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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Pho Real.

Lots of cultures have their versions of the 'Clean Out the Fridge' meal. Americans do casseroles; Brits do pies; lots of places do soups. The ingredients vary across cultures according to what their 'staples' are, which are those things that are always in the fridge and always ready to be used when all the special stuff runs out. My staples have been leaning towards the East lately, and I constantly go for Fried Rice when I've run out of meat and all I've got is a couple half portions of veg, an egg and piles of onion/garlic/ginger (the trio never leaves my kitchen).

But lately, I've been into soups as a method of fridge cleaning. One of my new favorites to make at home is Pho, which is a lovely change from fried rice and uses very similar ingredients (while simultaneously helping me clean out my ever-growing stock-pile of, well, STOCK).

It's sooooo easy and soooooo satisfying. Piping-hot broth does wonders for the psyche.

You, too, can make Vietnamese Pho.

Serves: 2-3

10 cups vegetable/chicken/turkey/beef/whatever stock you have nearby
2 (1-inch) pieces of ginger, peeled, sliced down the middle and bruised with your knife
1/2 yellow onion, peeled
3 Tbsp fish sauce
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp sugar
2 whole star anise
4 whole cloves
1 tsp sea salt (or more to taste)

The Rest of It:
6 oz or a large handful of rice sticks (about 1/16 of an inch wide, looks a bit like linguini, but translucent)
1 large chicken breast (or a packet of tofu or a piece of strip steak or nothing at all!)
1/4 of a small yellow onion, sliced paper-thin
1/2 sweet orange pepper, julienned
1/2 carrot, julienned
1 Tbsp pickled ginger, julienned or in thin sheets
2 scallions/green onions, chopped in rounds
1/4 cup chopped cilantro (and/or Asian Basil)
2 handfuls of bean sprouts
1 serrano chile, cut into thin rings
lime wedges
freshly ground black pepper


Pour the stock in a stock pot and place over medium-high heat.
While it heats up, char your ginger and onion directly over you burner flame or on a preheated, very hot, dry pan. We're going for blackened bits on the outside.

Uncharred/charred ginger

Once the stock is boiling, add the charred onion, ginger, fish sause, sugar, star anise, & cloves (the latter two in a spice bag if you have one). 

Boil for 5 minutes, then reduce to a simmer and simmer for 30 minutes.

While your broth simmers, begin prep of your veggies. Chop and julienne like crazy.

I advise investing in a mandolin NOW. Onions have never been the same.

I think that might even be thinner than paper.

During the last 10 minutes of simmering, stir in the sea salt and put your chicken breast in the broth to poach. Begin work on your noodles.

Start by placing your noodles in a large bowl and setting the kettle to boil enough water to cover them.

Pour the boiling water over the noodles until they are completely submerged, stirring around a bit with a fork or chopsticks to keep them from sticking. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until they are softened, but still a bit al-dente.

Drain them.

Remove the chicken to cool a bit and start prepping the bowls for eating. Preheat the bowls with hot water and place equal portions of the noodles at the bottom. Arrange your veggies and herbs in sections on top of the noodles. It just looks prettier that way. Grind a bit of pepper overtop.

Shred your chicken and add it to the bowl, working quickly so as to keep those noodles warm!

Remove the bits from your piping-hot stock and pour immediately over your soup-bits to cover them.

Garnish with a wedge of lime and serve immediately!

Use chopsticks to stir everything up together and to eat the soup, drinking the broth as you go. :)

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