Thursday, June 6, 2013

Rosie Make Pho Broth.

Recently, I cleaned out and inventoried my freezers
and was panicked to learn 
I only had one quart of pho broth left.
I also had 10 pounds of marrow bones
lurking in the freezer, begging me to
miraculously turn them into a pho broth.
It's a rainy day.
The conditions are ripe for making the perfect pho.

In case you don't know,
pho noodle soup is the quintessential Vietnamese food.
Pho bo is beef.  
Pho ga is chicken.
It takes a while to make,
but most of the time is passive
 and the end result is something wonderful and different.

Pho, rhymes with "duh,"
is becoming the most popular Asian noodle soup in the U.S.
Pho was developed in North Vietnam
a hundred years or so ago
and was originally just boiled beef parts, noodles, and broth.
The Geneva Accords of 1954 divided Vietnam in two
and many North Vietnamese migrated into 
the lusher South Vietnam to escape communism.
As a result, the basic pho changed.
More ingredients and embellishments were added -
bean sprouts, limes, cilantro, and basil, for example.

With the '70's Vietnamese diaspora 
and their influx to the United States,
immigrants brought their sacred pho with them.
In a display of America's wealth,
myriad options were offered
for diners to personalize their bowls.
We have options here.
That is an uncommon luxury in Vietnam.

Now, what is pho?
What's authentic?
What ingredients go into it?

I found this comment from Andrea Nguyen of Vietworldkitchen:

Andrea Nguyen said...

Leela -- you ask what I think constitutes pho? Okay, here are the essential/signature elements:
- Clear broth made from simmering X bones or dried mushrooms
- Aromatics in the form of toasted spices of some blend
- Roasted onion and ginger
- Fish sauce (soy sauce can be used for vegetarian versions)
- Yellow rock sugar to round out the flavors and impart umami
- Flat rice noodles, preferably skinny or medium-with ones
- Scallion
- Herb of some kind, e.g., cilantro, mint, basil, culantro, rau ram
You can play around with the rest but yes, let's draw a line in the sand with a foundation with some kind of common understanding of what something is. Even when I make instant pho, I garnish it with some thinly sliced scallion and chopped cilantro just to make it fit my pho definition.
For example a hamburger is a sandwich but not all sandwiches are hamburgers. So what defines a hamburger?
What we're discussing here is part of the struggle of introducing new dishes to the western repertoire. You gotta hold on to some of your roots, huh? 

For basic pho cooking secrets and techniques,  please check out Ms. Nguyen's blog post about pho.
It's a wonderful read.

I don't want to experience any type of pho withdrawl,
it's raining today,
so it's a wonderful confluence of events
that led to making a batch of pho broth for freezing.

For the broth:
10 pounds beef soup bones
4 yellow onions
8-inch piece of ginger
7 star anise
12 whole cloves
2 3-inch cinnamon sticks
1 1/2 - 2 pounds beef
( I used 2 Porterhouse steaks.
You could use beef chuck, rump, brisket, or cross rib roast.)
1 1/2 TB Kosher salt
1/4 cup fish sauce
2-inch chunk yellow rock sugar (available at Asian markets)

Let's make pho broth:
I had 10 pounds of marrow bones
and I divided them in half.
Five pounds in one stock pot.

Five pounds in the other.

This was before I found the 16-quart stock pot
which was the one I needed to contain 10 pounds of bones.

Place bones in stockpot and cover with cold water.
Bring to boil over high heat.

 Boil vigorously for 2-3 minutes
to allow impurities to be released.

Dump bones in sink and rinse them.
Clean the stock pot and return bones to pot.

I had ten pounds of bones
and added 12 quarts of cold water to the pot.
Bring to boil over high heat,
then lower heat to a gentle simmer.
While the bones were coming to the boil,
I prepared the onions and ginger.

Slice the onions in half,
leaving on the skin.
Chop the ginger into 1-inch chunks.
Drizzle a little olive oil over top.

Char both sides under the broiler.

Let onion and ginger cool,
 then remove charred skin and trim roots of onions.
Smash ginger with flat side of knife
to loosen flesh from skin.

Assemble your spices -
whole cloves, cinnamon stick, star anise.

I only used 7 star anise
because Mr. Hawthorne is a-skeered of it.
You could use more.

Add remaining broth ingredients -
charred ginger and onion and ...

... spices and ...

...  fish sauce ...

...  and yellow rock sugar.

I had two porterhouses ...

...  which I trimmed and sliced.

Add the bones and ...

... the meat slices.

Salt in.

Cook, uncovered, for 3 hours,
skimming any scum that rises to surface.

Strain the pho broth through a strainer.

Discard solids.

Let broth cool,
then cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight.

The next day,
I scraped the congealed fat off top.

Next, I'm going to clarify the broth
and remove the impurities that cloud it.
I'm using egg whites to clarify the pho broth
just like I use them to turn 
chicken and beef stocks into consommés.

I whupped 15 egg whites
(for 12 quarts of broth)
and whisked in about a quart of cold pho broth.

Bring the remaining broth to a simmer,
then drizzle and whisk about a quart of the hot broth
into the egg white mixture.

Slowly whisk the egg white mixture into the hot broth.
Whisk over moderate heat to keep the egg whites 
in gentle, but constant, circulation.

Bring just to a simmer and immediately stop whisking.

Set the pan at the side of the heat
so that the stock barely bubbles in that quadrant.
Let it barely bubble for 5 minutes.
Rotate a quarter turn.  5 minutes.
Rotate a quarter turn.  5 minutes.
Rotate a quarter turn. 5 minutes.

What happens during this bare-simmer and rotation process
is that all the particulate matter and impurities in the broth
adhere to the coagulated egg whites.
Gently ladle the mess out of the broth.
Pour the pho broth through numerous layers of cheesecloth
draped over a fine strainer.

Be sure the bottom of the strainer doesn't sit in the strained liquid.

I ended up with 5 1/2 quarts of deliciously heady pho broth.
Label, date, and freeze.

Rosie lets out a big sigh of relief.
She has pho broth!

Stay tuned and
I'll show you what to do with this ambrosial broth.

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