Chef J, my culinary school instructor, was the first person who inspired me to learn more about this Vietnamese phenomenon. Just like with any other favorite ethnic food, we try it for the first time and make two possible conclusions: It’s either “oh yeah, I understand why so many people like it!” or “meh, probably it’s not mine.” I tried Pho in a couple of Austin places and decided that I’d rather spend my calories on its rivals from other Asian cuisines. My friends and family were persistent. Over the last few years, I had a chance to taste many different versions of this soup to change my mind about it. Last year, I made my the first and the best Pho at home (Thank you, Alex!), because it was 100% to my taste. I also managed to adjust the recipe logistics to a busy lifestyle. In other words, no need to stay hours in the kitchen to enjoy a bowl of good Pho Bo at home.
There are many good Pho recipes available online. My version is based on Andrea Nguyen’s Beef Pho Noodle Soup Recipe (Pho Bo), where you can find a lot of detailed information about Pho.
Slow or Pressure Cooking?
I use 6-quart Crock-Pot or 6-quart Instant Pot for making the stock. Both pots make velvety thick and flavorful beef stock; Crock-Pot does the job in 6-8 hours of slow overnight cooking, Instant Pot — in 1.5 hours of high pressure cooking (Soup preset). Use trimmed oxtail with minimum fat, precook it with beef tendons under the broil, and you do not need to be present between the moment when you close the lid at the beginning of making your stock and the time to open it at the end. It is true for using either of pots.
Prepare your 6-quart slow or pressure cooker. Fill the insert (referred to as pot later) with 3 quarts of cold water. The rest of the water — 2 more quarts — will be added later to dilute the stock before serving.
Peel and quarter onion. Quarter or cut ginger to 3-4 large pieces. Arrange onion, ginger, oxtail, and beef tendons on a baking sheet.
Broil them on top rack for 5 minutes until oxtail is brown on both sides. Transfer tendons and oxtail to the cooker insert. Continue charring the onions and ginger under the broil for about ten more minutes. Transfer them to the pot.
to prep spices
Break cinnamon to smaller pieces. Dry-toast all spices — star anise, cloves, cinnamon pieces, coriander and fennel seeds, and cardamom pods — on a hot skillet. Place and tie them up in a cheesecloth sack. Add to the pot insert.
to make stock
With all the ingredients in the pot, make sure the water level is not above the MAX marker. Add seasoning ingredients — fish sauce, salt, and palm sugar. I also like adding scallions or chives, but it's optional. Close the lid and turn on the cookers. For slow cooker, cook on HIGH for 1 hour to bring water to boiling, then switch to LOW and leave it cooking for 6-7 more hours, undisturbed. For Instant Pot pressure cooker, press SOUP button and leave it undisturbed for about 2-2.5 hours.
Your cooked stock will look like on this picture. Discard vegetables.
Strain tendons, place them in a container, add stock to cover them competely, and refrigerate until ready to use.
Strain oxtail segments, place them in a container, add stock to cover them competely, and refrigerate until ready to use.
Strain the rest of the stock and keep refrigerated in a separate contaner until ready to use.
to serve soup
Prepare soup toppings. Slice key limes and Thai chiles. Chop chives. Pick cilantro and Thai basil leaves.
Slice tendons across 1/4-1/5" thick. Place tendons and oxtail in a pot, add all stock and 2 quarts of water and bring to simmer on high heat, reduce to low and keep simmering.
Follow packaging instruction to prepare dry rice noodles. I like serving no more than 2 oz of dry noodles per portion. Portion cooked noodles into each bowl and add about 1/3 cup of hot stock into each one to cover noodles.
Blanch soybean sprouts in simmering stock for for 30 sec. Portion them into each bowl.
In every bowl, arrange thin slices of raw meat, cooked oxtail and tendons. Laddle piping hot stock to fill each bowl. Top with key lime wedges, Thai chile slices, and herbs. Enjoy!
WHERE TO FIND ASIAN INGREDIENTS IN AUSTIN
Offal meats like oxtail (ox tail, beef tail, Kobe tail) are available in regular supermarkets (H-E-B, CM) from time to time. Ask meat mongers when they get them. Beef/ox tail and beef tendons, as well as Asian herbs, are almost always available in Asian markets.