Are you ready to jump on the trendy food bandwagon and head into Cozy Town? If so, then today’s post is for you.
Have you heard of pho (pronounced “fuh”)? Many foodies have not only heard of it but have gone out of their way to experience this amazing Vietnamese speciality. And with good reason. The stuff is DAMN GOOD.
Pho is traditionally made up of a beef-based broth infused with lots of cozy spices and aromatics. Along with long rice noodles, tender, thinly sliced beef, and a bevy of fresh toppings, it’s packed to the brim with delicious flavors and textures. The spices are similar to that of chai tea. It’s like chai tea and beef stew made a spicy, slightly sweet, and savory baby. Sounds really strange to those who haven’t had it before, I’m sure…but trust me, you gotta get on board here. It’s one of the coziest (let’s see how many times I can use the word “cozy” in one post) versions of soup I’ve ever had, and that’s really saying something.
Of course, like many of my recipes, I was inspired by a restaurant experience to try my hand at pho. When I started researching the technique, I was left feeling daunted and a little out of my culinary league. Traditional beef pho involves making beef stock from scratch using beef bones and a ton of beef parts (awkward?)…and honestly, who has time for that? This new momma certainly doesn’t (again, I’m lucky if I can get my teeth and hair brushed before noon most days). Seriously, just google “beef pho recipe” to see what I mean. We’re talking HOURS of cooking time and MANY not-so-easy-to-find-for-non-chef-peoples ingredients. I was bummed at first…until I decided to just make do with some grocery store shortcuts. It ended up working out quite nicely. If you want to go balls to the wall, though, feel free to make your own beef consommé from scratch. I give you props.
My version involved broiling some aromatics (onions, garlic, and ginger) until charred and toasty and then letting them steep in store-bought beef broth along with some heavy duty spices. When all was said and done, I still invested a little over an hour of my time on the broth alone…but I still consider that to be a vast improvement on the 8-10 hours I was seeing in other recipes. Plus, my short and easy version still tasted fantastic! The time investment is worth it. The broth is the most important part of pho, after all.
And my broth had all the elements of pho that I adore: rich beefiness, loads of savoriness, and the sweet spice of cinnamon, cloves, and star anise. COZY. TOWN.
To top off my pho, I seared and sliced some flank steak and chopped up tons of fresh ingredients like baby spinach, scallions, jalapeños, and cilantro. I loaded up big bowls of pho for my husband and me and finished them off with a generous spritz of fresh lime juice. Don’t skip the lime juice! I’m telling ya, it just makes the whole thing sing! It brightens up that hearty, rich broth and gives a lot of life to the dish. Lime it up, baby.
So, if you’re like me and LOVE pho but have avoided making it at home, try this recipe out. It really comes close to the authentic thing…with much less stress.
Go ahead, jump on this bandwagon. Cozy Town is calling. You know you wanna.
Homemade Beef Pho (the short and easy version) (makes 4 servings)
For the Pho:
2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
A 4-inch piece of fresh ginger, unpeeled and sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
½ lb flank steak
1 cinnamon stick
5 star anise
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
4 cups low-sodium beef stock
¼ cup fish sauce
2-3 tablespoons brown sugar (or to taste)
Salt and pepper, to taste
For Serving (mix and match to your preference):
Cooked rice noodles
Thinly sliced jalapeno peppers
Sriracha hot sauce
Preheat the broiler to high and place the onions, ginger, and garlic on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle lightly with oil and sprinkle with salt. Broil for 8-10 minutes, flipping the vegetables every couple minutes, or until they are charred and somewhat tender. Remove from oven and set aside.
In a large stockpot (the wider the better), heat 1 tablespoon of canola oil until shimmering. Season the steak with salt and pepper and place in the hot oil. Sear until deeply golden brown on all sides, about 2 minutes per side. Remove and set aside. The beef will be very rare at this point, and that’s OK. The hot broth will cook it the rest of the way at serving time.
Reduce the heat to medium. To the drippings in the pot, add the cinnamon stick, cloves, star anise, fennel seeds, coriander, and cardamom. Toast the spices, stirring almost constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add in the stock, fish sauce, and sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and add in the charred onion, ginger, and garlic. Simmer on low for an hour. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary, adding more salt, pepper, or sugar.
Strain the broth through a fine-mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth and discard the aromatics. Return the broth to the pot and bring back to a gentle simmer. Slice the flank steak as thinly as possible and place in serving bowls, along with rice noodles and any other accompaniments you desire*. Carefully ladle the hot broth over the sliced meat and noodles and gently stir everything to combine. Serve immediately.**
*My favorite combo of flavors is the beef, noodles, cilantro, scallions, baby spinach, and peppers. I top the assembled bowl off with LOTS of fresh lime juice and a drizzle of Sriracha.
**If serving later, keep all the components (broth, beef, noodles, toppings) separate until just before serving. This will prevent the noodles from getting slimy and will keep the freshness of the toppings (which is how pho should be served). Reheat the broth when time to serve and follow the same serving steps outlined above.