The only redeeming quality about winter is its ability to make me constantly crave giant batches of soup which not only ensures I stay toasty and warm, but keeps my waistline in check as well; something I desperately need after the seriously gluttonous month I’ve been having.
A few weekends ago – Valentine’s weekend to be exact – Kevin and I had our annual dinner out at our favorite cozy Italian restaurant in downtown KC. We were feeling particularly fun that night and indulged in probably one more cocktail than we should have, so we, of course, decided to play it safe and get an Uber home. Kevin had to work in the morning anyways, so it wouldn’t have been a big deal for me to take him to his car the next day, plus it was the perfect excuse to drop in for some authentic pho at the family-run Vietnamese place just down the street from where we were dining that night.
The next day, we moseyed on over to pick up our car, and I immediately withdrew my plans to pick up a batch on the way home because I was, at the moment, entirely too lazy to get out of the car, order the soup, wait for the soup and then make the trek back to our house. When I got home, I laid around, watched three hours of Hart of Dixie on Netflix and all I did was daydream about pho and kick myself for being so lazy. I had no desire to go all the way downtown for the third time in a 24-hour window, so I did the next best thing, threw on my coat and went to the grocery store to make it at home.
If you’re not familiar, pho is an authentic Vietnamese noodle soup, I’d equate to their version of chicken noodle soup, but funnily enough, is oftentimes eaten at breakfast as a hearty start to the day.
The base of the soup, made up of beef bones, cinnamon, star anise and a few other spices is simmered well over 24 hours, creating a broth that’s so intoxicating, you almost lose your breath when you first catch a scent. Every cook has their own family recipe, each with its own tweaks and “special’ ingredients, making it difficult to find the perfect recipe that will taste just as you remember.
Once the broth is complete, thin rice noodles are simmered until soft, and then the meat is added in. What I love about pho, is that instead of throwing the beef or chicken into the simmering soup, the meat is first put in the serving bowl and then the hot broth is poured over the raw meat, slowly cooking it and avoiding a rubbery end result. Each patron is then left to dress their soup as they see fit with fresh lime, bean sprouts, cilantro, jalapenos and in some cases, sirracha and hoisin sauce.
Because the soup is such a labor of love, and to be truly authentic it needs to be simmered for at least twelve hours, this is what I like to call Cheater Pho (Pho Bo). I’ve taken all of the ingredients and just condensed the time in which it’s prepared. The end result is still a killer broth that will warm you from the inside out, I just took a few shortcuts to ensure dinner gets on the table in a reasonable amount of time.
Three things that are a must, even in a cheater pho; bone marrow bones, cinnamon and star anise. While bone marrow sounds kind of scary and exotic, I can bet my life that your butcher has plenty behind the counter. Even though the cooking time is reduced, the bones transfer an incredible amount of savoriness into the soup that can’t be replicated any other way. Cinnamon and star anise are the spices that play a leading role in the broth, while ginger and garlic give off a more subtle essence in the finished product.
Once the broth has simmered for about an hour (significantly less time that the original version), the rice noodles are added in and then the broth is gently poured into a bowl filled with very thinly slices sirloin filet – my go-to cut of beef as of late. My grocery store didn’t have bean sprouts in stock, so I garnished my soup with lots of freshly squeezed lime juice, cilantro and thinly sliced jalapenos for a kick of heat.
- 3 beef bone marrow bones
- 50 ounces beef stock (unsalted)
- 16 ounces water
- 1 medium onion, cut in half
- 4 garlic cloves, smashed
- 1 3-inch piece of ginger, smashed
- 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
- 3 star anise
- 1 teaspoon whole cloves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 package thin rice noodles
- 16 ounces beef sirloin, cut into VERY thin pieces
- Plenty of cilantro, lime, jalapeno and beans sprouts for garnish
- Place beef bones in a medium sauce pan, cover with water and bring to a boil, simmer for 10 minutes until all the impurities have risen to the top of the water. Transfer bones to a large stockpot and discard the water.
- To the bones, add the beef stock, water, onion, garlic, ginger, hoisin, spices and salt. Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook for one hour.
- Strain broth, discard cooked ingredients. Season broth with salt, pepper and hoisin.
- Bring the broth back to a boil and add rice noodles, cook until soft.
- Place beef in the bottom of a soup bowl, cover with boiling broth. The heat from the broth should cook the beef.
- Garnish with lime, cilantro, jalapeno and hoisin sauce.