Thursday, December 9, 2010

Vietnamese Pork Pho - YES!!

Pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup in its basic form. But it offers a world of varieties. Pho is an example of why I love to cook and eat. Simple, basic, peasant-workingman's food that contains a ton of flavor that expands the globe and cultures. Slowly-simmered for hours while intoxicating aromas fill the kitchen, it is hard to wait it out.

Varieties include all different cuts of beef like flank steak, or chicken, and my favorite, pork. It also includes any vegatables you want to incorporate. Most popular are bean sprouts, onions, and chiles. Garnishes such as cilantro or basil leaves, Sriracha and Hoisin sauce are mixed in to personal levels. It is basically an open canvas, an empty bowl wanting to be filled with anything.

Pho is popular in the States. Small shops and counters are opening up offering steaming bowls of pho for cheap price. Traditionally, it is a breakfast dish but pho can be enjoyed anytime of course. Websites and blogs are devoted to it. Chef celebrities such as Anthony Bourdain die for a good lip-smacking bowl of pho.

I gave it go, tried to make my own version after compiling ingredients from people's recipes on the web. Like the pad thai I made last week, I don't want to totally botch it and ruin the experience but I did my homework so hopefully it will be amazing.

Pho has a lot of components but like most soups, the broth has to be on the spot aces, remarkably tasty and a power punch of flavor. I decided a boxed pre-made stock wasn't going to satisfy my attempt. Sure, you can use premade stock and it probably would be great. But I wanted to put my own stamp on it.

For the broth:

2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds
4 whole cloves
2 star anise

Heat a pan and toast spices until fragrent, about 2-3 minutes. Remove and set aside.

In a large pot, add:
a touch of oil
2-3 lbs of pork bones/meat - I used 2 lbs of pork neck bones, smoked pork neck bone, and reserved pork butt bone/meat. Brown meat and bones.
8 cups (or more) of homemade stock or premade stock. I used leftover stock from my German meatballs.
3 inch piece of ginger, cut into strips
a few tablespoons of fish sauce

Bring to a boil and simmer for 2 hours or more. Strain stock and discard the solids.

While the stock is simmering, prepare the accompaniments. I used:

bean sprouts
cilantro leaves
red onion, sliced thin
red chile pepper, sliced thin
lime wedges
Sriracha chili sauce
Hoisin sauce, to mix in
Maifun noodles
center-cut pork loin chops
pickings from the pork neck bones

I cooked the pork chops seperately instead of simmering a pork shoulder or pork loin in the broth. I feared drying out the meat as I have had bowls of pho at places where the pork was tough and dry. I thinly cut center-cut pork loin chops into strips and added it into the broth after it was cooked.

Ladle the broth into bowls and add the noodles and the pork. The accompaniments can be displayed in a spread on the table as you can pick what you want. Add as much of whatever ingredient you want!

Wow! I did alright with the pho. It had plenty of flavor. The broth was the real star and the slow-cooked pork neck bones were very moist. I would recommend using a bone-in pork shoulder or 3 lbs of pork neck bones to simmer in the broth. I made the wrong decision to incorporate sliced pork chops. It was ok but the pork neck bones cooked in the broth had more flavor.

With the sauces, you can control the amount of heat you want to add to the bowl. I love the assembly of pho, you control what you want it to be essential. The sprouts, onions, and peppers were cooked by the heat of the broth, best to cut them mega thin. They added a nice crunch to the pho. The squeezed limes provided nice acid to the broth too. Oh yeah,  I love schlurping up those maifun noodles!

People, good people, literally stop what you are doing and go make some Pho.

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