I was fortunate enough to date a guy in college whose mother was from Vietnam. Every winter we would drive down to Los Angeles and stay with his folks and his mom would stay up all night making the most incredible food.
There were Goi Cuon, sometimes called salad rolls, which are cold rice paper wrappers stuffed with crispy lettuce and herbs alongside juicy pork and shrimp. Next, Cha Gio, miniature fried eggrolls stuffed with vegetables and silky rice noodles (we always got a warm bag full of these to-go when we hit the road back to Oregon). And last but not least, the most perfectly flavored Pho with basil and cilantro piled high onto a rich broth, glossy with just the right amount of fat.
I could eat Pho every single day for the rest of my life, but I happen to live in a neighborhood completely devoid of Vietnamese restaurants. This week, I took on Pho from start to finish, and it was entirely worth the effort. My take on the soup itself is just slightly non-traditional, but this classic broth will work for a number of delicious soups, Vietnamese and otherwise.
For the Broth:
2# beef bones (I used 1 monster knuckle, quartered lovingly by my butcher)
1 white onion, quartered and peeled
14 C. water
5 cloves garlic, smashed
2” piece of ginger, sliced into several coins
3 whole cloves
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the onion quarters onto a parchment lined sheet pan. Roast for 15 minutes until just softening. Place the beef bones on the same sheet pan and sprinkle with salt. Return both the bones and onion to the oven for 15 minutes more.
When done roasting, transfer the bones and onion to a large stockpot or dutch oven with tongs. Add the remaining ingredients and place over high heat, cover, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to approximately medium and allow to simmer for 2 – 3 hours. Allow to cool slightly and strain or scoop out the bones, spices, and aromatics. You can cool and keep in the fridge for up to a week at this point.
For the Lemongrass Meatballs:
1/3# ground beef
1/3# ground pork
1 stalk lemongrass, tender inner part only, minced (about 2 tsp.)
1 tsp. grated ginger
generous pinch sea salt
freshly ground pepper
Mix ingredients together thoroughly with hands. and form into 3/4” meatballs.
For the Pho:
rice noodles (or Shiratake or Kelp Noodles), cooked according to package instructions
lemongrass meatballs (see above)
fresh herbs (basil, cilantro, and/or mint are recommended)
sliced chilies (jalapeno, serrano, or thai chilies)
Sriracha hot sauce
Warm the broth over medium heat until simmering. Add the meatballs and cook for about 5 minutes until just cooked through. Add the broccoli and cook for one minute just to soften. Season the broth with fish sauce to taste and don’t be shy (this will act as your salt)
Place the noodles into large bowls and ladle over the hot broth, meatballs and broccoli. Top with whichever additional fresh ingredients you desire. Serve hoising and Sriracha in small dishes on the side.
I learned to eat Pho this way: Use your chopsticks to place a small pile of noodles onto your spoon. Then take a meatball or slice of meat and dip it into your Sriracha or hoisin if you desire. Place it on top of your noodles on the spoon, the dip the spoon into the pho to allow just a little broth in. The perfect bite!