I finally did it. I finally made Phở!! This is remarkable because I grew up eating it (I’m half-Vietnamese) but I never made it on my own. I should back up and say that I actually have had the desire to make it for several years now but I had trouble finding beef bones. Now I can get BONES!!
Phở has gained popularity in the last few decades and you can find Vietnamese restaurants popping up around the globe. There are many wonderful Vietnamese dishes but Phở may be regarded as Vietnam’s ‘unofficial’ national dish. It is loved the world-over and there’s little wondering why. It’s simply delicious.
The origins of Phở are uncertain. Some historians claim that it is a version of the French “Pot-au-feu” which means literally “Pot on the Fire” and consists of beef bones and other vegetables. Phở and feu do have some similarities in their pronunciation. Vietnam was under French rule beginning in 1887 when it was referred to as French Indo-Chine or French Indo-China. The Vietnamese finally defeated the French in 1954 during the French Indo-China War. You can still see a lot of French influence there in the architecture and cuisine. Some other historians think the soup came from the Chinese (who also ruled Vietnam) but there is no definitive evidence of this.
One of the factors you need to take into consideration when making Phở is time. This is not a dish that can be rushed because the flavor comes from slowly cooking the bones. The slow cooking extracts all of the nutrients from within the bones which then comprise the broth. Fortunately, though, you also don’t have to hover over your pot for 10 hours. It just needs time to cook and you can go on with your business while it’s doing that.
Bone broths in general have been gaining some popularity lately, as there has been a resurgence of eating ‘Traditional Foods.” There is a growing movement of people who are pushing back against the food industry and conventional ideas about nutrition. Dishes and foods that our grandparents used to eat with regularity are now finding their way back onto many kitchen tables. Research has also shown different types of bone broths have been a staple for centuries in many societies around the world. It turns out that these were cultures that were often rather isolated, and the people were found to be relatively disease-free and in excellent dental health. Researchers concluded that dental health and overall health were inter-related.
People who once used to grab a ready-made chicken stock or bouillon from the store (and I used to be one of them – but the Phở never tasted right!) are now taking the time to make their own stocks and bone broths because they understand the benefits of homemade, chemical-free bone broths. Here are some of the benefits you can find from bone broths:
- Collagen – We need collagen because it is one of the primary building blocks for bones, cartilage and the brain. When you ingest bone broth, it feeds the body with readily-available collagen.
- Gelatin – Gelatin is related to collagen, is very easy for the body to absorb, and it aids in digestion. Gelatin can also be especially helpful for people with allergies, Crohn’s disease and colitis. There are some who say that Gelatin also has anti-aging elements.
- Bone Marrow – This is beneficial because it is rich in iron which carries oxygen to cells throughout our body. It is also a good source of protein.
- Calcium – Calcium helps to prevent osteoporosis and has also been said to reduce PMS symptoms. It also helps to maintain your heart rhythm and muscle function.
- Phosphorous – Phosphorous helps digestion, balances your hormones, repairs your cells and much more.
- Magnesium – This very important mineral is vital for many functions. It helps to detoxify your body. It assists in the relaxation of your blood vessels and helps bones and teeth to form properly. It also regulates your blood sugar. This is particularly important in America as it has been found that nearly 80% of the population is deficient in this vital mineral. The soil is depleted of Magnesium and therefore the food planted there will also be deficient.
Bone broths are cooked in such a way that these minerals and other components are broken down, which makes them highly digestible for the body.
Ok, enough benefits! Let’s cook!
Ingredients for Phở
- 3 pounds beef oxtail (and/or knuckle) bones
- 1 pound of beef bottom roast (this is optional because you can also use the beef from the bones. If you use it, slice it VERY thinly and set aside. You will add it to the broth right before serving)
- 1 large piece ginger, cut in half lengthwise
- 1 large yellow onion, peeled and cut in half
- 1/4 cup fish sauce (I use the “Three Crabs” brand. Ask at the store which one is best because there are a lot of BAD fish sauces out there)
- 1-2 ounces rock sugar, or 1- 2 tablespoons sugar to taste
- 6-8 whole stars of anise
- 6 whole cloves
- 1 teaspoon of whole coriander seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 3 whole cardamom pods
- 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds
- 4 bay leaves
- Salt to taste (we use Himalayan Salt but any salt is fine)
- One package of pho noodles (soak them in cold water for 30-45 minutes before you plan to eat)
- 2 cups of fresh bean sprouts
- Several sprigs of mint
- Several sprigs of basil
- Several sprigs of cilantro
- 1 lime or lemon cut into wedges
- Onion sliced very thinly (soak in ice water for 30 minutes before serving)
- 2-3 hot peppers (omit if you don’t like hot peppers)
- Hoisin Sauce
- Red chili sauce (I use Sriracha brand)
Step 1. Have a cute kid insert the spices into your tea diffuser (except the cinnamon sticks, which probably won’t fit). If you do not have a cute kid around, do it yourself.
Step 2. Have a cute kid inspect your spices.
Step 3. Put your tea diffuser and the rest of your spices (the cinnamon sticks) into the pot. Now, fill the pot up completely (almost to the top) with water.
Step 4. Remove the scum that will rise to the surface once it starts boiling. Discard this scum.
Step 5. Add the fish sauce, sugar and salt to the boiling bones. Now, let it simmer for 10 hours. You could probably eat it at around 6 hours, but the flavors deepen the longer it cooks and the nutritional benefits increase, as well. Let it cook and forget about it. Check on it occasionally and add water if the broth goes down too far. Taste it, as well, because as you add water it may need to be salted again, too. Let your taste buds be your guide.
Step 7. Once you’re nearing the 10 hours, prepare your fresh accompaniments.
Step 8. Prepare the noodles. Get another large pot, fill it with water and let it boil. Once your water has come to a rolling boil, you are ready to put your soaked Pho noodles in. You are really just blanching these noodles for about 30 seconds. You do not want to overcook them because they will cook further in the hot broth once you are ready to serve. Drain them after 30 seconds in the boiling water, and rinse them with cold water. Set aside.
Step 9. Put the thin slices of beef into the broth if you’re going to use them or omit if you’re going to just use the beef that’s in the broth. Put the noodles in your bowl, add the broth and top it with the accompaniments and condiments. I always add a tablespoon of hoisin sauce to my soup with a few squirts of Sriracha sauce. Squirt a lemon or lime wedge and prepare to be in soup heaven!!
Making the Phở and eating it after craving it for so many years reminds me of a quote from Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, creator of the GAPS diet.
“Well, Mother Nature is kind and it is not asking us to do anything so complicated. Instead it gave us senses of SMELL, TASTE, DESIRE for a particular food and a sense of SATISFACTION after eating it. So, when your body needs a particular mix of nutrients, it will give you a desire for a particular food, which contains just that right mix; this particular food will smell divine to you and taste wonderful, and you will feel satisfied after eating it.” [This applies to real food only]
Food and nutrition are intertwined and the two should complement each other. Food should be delicious. Enjoy!
Live well and be happy!