Saturday, January 18, 2014

Pho Party!

I miss Ireland. I miss being able to go to any store and buy salty, golden butter and rich, double cream that coats the tongue. I miss not being expected anywhere at any given time, the ability to slip away, cloaked in anonymity. I miss riding the bus alone, walking around town alone, sitting in caf├ęs alone. But I also miss how food could bring all of us lost ones together, I miss dinner parties and not even parties, just sitting around with a few friends and a dish of pasta. I miss staying up way too late talking, or watching movies. Mostly talking, sitting in those ridiculous green lounge chairs, relishing the moment. I even miss stupid RyanAir flights at 6 am, arriving at strange hostels groggy but so excited to explore a new city. We were alive, and free, and independent. The real world was an ocean away. There are so many memories but it doesn't seem real. It's strange to think how I have gone from all of that to where I am now. 

But if only for a night, I can pretend the real world isn't just around the corner, that I'm back in Ireland, where no one is on a meal plan and a gathering of friends for dinner is more of a (wonderful) necessity than just an indulgence, a luxury. Pho is an excellent dish for a party because it's so customizable. After broth and noodles, you can add any kind of topping your heart desires. I had Thai bird's eye chilis, limes, beansprouts, mint, cilantro, basil, scallions, and thin slices of beef. 

A good stock is essential to pho. I had never made beef stock before this and it was pretty exciting. I used some oxtail (which is exactly what it sounds like) as well as some ambiguously labeled "big beef bones". Bones for soup are SOUPer cheap (harharharharhar), and homemade stock tastes much better than store bought. I encourage you to gather friends for a meal, enjoy each other's company and take joy in the fact that in the moment, you are surrounded by something wonderful. 

Beef Pho 
adapted slightly from Serious Eats 
This will serve around 10 good size bowls, in my opinion.

2 large onions, split in half
1 large hand ginger (about 6 inches long), split in half lengthwise
3 pounds beef shin, with meat attached (I couldn't find this specifically, I used 5ish pounds of miscellaneous beef bones)
2 pounds oxtail, cut into 1/2 to 1-inch thick slices (You can really use whatever kind of bones you want. Buy what appeals to you)
3 whole star anise pods
1 cinnamon stick 

4 cloves1/4 cup fish sauce, plus more to taste
2 tablespoons sugar (preferably yellow rock sugar)
Kosher salt

To Serve:
6 to 8 servings pho noodles (or like...12, if you're me)
1 pound beef flank steak, sliced thinly against the grain. I used chuck, it was cheaper and tasted fine
2 to 3 cups mixed herbs (cilantro, basil, and mint)
2 to 3 cups trimmed bean sprouts
1/2 cup sliced scallions
Thinly sliced Thai chilis
2 limes, each cut into 4 wedges
Hoisin sauce and Sriracha

Place a wire cooling rack or grill grate directly over the flame of a gas burner set on high. Place onions and ginger on top and cook, turning occasionally, until deeply blackened on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Alternatively, Adjust rack to 3 to 4 inches from broiler element and preheat broiler to high. Place onions and ginger on a foil-lined broiler tray. Broil, turning occasionally, until charred on all surfaces, about 25 minutes total. Set aside.

Meanwhile, combine beef bones in a large stockpot. Cover with cool water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Boil for 15 minutes, then dump water and meat into sink. When cool enough to handle, rinse parts under cool running tap water, carefully scrubbing debris from off of any bones and out of cracks in the meat, then return them to the pot. Cover with cool water.

Add charred onions, ginger, anise, cinnamon, cloves, fish sauce, sugar, and 1 tablespoon salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a bare simmer. Continue simmering broth for a further 4-5 hours, topping up with water as necessary. Strain broth through a fine mesh strainer. If desired, pick meat and connective tissue from oxtails and beef shins. Discard bones and aromatics. You should end up with about 4 quarts broth. Dilute with water or reduce as necessary to reach 4 quarts. Keep hot.

Carefully skim fat off of surface of broth and discard. Season broth to taste with additional fish sauce, salt, and/or sugar. It should be highly seasoned. Slice cooked beef into thin slices or rough chunks.

Prepare pho noodles according to package directions. To serve, place re-hydrated noodles in individual noodle bowls. Pour hot broth over noodles. Serve immediately, allowing guests to top with cooked meat and slices of raw flank steak, herbs, aromatics, lime, and sauce as they wish.


  1. Hi Rebecca! I found you from the CCN thread! First of all I love pho, and this looks amazing. I prefer to make it at home because going out to eat it, they give you too much broth and not enough noodles and I always feel so sloshy when I leave!!
    Secondly, I feel you. I grew up in London and miss everything about it. Even though i've been in the US for so long, I miss London, I miss my home, the parks, the streets, even the congested Tube. I also miss the butter, the bread, the chocolate, the doughnuts, the horrible cappuccinos at the cafe and fish and chips. So, yes, I really feel you. But we get, I guess. Anyway, I'll be sharing your post :)

    1. One of my friends worked at a Thai/Vietnamese restaurant and said that the pho experts would order their broth and noodles separately, so you could eat just what you wanted and bring the rest home in separate containers without the noodles getting mushy and weird.

      I'm so glad the post resonated with you, thanks so much for sharing it! Nice to know someone feels the same way. I would kill for some Kerrygold butter right now. I hope you make it back to London for a visit soon!

  2. I would think that if you have friends on meal plans, that they would ALL be hanging at your place every single night for dinner!

    The recipe looks delicious, too. :-)

    1. Thanks! Since we're all paying room and board, it'd be like throwing money away to not eat in the dining hall. So though I prefer to cook, I don't have much of a choice most of the time.

  3. what a festive beef pho!!!
    i craving this kind of doodle soup for my rainy days in Indonesia lately, lucky you my friend....


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