Good pho (rhymes with “duh”), the classic Vietnamese beef soup, depends entirely on good, richly flavored broth. Traditionally, the stock-making is serious business, an all-day affair that allows no shortcuts or workarounds, which would compromise the depth and complexity of the finished product.
By comparison, this version may as well be "instant," which allows you to put a pot on when the need arises, or a scratchy throat gets the better of you. If you have more time, keep simmering beyond the first 3 hours; it only gets better.
Makes 6 servings
- 2 large fingers gingerroot, each about 3 inches long
- 1 large onion, peeled and cut in half crosswise
- 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
- 3 to 4 pounds oxtail, meaty beef shank or shin bones, or a combination
- 3 whole star anise pieces
- 1 fat cinnamon stick
- 4 cloves
- 6 white peppercorns
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup fish sauce, plus more to taste
- 2 to 3 tablespoons sugar
- Juice of 2 to 3 limes, or to taste
- About 8 ounces banh pho (thin rice noodles)
- Fresh green chilies, thinly sliced
- Cilantro, Thai basil and mint sprigs
- Limes, quartered limes
- Sambal chili paste or Sriracha
Preheat the broiler to high. Lightly coat the ginger and onion with the oil, place them on a foil-lined baking sheet, and put the pan 2 to 3 inches below the broiler. Broil until slightly charred, 7 to 10 minutes, turning the pan halfway through. Watch closely; the process goes very quickly at a certain point.
Place the beef bones in a large stockpot with the ginger and onion and cover with at least 4 quarts of cool water. Add the star anise, cinnamon, cloves and peppercorns. Bring the contents of the pot to a simmer over medium high heat, reduce the flame and simmer over the lowest possible heat, for at least 3 hours and up to 5. The meat should fall off the bones. The longer the broth simmers, the more it evaporates. Top the water up, if needed to keep the ingredients slightly submerged. Refrain from adding water during the last hour of cooking.You should end up with 2 quarts of broth.
Remove the chunks of meat from the pot using a slotted spoon, and leaving the bones behind. Set the meat aside to cool. Season the broth with fish sauce, sugar and lime juice to taste.
Soak the noodles in warm water until just softened, about 10 minutes.
When the meat has cooled, separate the tendon from the outside of the flesh, and slice into 1/2-inch pieces.
Strain the broth into a clean soup pot. Drain the noodles and add them to the pot, along with the meat. Simmer together until the noodles are cooked, about 7 minutes. Serve the noodles, meat and broth straight from the pot, allowing guests to season their bowl to taste with more fish sauce and lime juice, and any of the other desired sauces and garnishes.