On these chilly days of January, there is nothing better than a bowl of soup, piping hot and delicious, to warm up the winter soul, and today’s feature recipe is sure to do just that.
Pho, pronounced “fuh” (not “foe” like I often hear it misstated), is a dish that has a history and lore as rich and fluid as the broth with which it is made. My first experience with this simple and magical soup was living in Chicago on the north side of the city where a lesser-known Asian neighborhood, 20 years ago, was home to many traditional Vietnamese, family-owned restaurants and grocery stores. Just off of the Argyle Red Line L stop my best friend, Doan, who was born and raised in Vietnam, and I would recount the fun we had the night before over a steaming hot bowl of pho alongside an extra strong Vietnamese iced coffee – just the ticket for brunch after a late night.
Earlier column:Epicuriosity 101: Why not a new tradition for a new year?
Yes, this rich and spicy soup was brunch and the perfect dish to cure just about anything on a cold, winter day. In reading a bit more about its history, this soup stands as a testament to just how dynamic food trends are as times, cultures and constituent demands change over time.
The BBC travel site notes the following:
“Although no one is sure exactly how pho came about, most believe that villagers saw an opportunity in 1898 when French colonialists started constructing the Nam Dinh textile plant (northern Vietnam). French technicians and thousands of workers flooded into the region to work on Indochina’s largest silk plant, and these two soup dishes, bánh đa cua, a type of river crab soup using the tiny crabs that were abundant in the rice fields to make a seafood broth and xáo, which was made with slices of water buffalo meat cooked in a simple bone broth with rice vermicelli noodles, spring onions and herbs, were likely combined and modified to cater to French tastes (using thinly sliced beef instead of buffalo). ”
At my friend and I’s favorite stop, we nearly always ordered the thinly sliced raw beef and added the Vietnamese meatballs to the large bowl of steaming hot broth with rice noodles. The thin sliced beef cooked in the hot broth was tender, and we often added Hoisin, Sriracha and the kitchen sink of vegetables often served along side: an herb cousin of cilantro, Thai basil, fresh bean sprouts, scallions and a squeeze of lime. The rich and aromatic nature of this soup is a food moment that I cherish fondly. In today’s COVID chaos, it may be just the ticket for you and your loved ones, too.
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Chef Josh, a new team member here at LLCC Culinary and Hospitality, is sharing his recipe for this delicious soup – a recipe he makes for his own family very often. Joshua Dineen joins our program as the chef specialist and brings with him a wealth of experience that will soon be for all to enjoy via his Epicuriosity contributions in addition to lending his expertise in both our academic coursework and our Community Education landscape. The traditional soup will also be a feature on our Bistro Verde menu this semester which it is set to open on Feb. 1. Please visit our Facebook page at LLCC Culinary and Hospitality for menu information, dine-in reservations, and carry out ordering instructions closer to our opening date. The Bistro welcomes everyone to participate in the active classroom where culinary and hospitality students execute dishes to order. Stay healthy and warm everyone.
For the soup:
2 pounds oxtails
3 pounds beef bones
5 inches fresh ginger root
8 garlic cloves
1-gallon cold water
3/4 cinnamon stick
3 star anise
2 black cardamom pods
(Optionally also add for fuller spice flavor- 2 whole cloves, coriander seed, fennel seed)
½ c * ¼ c fish sauce
2 T sugar (Rock sugar, palm sugar or brown sugar- whichever is available to you)
1 T sea salt- NO iodized salt
1 T vinegar
For the assembly:
Rice noodles prepared ready to eat. There are many varieties available. Use what works best for you. Follow package instructions.
Bean sprouts boiled for 2 minutes then placed in cold water-drain.
Thinly sliced white onion, raw or boiled for 1 minute, rinsed in cold water-drain.
Fresh cilantro and basil-roughly chopped
Fresh lime wedges and sliced fresh chili (if you like spicy)
Thinly sliced beef rolls- found at local Asian Market in freezer section.
Sriracha and Hoisin Sauce in a side dish
1. Wash oxtails and bones in cold water to rinse
2. Place it in a large pot, cover with cold water and bring it to a boil.
Boil for 5 minutes, pour into a colander, discard liquid, rinse oxtails and bones to remove scum and debris. Wash pot.
4. Return oxtails and bones to clean pot.
5. Place ginger, shallots, onion, and garlic on sheet tray. Broil them until quite charred but not burned. Rinse lightly and add to oxtails and bones.
6. Add up to a gallon of cold water. It is important to cover ingredients with water, but do not add more than one gallon of water. Bring to a boil, turn down heat to a slight bubble. Cook for 5-7 hours (up to 24 hours). Top off water level as necessary. This can also be done in an Instant Pot on the pressure-cooking setting for broth / soup to save time.
7. Meanwhile. Lightly toast whole spices in a sauté pan, do not burn.
8. Add toasted spices, ½ cup fish sauce, sugar and salt to pot after simmering time is complete, or pressure-cooking cycle complete. Lightly simmer everything 30-60 minutes, or another pressure-cooking cycle in Instant Pot.
9. Add 1 tablespoon vinegar and ¼ cup fish sauce to pot. Taste for seasoning. The broth should be meaty, rich with a pleasant spice warmness. Should NOT taste like a traditional beef broth. At this point, you can strain the broth and keep it hot and covered for service.
10. Place rice noodles in the bottom of a large bowl. Top with whichever toppings makes you happy.
11. Ladle the broth over the bowl you have created. The hot broth will instantly cook the thin raw beef slices.
12. Alternate / additional meat options. Add small brisket or other beef roast to oxtails and bones in the beginning. Remove when the brisket or roast is tender, but not too soft. Chill and reserve. Slice cold and use as a delicious topping.
13. You can also purchase Vietnamese-style meatballs in the freezer section at the Asian Market. Making these from scratch is another involved recipe.
Sheridan Lane is director of culinary programs and operations at Lincoln Land Community College.
Want to know more?
Lincoln Land Community College offers associate degree programs in culinary arts and hospitality management, certificates in culinary arts and baking / pastry and non-credit community classes through the Culinary Institute.
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