Pho, a deep rich umami laden Vietnamese Soup that eats like a meal. It consists of a broth either beef or chicken, prepared from the usual starting point of almost all broths, roasted bones. But then the charred onions, with roasted spices like Cinnamon and Star Anise as well as the sweetness from some Rock candy” and a bunch of charred as well as dried Shiitake mushrooms takes it from a standard boring Beef Broth or Chicken broth into the realm of “Divinely rich”.
Start with the Beef broth, ladle it real hot over some rice noodles and a beef cut of your choice, garnish with a bunch of things at the table and you have a beef based meal. The condiments generally include Thai Basil, sliced Bird’s eye Chili (Chilé de Arbol is the closest in flavour), Wedges of Lime, Bean Sprouts and Cilantro. There is always some of the Chili sauce on the table to give it more of a kick if you prefer and the sweetish fermented bean paste. The common versions are “Pho tai” with thinly sliced tenderloin or rib eye (they stay rare since the only cooking they see is from the super hot broth poured over them), “Pho bo chin” with well done, Flank steak or Brisket, “Pho nam” with Flank steak and “Pho gau” with fatty brisket meat. For the more adventurous of you, you can always try “Pho sach” with tripe and “Pho gan” with tendon.
Start with chicken broth and you end up with “Pho ga”; let me just say this isn’t your boring chicken soup…
A couple of years ago, while visiting Gillian at UMass Amherst and eating at Berkshire (it may have been Hampshire) dining hall, I sampled their version of a vegetarian Pho. A vegetable broth with a very mild curry flavour (almost like the chef was afraid of the curry powder) with Tofu for protein. I decided I wanted to make a Pho but not Pho and go the Thai route, almost a Chicken Tom Yum.
Here is what I came up with and it actually worked.
- 4 Stalks of Lemon Grass
- 1 ½ cups of Basil with the thin stems included
- 1 cup of Cilantro
- 2 Tbsp of Lemon Juice
- ¼ cup Tamari
- 2 ½ – 3 Tbsp Grated Galanga (Substitute with 2 Tbsp grated Ginger)
- 1 can of Cocunut Milk
- 2 Thai bird chilis
- 1 lb chicken tenders membranes removed and cut into bite sized chunks
- ½ cup Broccoli Florets
- ½ cup cut green Beans
- ¼ cup sliced red onions
- ¼ cup sliced Red Bell Peppers
- 2 Kaffir lime leaves (Optional); Use 2 tsp of lime juice instead
- Cooked Brown Rice
- matchstick sliced Carrots
- Bean Sprouts
- Thinly sliced Scallions
- matchstick sliced Daikon radish
- Bang the Lemon grass stalks with the back of the heavy bladed knife to loosen it up and then chop it into rounds about ¼” or thinner
- Boil 3 cups of water and pour over the chopped lemon grass in a pot and steep 20 minutes.
- While it is steeping, Add all of the ingredients for the broth with the exception of the coconut milk into a blender.
- Add half of the steeped Lemon grass tea and about half the can of coconut mil in the blender. Remember to strain the lemon grass tea through a wire strainer (you don’t need the woody stalks)
- Blend well; you need it to be as smooth as possible. Add a little extra of the lemon grass teas as needed to make the blending easier.
- Strain the blended liquid through a wire-mesh strainer into a pot. Use the lemon grass tea to wash out the blender and strain through the strainer with the extra coconut milk.
- Add the chopped chick to the strained broth and season well. Bring to a boil over medium heat and simmer for about 10 minutes.
- Add the Broccoli, green beans, bell peppers and the onions to the pot together with either the lime leaves or the lime juice and continue simmering for another 8-10 minutes.
- Ladle hot into bowls and garnish with the Garnish Ingredients as well as a scoop of cooked Brown rice.