Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Steaming Hot Bowl of Blasphemy: Shortcut Pho Bo

I run with a pretty tough crowd.  I run with a very talented bunch of food bloggers. Don’t believe me that it's tough? Well, these are the kind of people that grind their own cornmeal, brew their own vinegar, smoke their own bacon and make their own cheese. Scared yet? They are also masters of HTML codes, camera shutter speeds, ISO settings and social media platforms. Try hanging out with them for a while. If you don’t already have an inferiority complex, you’ll acquire one soon enough. 

I don’t know for sure, but I’m willing to bet that most of them don’t even own a can of condensed soup or a cake mix. I have to admit that I don’t own much condensed soup either, but I do secretly love a Sock-It-To-Me Cake made with a Duncan Hines Butter Cake Mix or a spoon bread casserole made from a box of Jiffy Cornbread, so shoot me. I don’t normally use these shortcuts, but sometimes a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

The other day I was close to my favorite Asian market and stopped by to buy lots of stuff that I don’t need. They had beautiful fresh Thai basil and some paper thin rib eye steak so I was inspired to make pho. For those of you who haven’t had a pho restaurant (pronounced “fuh”) pop up in your neighborhood, it is really no more than simple Vietnamese noodle soup.

Pho Saigon Pho Bo

Pho bo (beef noodle soup) is traditionally made with stock from slowly boiled beef bones, star anise, ginger, onion, cloves, cinnamon and garlic, you can usually order it with anything from very thinly sliced rib eye and flank steak to tripe and tendon. Pho ga (chicken noodle soup) is made the same way but with the one obvious difference.  The flavorful broth is then poured over a generous helping of rice noodles and is served with a plate of your choice of sliced jalapenos, basil, cilanatro, chopped green onions, lime wedges and bean sprouts for garnish. We just love the stuff.

Being super excited after finally finding the proper noodles from the hundreds of thousands of noodles they had there, I headed home to get cooking, forgetting all about those slowly boiled bones at the root of its goodness. After arriving home and making the grand announcement, “I will now make the best pho you have ever eaten everyone!” the bone thing struck me. Bummer!

By this time it was 5 pm, my family was hungry and we were all set on pho, so I pulled out one of my favorite shortcuts, beef bouillon. Not saying a word to anyone about my predicament, I added the bouillon to a pot of water along with some seasonings and spices, simmered it for awhile and voila! This pho tasted just like the authentic stuff that the stone faced Vietnamese man at Pho Saigon serves us. Hmmmm, could it be that he uses shortcuts too? After tasting his and mine I’m inclined to think so because they are identical.

I am now going to pass my recipe on for shortcut pho and let you decide if you miss hours of stewing and stirring. My easy version here can be ready in less than an hour, so please forgive me once again my talented blogger friends, but I think this is a recipe that even the purists will have to admit is pretty good.

Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)

As you can tell, my soup looks a little bit cloudy and no matter how hard I tried I could not get rid of it.  I chalk this up to the meat sitting in the broth overnight before I could photograph it.  If you serve this right after you cook it you shouldn't have this problem.  Trust me though it is still delicious cloudy or not.

8 ounces rice stick noodles, plus warm water for soaking

6 cups water

2 tablespoons beef bouillon powder or granules

2 - 3 star anise (I have used 1/8 teaspoon anise seed which works well too)

2 large garlic clove sliced into fourths

1 medium size onion, cut into fourths

1 – 1” piece of cinnamon stick

1 – 1” piece of fresh gingerroot, sliced into 4 - 6 pieces

2 cloves

1 pound very thinly sliced beefsteak (if slicing by hand, slice partially meat partially frozen with a very sharp knife)

1/2 pound fresh beansprouts

4 sprigs basil (Thai or Italian are both good)

4 large green onions, thinly sliced

2 large fresh jalapenos, thinly sliced

1 small bunch cilantro

Sriracha chili sauce

Hoisin sauce

Soy sauce

Prepare noodles according to package directions. My noodles required soaking in warm water for 1 hour before boiling so read the package directions carefully to avoid eating at midnight.

Pour six cups of water in a large stockpot. Add beef bouillon, anise, garlic, onion, cinnamon stick, gingerroot and cloves. Bring to a low boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes or so. Remove the spices with a spider or slotted spoon and discard; keep warm and set aside until ready to use.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the soaked noodles and boil for 1 – 2 minutes or until soft. Drain noodles and rinse. Divide the noodles equally among 4 large bowls.

Just before serving, add desired amount of the steak into the broth for a medium well doneness. Pour over the noodles. If you prefer rare to medium rare steak add the meat to the broth once it has been poured over the noodles and immediately before serving.

Serve piping hot with the remaining ingredients on the side to add to the soup as you like.

Serves 4

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