beef bones and veal bones. If you want to make a vegetarian / vegan version then of course use a vegetable stock instead.
You will also need a piece of fresh ginger, a couple of shallots, a cinnamon stick, two black cardamom pods, and a star anise. First char the ginger and the shallot over a naked flame. Really burn the skin until it is blackened.
I’m not entirely sure why it’s important to do this but it’s traditional so I assume there is a good reason. Maybe it is my imagination but the ginger did seem sweeter, a little mellowed and a complex smokey aroma so perhaps it’s all about the flavours. Remove most of the blackened skin (scrape rather than peel – otherwise you are throwing away the best flavours), bash and then add to your stock. Add the whole spices and then simmer for at least 3 hours. The stock should be strongly flavoured but if it has evaporated and become too strong then just add a little more water to adjust. When the stock is rich and flavourful and to your taste then remove the whole spices and the ginger and shallot.
You should use flat rice noodles, the ones that look like a pale tagliatelle pasta. I didn’t have any in the cupboard so I used some udon noodles I had instead. Rice noodles are better in this dish, don’t be tempted to substitute pasta or soba noodles as it really isn’t the same at all. Cook the noodles until just done, then drain and cool quickly.
Again, this is where you get as creative as you want. The key thing is that the vegetables must be cut thin enough that the hot stock will cook them in seconds. I’ve cheated here and used a supermarket packed stir fry vegetable mixture of shaved carrots, bean sprouts, sliced onion and finely sliced cabbage. You could also add courgettes, peppers, mushrooms etc to taste. Just make sure everything is thinly sliced.
I didn’t add any meat here, but you could add shredded cooked chicken or pork, cooked prawns, fried tofu or thin slices of raw beef (slice it very thin so the hot stock will just cook it to rare)
This is what enables everyone to adapt and personalise their own meal. Have small bowls of chopped chilli to spice it up, lime wedges for squeezing, chopped herbs to add freshness (coriander, mint, basil and parsley all work well), some fish sauce to finish the seasoning.
To serve, place a portion of the noodles in the bottom of your bowl, add a good handful of vegetables and top with the meat if using any. Then pour the hot (just off the boil) broth over. Serve and allow your guests to add their choice of condiments (I love a bit of chilli for heat and some lime to add something sour).
So have a go! It’s a really easy dish to prepare, and it’s low fat and full of healthy vegetables and spices. Mix it up and adjust to how you like it, and then come back and let me know in the comments below what you thought of it!