This isn’t a recipe for pho.
I mean, it is? But it isn’t.
Pho, as you may know, is a very popular Vietnamese noodle soup. It’s popular because it’s fucking awesome and will blow your face open with comfort and deliciousness. True, one would not normally associate “face blown open” with “comfort,” but hey, life is some complex shit.
You’re just going to have to make peace with your gods on this one.
Pho is generally not pronounced as you suspect — “FOE” — but rather like you gave up in the middle of this already short word — “FUH.” (It comes originally from the French, “pot-au-feu,” which translated means “face-exploding-fire-soup-comfort.”) Though, I guess regional variants in Vietnam have it pronounced differently. For our mileage, you can call it whatever the hell you want. Foe. Fuh. Foo. Puh-hoe. Dave.
I don’t care.
Because this isn’t really authentic pho. This is the “I don’t have a lot of goddamn time to buy beef knuckle and make my own beef broth nor do I feel like roasting and grinding my own spice mixture because I have kids and a dog and two jobs and who else is going to make all this meth and oh god the kids have killed and eaten another mailman” version. Right? Right.
We’re just trying to get you into the realm of a passable faux-pho.
Here’s what you’re going to do. Put your oven on, mmm, really high. Like, 450. You could even use your broiler or the grill for this if you’re so inclined. You’re going to roast some vegetables. No, you’re not going to put them up on stage and make crass jokes about them. Different kind of roast. This is the “char on high heat” roast because roasting brings out flavor blah blah bloo bloo.
Onto a cookie sheet goes: one sliced sweet onion, one sliced knob (heh, “knob”) of ginger, and one chopped carrot. Put them in the 450 oven for… ~20 minutes, make sure it’s starting to get dark and delicious.
Now, into a pot goes: four cups of veggie stock. Homemade if you prefer, or just buy the low-sodium stuff from the store. Best you care to procure, I’d say. You could also use beef stock for this if that makes your nipples stand at attention. Hell, use whatever liquid you want. This is a very customizable recipe, so — dirty mop water? Bear urine? Yak stock? Dead mailman gall? Whatever you want. Go nuts.
Put some spices all up in there. What spices, you ask? Coriander seed. Star anise. Clove. Cinnamon. You can put them in whole if you so choose (and if you have them whole, you could go against what I said earlier and just roast ’em to bring out their flavor YOU TRAITOR), but let’s assume you’re not some cocky gourmet and you have the “I bought this in a jar and it’s all powdery and snortable” version. (Sidenote: do not snort or try to eat teaspoon of cinnamon. Yes, ha ha ha, what a YouTube video that will make when your lungs are on fire and you’re dying in an emergency room, dum-dum.)
You won’t need a lot of these, because these spices go a long way.
So, my thoroughly unscientific measurements:
One generous pinch of each. Into the broth, not your nose. Weirdo.
Oh, and if you really wanna short-cut this: just use a tablespoon of Chinese five-spice.
Also: add a single bay leaf to the stock. Why? Because fuck you, that’s why.
Finally, throw into the pot a tablespoon of fish sauce. Fish sauce is totally grody on its own — it smells like corpse-feet. We once accidentally broke a bottle of fish-sauce on the front stoop of our rented condo the day we were moving out? I bet it still smells like someone died there. But! Once it merges with a dish, fish sauce becomes umami-licious.
Now: into the pot go your charred onion, ginger, and carrot. Set to a boil, then simmer for one half-hour. But don’t just stand there and stare into its turbid depths. THAT WAY MADNESS LIES. Next thing you know you’ll be clad in only a pair of stainy tighty-whities on the side of a highway, one Jack Russell terrier under each arm, your nostrils crusted with coriander dust.
Sidenote: I sometimes like to add chopped mushroom in there, too.
Here, then, is a point of some contention — you would usually soak some rice noodles at the same time, later adding them to the soup. In my experience you can just soak them right in the soup. Drop the dry noodles right in there. They’ll absorb deliciousness. “Absorb deliciousness” sounds like the mandate of an insane kitchen robot. “ABSORB DELICIOUSNESS,” the Dalek Sous Chef screams!
I dunno. Stop looking at me.
It’s time to talk meat.
Once again, you have some customization options here.
You could use stew beef (which is the fake name I travel under — go to any hotel and ask them if “Stewart Beef” is staying there, and then I’ll pop out of a nearby potted plant and tranq you in the face). But for me, stew beef is too tough and going to need time to really break down.
You could use ground beef — sirloin or chuck — and in a pinch, this actually works fine. IF YOU’RE A LOSER. (No, seriously, it actually does work regardless of your losery status. I’ve done it.)
You could use short ribs, which will take a lot of preparation before hand to braise those short ribs so they’re not leathery bricks of sad-making dead cow.
You could freeze a steak (flank, sirloin, or any preferred cut) for 10 minutes then bring it out and very thinly slice it against the grain. I’m fond of this, but your mileage may vary.
You could also consider: mailman meat. POSTAL WORKER FATBACK. Mmmm.
You could use a combination of all of these. Whatever tickles your taint.
You want to cook the meat in the broth for as long as it takes for the meat to become delicious. The raw steak should be added just before serving (or those at the table could add it themselves).
Now comes the thing that really helps to seal the faux pho deal.
You will want some combination of the following available: mint leaves, cilantro leaves, basil leaves, parsley leaves, sliced green onion, bean sprouts, garlic, sriracha sauce, hoisin sauce, lime slices.
You want to know what I do? Of course you do. Just nod and stop trying to bite through the gag.
I take the following:
Buncha cilantro. Buncha basil. Bit of raw garlic.
I put them into a blender or food processor with:
A half-cup of olive oil. And the juice of one lime.
Then I blend it into a chimichurri-esque slurry.
Then I add that to each bowl of soup with a generous splurch of sriracha sauce. (Or, you could try what for me has begun to replace sriracha: gochujiang sauce. Which I love so much I wanna slather it on my body.)
Then I eat.
And my face explodes with comfort and delight.