Cooking a pot of Vietnamese beef broth will fill your home with a fragrance that is the Vietnamese equivalent of our apple pie. A spicy warm scent that is almost as nourishing on a cold winter day as the noodle soup itself. Making pho bo, or beef noodle soup, is a project, but not as daunting as I first thought it might be. The broth can be made on the weekend with the noodle soup bowls quickly assembled for a light comforting dinner on Sunday, Monday or even Tuesday night.
Based on the recipe in Into the Vietnamese Kitchen by Andrea Nguyen
Making the stock
1 lb. yellow onion
4 inch piece of ginger
5-6 lb. of beef marrow bones (cut in 2-3” sections)
6 quarts water
5 star anise
6 whole cloves
1 Cinnamon stick
1 1/3 lb. beef chuck or rump roast, well trimmed
2 t salt
¼ c. fish sauce
1 oz. yellow rock sugar
Char-grill the onion and ginger on a medium-hot grill or directly over a stovetop gas flame. Alternatively you can broil them by cutting the onion in half and placing them cut-side down along with the ginger on a foil-lined baking sheet. In either case they should cook for about 15 minutes, turning as necessary, until the outside is black and the flesh of both the onion and ginger is somewhat soft. When cool enough to handle remove all the blackened parts and the rest of the skin from the ginger. Rinse to remove any remaining black flecks. Cut the ginger in half lengthwise and smash with the flat blade of a chef’s knife. Set aside.
Parboil the bones in a large stockpot for 2-3 minutes over high-heat. Drain and rinse the bones under running water and set aside. This will remove most of the scum and help you achieve a clear broth. Wash out the stock pot to remove any additional scum and return the bones. Add the rest of the ingredients to the bones, including the charred onion and ginger, and bring to a simmer over high heat reducing the heat when it starts to boil so that you have just a whisper of a simmer. Skim the scum from time to time to keep the stock clear.
After about 1 ½ hours remove the meat from the pot and check for doneness. When cooked to your liking place in a bowl of cold water for 10 minutes to prevent from drying out. Drain and set aside to cool. When completely cooled, wrap in plastic and refrigerate.
Continue to cook the stock for an additional 1 ½ hours. Drain in a cheese cloth lined strainer to remove all the solids. Taste the finished stock. If it tastes watery return the liquid to the stock pot and reduce over medium-heat to desired concentration. Then adjust salt and other seasoning, fish sauce and sugar, to your taste. Cool stock to room temperature (I do this in a sink filled with ice) and place in a storage container to chill in the refrigerator overnight. This is the best way to remove all the excess fat from the stock.
Note that the recipe below serves 8. If you don’t want to make all of the soup now, consider freezing a portion of the stock and cooked meat for later use. Reduce the quantities below accordingly.
2 lb rice noodles cooked according to package directions
Beef from stock above, sliced across the grain ¼” thick
½ lb sirloin or similar cut, placed in the freezer for 15 minutes and thinly sliced across the grain
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced and soaked 30 minutes in cold water
Green part of 3 – 4 scallions, sliced thin
1/3 c. chopped cilantro
Black pepper to taste
Garnishes – to your taste
Serrano or Jalapeño chilies
Remove and discard the fat from the chilled stock and heat to a boil over medium-high heat. While the stock is heating layer the cooked noodles, cooked and raw beef, and onions in soup bowls. Top with cilantro and add boiling stock. Serve with the garnishes of your choice.