Cookbook 15: Noodles Every Day

Adapted from Cookbook #15:  Noodles Every Day (2009)

Recipe: Rice Noodle Soup with Beef and Herbs (Pho)

Sometimes things just get a little overwhelming.  And when they do, there's pho.

When the husband gets sick, this is exactly what he demands (I call for canned Chicken Noodle-o's.  I know it's disgusting; he clearly has a more refined palate).  While neither of us is currently feeling under the weather, pho is a wonderful comfort food that soothes what ails you.

We picked this cookbook up at Green Apple Books, the best darned used bookstore in San Francisco.  As we're both fans of the noodle, this cookbook is a delight.   As was the hour and a half spent in Green Apple Books looking at cookbooks.

So last night, I started the stock, which is the most essential part of the recipe.  Do not, I repeat, do not think you can make pho with any old beef stock.  Star anise and daikon are the super secret ingredients that make this a comfort food and not a bowl of oxtail soup.  Apparently, many recipes call for the charred onion, typical of French cooking and less typical of other Asian soups.  But this one doesn't, and it's still pretty darned tasty.  But next time around, a charred onion might be just what the soup doctor ordered.  So plan ahead, make the stock, and then freeze some.

The only problem with this soup is that I halved the recipe, thinking I didn't want to make six servings.  Should have made all six and had leftovers.  It's that good.  And definitely make the fried shallots.  They are generally used as a topping in cold noodle dishes in Vietnamese cuisine, but they add a little bit of mild, shallot-y goodness, and remember, we're going for curing what ails you here.  Crunchy shallots just might do the trick if the pho doesn't.

Finally, a word on how to pronounce this soup.  This month of the Smithsonian magazine features a lovely little article on pho, and it includes this primer on the word pho itself: "In Vietnamese, it is somewhere between 'fuh' and 'few,' almost like the French feu, for fire, as in pot-au-feu." Which apparently, may well be where the soup comes from anyway.  Go read the article.  They said so.

6 servings

for Vietnamese Beef Stock
3 to 4 pounds raw meaty beef bones, such as oxtail or short ribs
1 large yellow onion
8 whole cloves
7 whole star anise
2 four-inch cinnamon sticks
1 pound daikon, peeled and cut into 2-inch-thick pieces
3 ounces ginger, sliced
8 scallions, trimmed and crushed
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 white or back peppercorns
Kosher salt

for Fried Shallots
1 cup vegetable oil
6 large shallots, halved length-wise and thinly sliced crosswise into half-moons.

for Soup
8-12 ounces dried narrow flat rice sticks, soaked in water until pliable
2 1/2 quarts Vietnamese Beef Stock
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
Fish sauce or salt
2 cups mung bean sprouts
1 to 1 1/2 pounds eye of round steak, partially frozen, and sliced paper-thin against the grain
2 limes, quartered
1 bunch fresh Thai basil or cilantro (leaves only) or a combination
Fried Shallots for garnish
Hoisin sauce for serving
Chili-garlic sauce for serving

 for Stock
1.  Put the oxtail ribs in a large stockpot with enough water to cover.  Bring to a boil over high heat and cook for 10 minutes to get rid of bone and blood particles.  Drain, reserve the meaty bones, and rinse the pot well.
2. Stud the onion with the cloves.
3.  Return the oxtail or short ribs to the same stockpot, add five quarts of water, and bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce heat to low and add the onion studded with the cloves, the star anise, cinnamon, daikon, ginger, scallions, fish sauce, sugar, and peppercorns.  Simmer, partially covered for 4 to 5 hours, until reduced to about 3 quarts, occasionally skimming off any foam from the surface.  If necessary, adjust seasoning with salt to taste and stir.  Strain and discard solids.  Refrigerate overnight, and skim off the fat.

for Fried Shallots

4.  In a small saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat/  When the oil is hot, add the shallots in small batches and fry until golden, about 3 minutes per batch.
5.  Use a slotted spoon to remove and transfer each batch to a paper-towel lined plate to drain well and cool.  Use immediately or transfer the fried shallots to an airtight container.

for Soup
1.   Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat and cook the noodles until tender yet firm, about 10 seconds.  Drain and divide among large soup bowls.
2.  Meanwhile in a large pot, bring the stock to a gentle boil over medium heat.  About 3 minutes before serving, add the onion, and adjust the seasoning with fish sauce or salt, if necessary.  Right before serving, raise the heart to high and bring the broth to a full boil.
3.  Add some mung bean sprouts and layer a few beef slices over each serving of noodles.  Ladle the piping hot broth along with some onion slices over the beef, making sure to cover the noodles.  Garnish with lime wedge, basil, cilantro, and fried shallots.  Serve immediately with hoisin sauce and chili-garlic sauce on the side for dipping the beef.


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