daring cooks: vietnamese beef pho

the october 2009 daring cooks’ challenge was brought to us by jaden of the blog steamy kitchen. the recipes are from her new cookbook, the steamy kitchen cookbook, and the recipe jaden chose for us to make is vietnamese pho.

pho (pronounced “fuh”, you say the word like it’s a question) is a vietnamese noodle soup with an intensely flavoured stock. jaden allowed us to choose our own variation and i decided to go with beef as this is what i will always order if i see it on a menu.

so, how did i get on? 

the broth – the recipe which i wanted to follow calls for you to make your own beef stock. i know how important the stock is to pho but ran out of time and had to rely on waitrose’s own beef stock. this turned out to be fine, being slightly slightly gelatinous when chilled and packed with flavour. the key to a good pho broth is to char some onions and ginger which are added to the stock along with toasted spices. for beef pho the spices needed are cinnamon, coriander, fennel, star anise, cardamom and cloves. i boiled these with the bought stock for 20 minutes before draining and discarding them. it was amazing how much flavour was added as a result – you’d never have believed that i hadn’t used some sort of spice paste.

accompaniments – if you make your own stock you will have some cooked beef for the dish. i obviously didn’t have this and decided not to worry and add my sirloin steak strips just before serving, as the recipe calls for. as suggested by jaden, i sliced the steak while still frozen so the strips were nice and thin. the resulting sirloin was wonderfully tender. i added a few spinach leaves to each bowl for some veggie goodness but otherwise followed jaden’s recipe.

the final verdict:

  • would i have tried this recipe if it hadn't been part of the daring cooks challenge? yes – i enjoy eating pho and have wanted to try it for some time.
  • would i try this recipe again in the future? yes. the dish was full of authentic flavour, easy to pull together and a very delicious light supper. i really enjoyed learning how to flavour the stock and am keen to try a chicken version, with its slightly different spicing.

abby’s adapted beef pho* (serves 2)

1 onion, peeled and halved

a 2” piece of ginger sliced in half lengthways

vegetable oil

1 star anise

2 cloves

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

1 cardamom pod, lightly squashed

a 2-3” cinnamon stick

1 tablespoon fennel seeds

500ml good quality beef stock

500ml water

1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons fish sauce plus extra to taste

noodles for 2 (i used amoy straight to wok noodles)

a handful of baby spinach leaves

a couple of handfuls of bean sprouts

200-300g sirloin steak (see above for tip on how to slice it thinly)

1 tablespoon of each thai basil, mint and coriander leaves

1 green chilli, finely sliced (i deseeded mine as it was hot!)

½ a lime, halved, to serve

hoisin sauce, to serve

rub the onion and ginger with a little oil and place under a hot grill until they begin to char. turn over until charred on both sides (my onion disintegrated a little so i just brushed newly exposed pieces with oil and removed the charred bits so they didn’t burn.

place the spices in a dry frying pan and fry until you can smell them, stirring occasionally.

put the charred onion and ginger, toasted spices, stock, water, sugar and fish sauce into a large pan and simmer for 20 minutes. drain the solids away and return the stock to the pan. taste and add more suagr, fish sauce or salt if needed.

cook your noodles – i did mine in the pho broth – and place them in the bottom of your serving bowls. add the spinach leaves, bean sprouts and raw beef slices. ladle in the hot stock (this will cook the beef) and sprinkle with the herbs and chilli. serve with the lime quarters and hoisin sauce.

* jaden’s original recipe is here