I used to be the chef of the family. I used to spend hours and hours in the kitchen, and this was after and on top of the hours I’d spend thinking about food and recipes. And then we had kids. Before children we’d eat dinner at 9 p.m. Now we eat dinner no later than 6 p.m. Eating at 6 p.m. does not allow for hours and hours to think about preparing meals. So, for the past 6 years, Elise has been the primary head that wears our kitchen’s chef hat. That changed recently because Elise became fed up with Maly’s and my groans. She threw her hands in the air and said, “if you don’t like my cooking, YOU can start cooking again.”
I laughed her frustration off until Maly and I were sitting at the table at 6 p.m. one evening and it looked like we weren’t going to have dinner that night. We scrounged that particular night, but I knew then that Elise was serious in that she was going to bow out and I’d have to figure out some meals for our imminent survival.
Thankfully the weather had starting getting cold, and one of Maly’s favorite meals is pho. I’d never made pho, so it just made sense to teach myself. You can go the quick and easy route and make broth from beef stock or bouillon, or you can go the more traditional route, and make a flavor-filled, hearty and traditional broth. I opted for the latter, so the next morning, I was at the grocery store, purchasing knuckle bones and rice noodles.
I took this recipe from Epicurious, and kind of followed it (the recipe itself is all over the place and kind of hard to follow), but quickly realized that this recipe is really, really simple and fast to prepare (albeit you should give yourself a couple hours to simmer the broth).
- 5 pounds beef marrow or knuckle bones
- 2 pounds beef chuck, cut into 2 pieces
- 2 (3-inch) pieces ginger
- 2 yellow onions
- 1/4 cup fish sauce
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 10 whole star anise
- 6 whole cloves
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- 3 scallions, cut into thin rings
- 1 pound bean sprouts
- 10 sprigs basil
- 6 Thai bird chilies or 1 serrano chili, cut into thin rings
- 1 lime, cut into 6 thin wedges
1. In a large stockpot, bring 6 quarts water to a boil. Place the bones and beef chuck in a second pot and add water to cover. Bring to a boil and boil vigorously for 5 minutes. Using tongs, carefully transfer the bones and beef to the first pot of boiling water. Discard the water in which the meat cooked. (This cleans the bones and meat and reduces the impurities that can cloud the broth.) When the water returns to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer. Skim the surface often to remove any foam and fat. Add the ginger and onions, fish sauce and sugar. Simmer until the beef chuck is tender, about 40 minutes.
2. When the broth has been simmering for about 1 1/2 hours total, wrap the star anise and cloves in a spice bag (I used Elise’s tea egg) and add to the broth. Let infuse until the broth is fragrant. The anise and cloves will just give it that smell. Remove and discard both the spice bag and onions. Add the salt and continue to simmer, skimming as necessary, until you’re ready to assemble the dish. The broth needs to cook for at least 2 hours. (The broth will taste salty but will be balanced once the noodles and accompaniments are added.) Leave the remaining chuck and bones to simmer in the pot while you assemble the bowls.
3. To serve, place the cooked noodles in preheated bowls. (If the noodles are not hot, reheat them in a microwave or dip them briefly in boiling water to prevent them from cooling down the soup.) Place a few slices of the beef chuck and the raw sirloin on the noodles. Bring the broth to a rolling boil; ladle about 2 to 3 cups into each bowl. The broth will cook the raw beef instantly. Garnish with yellow onions, scallions and cilantro. Serve immediately, garnish the bowls with bean sprouts, herbs, chilies, lime juice.
Where we live in south Austin leaves something to be desired in terms of Asian markets. Thankfully there’s a little hole in the wall restaurant/market called Filipino Asian Mart at 1st and Slaughter where I was able to buy big bags of rice sticks (those famous noodles perfect for pho) for $2 per bag.
And Maly and Elise loved the pho we had for dinner that night. Maly even said, “this is the second best meal I’ve ever had!” I didn’t bother to ask her what her first was.