Sunday, October 23, 2011

Pho Sho


That is the name of an actual Pho restaurant, Pho Sho, and quite possibly more than one. Seen any good ones? There are plenty out there, both laugh and face-palm inducing.

But pho is fantastic--if you've not had it, get thee to a pho-ery. It's also a long and time consuming soup to make. [between this and the ramen last time, what am I doing?] But I got it in my head that I should try making pho, found a good recipe by Andrea Nguyen, finally had a chance to hit up the Chinese/Pan-Asian supermarket, and off I went. Part of what appealed to me about Nguyen's recipe was her use of a technique I've not tried before: charring. She has charred onions and ginger as key ingredients for the pho broth, and lucky me, I've got a gas stove in my apartment so I was able to try doing it! Though, apparently, you can char with an electric stove, too, so that's not an obstacle for everyone with electric stoves. In fact, if you can deal with the extra step of lifting your cooking vessel off the stove top if you need to quickly reduce heat, electric stoves actually transfer heat to your pots/pans faster than do gas stoves (though the coils themselves aren't as hot as the flames themselves). However, electric stoves take longer to heat up and cool down to where you want them to be.

Totally unsure what I was doing, target results not quite clear in the directions, but it turned out alright. I didn't even set off a fire alarm. Though, if you can char on an electric stove, I wonder why charring has to be done over radiant heat rather than just, say, on a skillet? I suppose with a skillet it's mostly the contact points that get the heat, whereas the radiant heat has a broader area of effect.



Softened and fragrant.

As for the results, the flavor of the broth was excellent and full-bodied. Nguyen chides people who suggest diluting their beef broth, saying you've worked so hard to render it, why dilute? However, I found that her recipe made a lot less broth than advertised (I may add some water in as the broth boils down over the hours, next time) and that dilution with some chicken stock actually worked out very well. The pho broth doesn't need to be so rich, in my opinion. Though, if I add some extra water in during the rendering, maybe dilution before serving won't be necessary.

To cook the raw beef slices on top, you pour scalding hot broth over the top of the noodles and beef just before serving. I don't know, though; I found that my soup ended up warm, but not hot like it is in restaurants. I bet they preheat their bowls...maybe they don't do a cold rinse of the noodles to stop the cooking...I also probably just loaded up with too much beef and noodles, ha.

The real treats, though, are the tendon and marrow that come with the bones used in the broth! If you're not too freaked out by the thought of eating tendon and/or marrow, you should try them some time. Done correctly (i.e. cooked for a long time), tendon is, well, tender. Marrow is very rich. Probably too rich for my taste (as are crab innards). But what about the cholesterol in marrow, you say? Well fear not: it turns out that it's not dietary cholesterol, but rather saturated and trans fats that have big effects on blood cholesterol levels--unless you're part of the unfortunate 30% susceptible to dietary cholesterol. This was a shocker for me, too; eggs have been exonerated. On the other hand, I think marrow may also have a lot of saturated fat in it..

Anyway, too much rambling from me. Back to work. And here's the link to Andrea Nguyen's recipe again. Be sure to check out her basic tips, linked on her recipe page.

The thigh bones, with their marrow mostly cooked out. You can see the piece of brown marrow inside the bone at top right.

Wow. That's a lot of fat. Don't skim all of it off, though! Fat's where richness in the soup comes from. I kept about a third of it. If you are so inclined, you could use the fat in other dishes, too.

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