Thursday, January 31, 2013

Pho Whom The Bell Tolls.

Thank you to my friend, Zzzadig,
who provided the title for this post.

The bell is tolling for thee, my friend.

 On the Hawthornes' last trip across country,
we ate at an inordinate number of Asian restaurants
because of Mr. Hawthorne's self-imposed dietary restrictions.
He was, and still is, on a high protein/low carbohydrate diet
and Chinese establishments provide many offerings
to satisfy his tastes and his dietary regimen.

I can tell you from personal experience
that there is an assload of bad Chinese restaurants
strewn across this great country of ours -
more so than I could shake a chopstick at.
So image my surprise to be in the bread basket of America, 
sitting down to one of the best meals I've had -
a Pho Bo.

Believe it or not, the best pho I've eaten was in Kansas,
The special that night was pho bo.
And it was ambrosial.

And pho is pronounced "fuh."
You can imagine my delight
when I went to Pho 79 restaurant
next to Sam's Club in Chesapeake
and found the staff wearing Pho-King Good T-shirts.
I restrained from purchasing one.

Ever since Larned, Kansas,
I've been trying to find that oh-so-delicate broth
and all those different flavors that
mix in there and co-mingle and synergize
and when you bruise the lime,
you experience the most exquisite
palate-pleasing-pleasure ever.

And I found it.
I have recreated this ethereal broth.
And I am satisfied.
To me, this was authentic pho.
And I made it myself!

Pho bo, in case you're not familiar with it,
is a Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup.
Pho ga would be with chicken.
Pho is Vietnam's national dish
and has a long history of forming and developing.

It is believed to have originated in Hanoi in northern Vietnam
when the French colonized the country in the late 1880s.
At this time,Vietnamese did not eat beef -
the cow was a cherished work animal for them, 
not a food source.
The French, however, tried to popularize beef
during their colonization of Vietnam,
introducing the idea of slaughtering cows for food
to the North Vietnamese.
The northern regions of Vietnam
were not as rich as the southern regions
and food scarcity was no stranger to
the North Vietnamese household.
The northern Vietnamese
got their food where they could find it
and they learned to take beef parts and bones
that their French conquerors didn't want
and use them for their own tables.

Generally, pho is defined as a traditional noodle soup
made with beef (pho bo) or chicken (pho ga),
flavored with various spices and herbs.

This is a very simplistic definition
since it doesn't begin to capture the rich and intense essence
of beef in the broth that can only be achieved
by low-simmering marrow-rich beef bones for at least 3 hours.

The general theory holds that the word "pho"
is a corruption of the French word "feu" or "fire."
Pho could be a Vietnamese adaptation of the French soup
"pot au feu,"  basically a beef stew
which the French brought with them when they moved into Vietnam.
The use of charred ingredients (ginger and onion)
for the broth is similar to the French method of
adding roasted onion to pot au feu,
and sets this soup apart from other Asian noodle soups.

In 1954, when Vietnam was split in two,
many northerners migrated southward to escape communism
and they brought their pho culture with them.
In South Vietnam, pho made a brash turn away
from its conservative northern traditions.
Unlike North Vietnam,
South Vietnam was rich and abundant in food.
And the South Vietnamese put their taste for the lavish
on the traditional pho,
experimenting and using other ingredients such as chicken.
In the south, pho was embellished with more of everything -
more meat, noodles, bean sprouts, chilies,
scallions, cilantro, basil, and hoisin sauce.
For northern pho purists, this liberal, free-wheeling adulteration
 of their well-balance bowl is not representative of authentic pho 
and they consider it an affront to them, their pride, and their reputation.

The fall of Saigon in 1975
saw masses of Vietnamese fleeing for their lives.
In that chaotic period of history,
the Vietnamese found themselves displaced 
from everything that was familiar to them.
As a result,
they sought comfort in familiarity -
  in their own food  -  in their pho.
Among the treasures these Vietnamese brought with them
were their cherished pho recipes.
Because of the Vietnamese diaspora,
refugees established Vietnamese restaurants 
in their far-slung  communities
 and thus pho was introduced to their non-Vietnamese neighbors.
Before 1975, pho was not well-known 
outside of Vietnam.
Now, it has become a global dish
thanks to more than 2 million Vietnamese living on 5 continents.
Pho, because of its adaptive nature, began to see an evolution.
The basic ingredients were retained,
but recipes evolved using what ingredients
were locally available.

My process for making pho involves:

Letting beef marrow bones sit in cold water for an hour.
Parboiling the bones, dumping the water, cleaning the pot,
brushing the bones under running water to clean,
and refilling the pot with cold water.
This step gives you a pure, clean-tasting broth.
Vigorous parboiling gets rid of impurities like fat and blood particles.
Charring the onions and ginger.
Assembling the pho spices.
Simmering and scum-skimming for 3 hours.
(After 3 hours, all the flavors in the bones have been extracted.)
Refrigerating the broth overnight
and removing the congealed fat.
Thinly slicing whatever meat you're using
in your pho across the grain.
Cooking the pho rice noodles.
Assembling the pho vegetable and herb accompaniments
 for a pick and choose.

I started out with bones  -  mostly beef,
but I also found some lamb bones at Food Lion
and I love the flavor of lamb, so that's going in too.

I had:
3 pounds lamb bones
6 pounds beef soup bones
3.88 pound beef marrow bones

The soup bones were in the frozen meat section
and labeled as "beef soup bones."
The beef marrow bones I got fresh from the butcher
and it was labeled that way.
The bones were the same.

I have read that optimally,
20% of the bones should have marrow
and leg and knuckle bones are the best to make the stock.
The marrow is pure flavor that makes
the pho taste meaty, full, and rich.
The marrow also is quite fatty.
That means a lot of skimming of scum.
After the simmering of bones,
and preparing the broth,
I cover with plastic wrap touching the surface
and refrigerate over night.
The next day,
you can gently pull the plastic off
and the layer of fat that has accumulated on top 
will easily come off with the plastic.

I dumped the bones in a 16-quart pot,
covered them with cold water,
and let them sit for an hour.

While the bones were bathing,
I prepared 2 onions and about 4 inches of fresh ginger root
for charring.

Leaving the skins on,
I halved the onions, and sliced the ginger.

Place on an oiled baking sheet
and drizzle oil over top.

 Place under the broiler
and char both sides of the onions and ginger.
Charring gives a a lovely mellow and naturally sweet flavor.

My pho spices:
1 tsp whole cumin
1 tsp fennel seeds
8 whole cloves
5 cardamom seeds
3-inch long cinnamon stick
5 star anise

Most recipes for pho that I looked at
called for 6 pounds of bones and 6 quarts of water.

I'm going with about 13 pounds and 13 quarts.

The spices here are for the 6 quarts.
I didn't double them because Mr. Hawthorne
is scared of strong flavors.
He already has an aversion to star anise.

Pretty spices.

Spices are ready.

Charred onions and ginger ready.

After the bones sat in a cold-water bath for an hour,
I refreshed the water,
added in the bones,
 and brought it to a boil.
Boil for 5 minutes to remove impurities.
Skim off scum.

Dump the water out,
wash out the pot,
refill with cold water.

 I scrubbed the bones to get this sort of stuff off
and added them back to the pot.
13 pounds of bones
13 quarts of water

Bring to a boil, skimming any foam that comes to the surface.
This took about 45 minutes.

Reduce to simmer
and add charred onions and ...
...  ginger and ...

...  all the spices.

Since I ended up with 13 quarts
I decided to double the onion and ginger.
Rosie improvises since she was out of ginger
that I ALWAYS have on hand.

I did happen to have crystallized ginger
so I decided to substitute that.
I oiled my ingredients and put under the broiler to char.

Rosie didn't have to do this,
but I like honesty.
Since the crystallized ginger is full of sugar,
I "burned the crap outta it,"
as Anne Burrell would say.

Not to worry.
I threw out the burned ginger and
sauteed some more of the crystallized ginger.

Add the sauteed ginger to the pot.

Add in the charred onions.

You want a very bare simmer.

Continue a bare simmer, skimming off scum.

The flavor is extracted from the bones in 3 hours.

 I gave it a little sugar-lovin'.
About 1/8 cup.

Took a quick taste and this is MELLOW.

 Every now and then throughout 
the three-hour period of slow simmer,
I skimmed off scum and fat pooling on the surface.

 That's a lot of fat.

 Live and learn.
Use maybe 20% marrow
 and the rest, leg and knuckle bones.
Although when I tasted this,
it left a lusciously beefy taste lingering on my lips.
And my lips are very soft now.
 I let my aromatic broth cool for a bit,
then poured it through my chinois.

 Check out this golden goodness.

 After I poured all through the chinois,
 I re-poured back through the chinois
lined with a double layer of cheesecloth.

 Notice it takes at least three hands to pour
and hold the cheesecloth so it doesn't fall.

 Every quart or so,
I'd dump the sludge in the cheesecloth
and wash the cloth.

 And lookie-lookie!
Isn't this pretty?

Throughout the hours this was simmering,
my house smelled incredible.

I took to going outside for a few minutes,
then coming back inside
so I could appreciate the intensity of the heady,
unmistakeable pungent aroma of pho.

I have no idea why there's this gap here.
It's not in the draft and I can't edit it out.

I covered the broth with plastic wrap
and set it outside in the low thirties weather.
Let the fat congeal,
then peal back the wrap and pull the fat off and discard.
I ended up with 6 quarts of pho broth,
which I labeled and froze.

That's Good Neighbor Zippy in the background.

A few days later,
I'm ready to try my hand at pho.

Pour boiling water to cover and let sit for 20 minutes.

Thaw out a quart of pho broth.

My accoutrements:
bean sprouts
sliced jalapenos and serranos
lime wedges

I sliced off thin pieces from a flat iron steak.
Put it in the freezer for about an hour before slicing.
You can slice thinly and easily when the meat is slightly frozen.

My ingredients are ready for the pho.

Bring pho broth to a boil.
Drop in beef strips.
Turn off heat.
Put noodles in the bowls.
Ladle soup into bowls.
Accompany with accoutrements.

Bean sprouts, sliced mushrooms, sliced scallions, 
basil, mint, cilantro,
and lime wedges.

I am so excited.
I made pho and it tastes like the real deal!
Yay, Rosie!

As someone more crass than I would say,
this was pho-king good.


SweetPhyl said...

With all the love you gave that broth, I'm surprised Mr. Hawthorne hasn't cited adultery. Of course, it was worth it for phoking good of the best dishes on the planet!

Rosie Hawthorne said...

SweetPhyl, I'm waiting for that man to try and stretch a quart out by adding a bouillon cube and water. That's when I will have to hurt him.

Marilyn said...

Now I need to try some pho. Hmm, I'm sure we have a Vietnamese restaurant here in town, somewhere...

Rocquie said...

Dang, Rosie. I love to cook but I think I would rather drive to Kansas for Pho Bo than go through all that bone business. That is a lovely soup, however. Thanks for a great post; I enjoyed it.

Anonymous said...

Why didn't you buy the t-shirt? You would have been the only one on your block that knew how pho was pronounced.

Rosie Hawthorne said...

Sage, it's only three hours simmer for the bones. All the flavor is extracted by three hours. And it's worth it!

Try the real deal first, Mar, then make it at home.

Anony, I didn't need another pho-king T-shirt.