Phở (Vietnamese Noodle Soup)

Many people are finding themselves at home with more time on their hands than they ever thought imaginable. And many of those people’s homes are boats. Close quarters. Projects like rebuilding the head pump, replacing impellers, …even French whipping the wheel, are starting to get monotonous. Looking for more rewarding ways to spend time? Try a Galley Pirate’s solution to this malaise: a soup that simmers all day and fills your cabin with smells that make you forget you have a diesel engine. Nothing makes your boat smell better than a pot of phở.

Phở (Vietnamese Noodle Soup)

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1 pound beef knuckles (if you can find them)
1 pound (1 1/2-inch thick) beef shanks with bones
2 medium yellow onions
1 large hand of ginger, about 6 ounces, 3-4″ worth
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
5 star anise pods
6 whole cloves
1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds
6 cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
2 Thai chilis
1 1/2 pounds beef brisket or chuck roast
1 tablespoon fish sauce or soy sauce
1 tablespoon Beef Better Than Bouillon
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar

For serving:
10-12 ounces beef flank steak or good quality sirloin (best when it’s almost frozen, keep next to your cold plate)
1 pounds dry rice noodles (banh pho) or rice sticks
3 scallions, thinly sliced
4-6 Thai chiles
2 medium limes, cut into wedges
2 cups fresh bean sprouts
1 cups fresh cilantro, Thai (or regular) basil, and/or mint leaves
Hoisin or Sriracha sauce (optional)

Traditionally phở broth (pronounced “fuh”) simmers for hours and hours…even days…adding water, skimming foam, to get its full flavor of spices. But to conserve precious propane you can back off the amount of hours this simmers. If you start around noon you can have your phở ready for dinner.

Parboil the shanks and and beef bones (I was not able to find beef knuckles so just used a shank here) in your largest soup pot for 10 minutes. Drain in a colander, rinse off the meat and bones. Clean out the soup pot, return the bones and meat to the pot and set aside.

Light your broiler. Be sure to crack your oven door an inch so you don’t suffocate the broiler flame. If you don’t have a broiler, this step can be omitted and you will still have a great tasting phở. Halve the onions and ginger. Rub a little vegetable oil on them. Place in a cast iron pan and set under the broiler to char. (you only need about half of the ginger shown here.)

While the onions and ginger are in the oven, cut the chuck roast or brisket into 3″ sized chucks. Place them in the soup pot with the bones and shanks.

Once charred, place the ginger and onions in the soup pot. Wipe the cast iron pan clean and place your dry spices (cinnamon, cloves, fennel, star anise, coriander and cardamom) in the pan. Roast on a burner until fragrant, being careful not to let them burn. It’s better to skip this step than to use burned spices. Many chefs suggest tying the roasted spices in a cheese cloth before placing in the soap pot. I skip this step and place the spices directly in the pot knowing it’s all going to be strained in the end anyway. Add one or two Thai chilis.

Fill the pot with water, place over a medium flame and let simmer. And simmer. Occasionally skim off any foam that may rise to the surface. Let this simmer for as many hours as you want, adding more water when needed. Now you have ample time to scrub the decks, sew torn canvas, vacuum dog hair…or as this pirate did…make Clafoutis aux Framboise (coming soon on Galley Pirates).

While that simmers, prepare the noodles. I had to cheat here a bit. I could not find rice noodles (you never know what’s going to disappear in a pandemic) so I used Lo Mien noodles. They worked just as well. Avoid substituting with cellophane noodles which can fall apart into a glutinous slime. Place the noodles in a pot of hot water, bring to a simmer and let cook 2-4 minutes until tender. Drain in a colander and shock under a little cold water to stop the cooking process. Set aside.

About 10 minutes before you are about to strain the stock, thinly slice the flank steak (or sirloin). If you kept your steak close to the cold plate in your ice box it will be easier to slice thin.

The beef brisket or chuck roast needs to be fully braised and flake easily with a fork to know it’s done. After a few hours of simmering the broth, and it being reduced by about half, drain the soup through a fine colander into another large pot (does not have to be as large as your soup pot.) Pick out the beef and place in a container. That beef can either be placed back into the strained broth for the soup or set aside for another use. I prefer the latter as I like my Phở broth to be pure and clear.

Return the pan of broth to the stove. Heat to a low boil and add the fish sauce (or soy sauce) and brown sugar. And here’s where I cheat. I add a tablespoon of Beef Better than Bouillon. You will not find this in any Vietnamese recipe but it adds such richness to the broth you will be glad you read it here on Galley Pirates. Adjust seasonings to taste. (More brown sugar? More bouillon? More fish sauce? More water?) Let simmer for 5-10 more minutes.

Next, start arranging the accompaniments. Rinse the bean sprouts under hot water to wash off any bacteria. Chop the scallions and herbs; arrange the hot peppers and lime wedges on a platter.

Place noodles, bean sprouts, scallions, and raw flank steak in each bowl. Pour hot broth into the bowls. This “cooks” the steak. You want to keep the steak rare. Serve with herbs, peppers and limes.


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