One of the benefits of living in the Northwest is access to all kinds of Asian food. One of my favorites is pho — a rich, complex Vietnamese beef broth with rice noodles. There are restaurants serving this inexpensive, deeply satisfying dish all over Seattle so why bother to make your own? That’s exactly what I was asking myself as I gathered the ingredients and geared down to make a slow food. Well, being snowed in helps. Also, knowing exactly which ingredients are going into your broth can help you make a highly nutritious, mostly local meal that fits into most budgets.
It all starts and ends with the broth. I’m now convinced that broth made of the 100% organic, grass-fed beef and bones from Skagit River Ranch qualifies as a superfood full of health-promoting minerals. The taste is delicious and even though it takes a while to make, it’s much less complicated than I’d imagined. As with turkey or chicken stock, start with cold water. A new trick I learned was to cover the bones and meat with water, leave at a full boil for 5 minutes then skim off all the foam. Discard the water and put your meat into another pot of freshly boiled water to start the broth. This process gives you much clearer broth and eliminates any impurities right from the start.
Charred onions and ginger flavor the broth along with a bundle of spices including star anise, cloves, cinnamon and black peppercorns. That’s basically it, along with rice noodles and whatever garnishes you want to add after the broth has simmered for at least 2 hours.
Thanks to Sally L. for the inspiration to give this a try and for the recipes she used to make hers. I’ve combined those recipes and tried to make the process as easy and local as I could for you. I can’t wait to cook up another big batch and have friends and family over to try it.
A Northwest Version of Pho
For the broth:
4-5 lbs beef shanks or soup marrow bones
2 lbs beef chuck
2 pieces of unpeeled ginger, cut in half lengthwise
2 peeled yellow onions, cut in half
1/4 cup fish sauce
1T sea salt
Spices wrapped in cheesecloth packet:
10 whole star anise
6 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1T black peppercorns
To add after the broth is complete:
1 lb dried flat rice noodles (I used pad thai noodles)
1/2 lb thinly sliced boneless sirloin (I used the Skagit River Ranch beef stir-fry, already sliced)
Thinly sliced yellow or red onion
Scallions, cut into rings
Hot chili, like jalapeno or serrano cut into rings
Freshly ground pepper
Lime cut into quarters
Hot chili sauce
Char the ginger and onions by placing them directly in the flame on a gas stove or put under a broiler until they begin to blacken and blister on the edges. Cut off parts that are overly blackened.
Cover soup bones and beef chuck with cold water. Bring to a boil and let it boil for 5 minutes. Skim off the foam. Pour meat and bones into a colander, discarding the cooking water. Place the meat and bones into a second pot filled with 5-6 quarts of clean water that has been previously brought to a boil. Add the charred onions, ginger, fish sauce and sugar and gently simmer uncovered for 2-3 hours, occasionally skimming off foam and fat that rises to the surface.
In the final 30-60 minutes add the spice packet and salt to the broth.
When the broth is “complete” remove the onions, ginger and spice packet. Remove the bones and chuck, cutting off fat and returning meat to the pot. Taste for salt. The noodles will absorb a lot of the saltiness of the fish sauce and salt.
Soak the rice noodles in cold water for at least 30 minutes prior to when you want to eat. Drain noodles and cook for about 1 minute in boiling water. You want the noodles to fill about 1/3 of your bowl. You may find it easier to cook individual portions of noodles by lowering them in a fine sieve into the boiling water for a minute.
To “assemble”, fill the bottom 1/3 or so of each bowl with lightly cooked noodles. Place a few pieces of raw, thinly sliced sirloin on top of the noodles. Ladle very hot broth and meat chunks over the noodles and raw meat to cook it. Each person adds whatever fresh garnishes and sauces they wish to their bowl. All methods of digging-in are acceptable — spoons, chopsticks, picking up the bowl to drink the broth.
We feasted on this for three nights in a row and I could have gone on for days. Feel free to change and vary as you go with garnishes, more ginger and even adding extra broth to extend it further. Once you try it, you’ll never be pho-bic again.