It’s amazing what a good night’s sleep and a trip to the chiropractor can do for a woman.
For the last several days, I’ve been battling joint pain and muscle tightness that, when combined with my crazy postpartum hormones, has made for a rough start to the week. As a stay-at-home mom, my desire is to nurture my kids’ hearts, teach them about the world around them, and guide the development of their character, yet when I am sluggish and exhausted, it seems I’m unable to do any of these things. Dora episodes run on repeat while I muster all the energy I have just to keep everyone clean and fed.
This morning, though, I feel a sense of hope that perhaps things are improving. After a solid 8 ½ hours of sleep, I carried both kids off to a babysitter for the day, and then stopped by Starbucks on my way to the chiropractor. I’m home now and can feel that my body is more relaxed, and I also think a nap may be coming on. My to-do list is long and I hope to make the most of my day of childcare, but my top priority is rest and healing.
Days like today leave me craving foods that nourish and comfort, and beef pho fits the bill exactly. I hadn’t heard of Vietnamese noodle soup as a child growing up in Texas, but since moving to the Seattle area six years ago, it has become a sick day favorite. Restaurants abound supplying bowls of this soup, but a few months ago, my Cambodian friend, Mo, showed me how to make it at home, and now I don’t think I’ll ever want takeout again!
If you aren’t familiar with pho, let me tell you that the secret is in the broth. It’s in this gorgeous liquid that the flavor resides, and once the broth is prepared, the remainder of the dish preps in just minutes. The recipe below is a shortcut method, utilizing premade beef stock enhanced with a bouillon-type product from the Asian market, but it is easy and simple and perfect for warming the soul. A fully scratch-made stock is typically prepared from oxtail and/or beef knuckles and an assortment of spices, and I hope to try that in the future.
While I have enjoyed pho at many of the restaurants in our region, none have provided a soup as scrumptious as this. The broth is rich and layered with flavors of soy, cinnamon, and anise, and the basil, cilantro, and scallions add a dimension of freshness. And don’t forget the spicy Sriracha and fried garlic, the sweet hoisin sauce, and the crunchy bean sprouts – these tastes and textures combine to create a dish that is satisfying and delicious.
- 3 quarts low-sodium beef stock
- 3 quarts water
- 5 tablespoons instant beef flavor paste (see photo above)
- 3 1/2 pounds boneless beef chuck roast
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce
- 13 1/2 ounces thin vermicelli-style rice noodles
- 12 ounces bean sprouts
- 1 bunch fresh cilantro, stems removed
- 3 ounces fresh basil, stems removed
- 6 scallions, cut into ½ inch pieces
- Fried garlic
- Sriracha hot sauce
- Hoisin sauce
- Other (optional) garnishes: sliced fresh jalapenos, lime wedges
- In a very large pot, heat the beef stock, water, and instant beef flavor paste over high heat until boiling (covering the pot with the lid will help it come up to temperature more quickly).
- While the liquid is heating up, cut the beef roast into 1-inch cubes, trimming and discarding the fat portions; add the meat to the pot. Once the mixture is boiling, reduce the heat to medium and continue to simmer for about 2 ½ hours, until the meat is very tender. There may be some dark colored scum that rises to the surface, especially during the first part of boiling; simply skim this off with a slotted spoon and discard. Stir in the fish sauce at the end of cooking.
- Just prior to mealtime, cook the rice noodles according to the package directions. I usually place them in boiling water for 2 minutes until barely al dente, then drain using a colander (the cooking time may vary if you are using noodles of a different thickness).
- To serve, portion the cooked rice noodles into bowls (we often use medium-sized serving or mixing bowls since a regular cereal bowl is too small for our preference). Add in the desired amount of bean sprouts, cilantro, basil, scallions, fried garlic, and beef pieces, then ladle in enough broth to cover the contents of the bowl (about 4 cups of liquid). Top with Sriracha and hoisin sauce according to your taste. (As an alternative, you may serve pho in the more traditional manner by placing the noodles, meat, and broth in the bowls and serving the remaining garnishes on a side platter.)
Tips and Tidbits
- The instant beef flavor paste is a key component in flavoring the broth and cannot be substituted with traditional beef bouillon. If you can’t find the variety pictured above, try to use something similar. The ingredients label from the jar I purchased reads: onion, garlic, salt, soy bean oil, sugar, lemon grass, monosodium glutamate, soy sauce powder (soy bean, salt, wheat), artificial beef flavor, chili, spices (pepper, cinnamon, clove, star anise), ginger, paprika color, caramel color, citric acid. (As a note, there are ingredients included on this list that I typically prefer to avoid – notably, the MSG and artificial coloring – but I allow this to be an exception).
- The recipe specifies the use of boneless beef chuck roast, but truly you can use whatever cut strikes your fancy and/or is on sale. The long cooking time will allow the meat to tenderize so getting a high quality cut isn’t very important here.
- Simmering the meat until it is tender takes a few hours, so it’s not advisable to make this dish from start to finish if you have limited time. However, preparing the broth ahead of time and refrigerating it until it is needed will create an opportunity for a quick weeknight meal. Just reheat it, boil the noodles, and serve with the assorted garnishes. Plus, when the broth is chilled, the extra beef fat will harden on the surface of the liquid and can be removed if desired.
- Fried garlic is available for purchase at my local Asian food market, but it can easily be made at home as an alternative. Simply sauté finely chopped garlic in a pan with a small amount of oil until it is golden brown. Remove the garlic bits from the pan and place them on a paper towel to absorb excess oil.