Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Great Pho Making Exercise!

Mission: Make beef stock soup for Vietnamese pho, from scratch.

I have a friend J, who is always kind enough to invite us over to her house when she makes her amazing beef noodles. The last time, I asked her for the recipe and she kindly provided it, so that I could take a turn at making it myself, for a gathering.

This basically called for an extended visit to the Tekka wet market in Singapore, which specialises in all manner of fresh produce, for lots of beef and herbs. I didn't even recognize all the things we bought. Definitely cloves, star anise, cinammon and nutmeg. I'd never thought of them in a savoury context though.

I was shocked at the amount of oxtail and beef shin that goes into this stock. An entire baking tray's worth and this is just the bones. It imparts a lovely, slightly gluey texture to the soup though.

This is all the shin meat that went into the soup as well. Another baking trays worth, to be precise. It's a huge use of meat but this was for three giant pots of soup and to be fair, I was being generous as I wanted the soup to be full and flavourful.

What you want to do is to bake the bones and shin in the oven, till it browns and lots of oil oozes out, together with the scum, like so. Then you pour away all the liquid and submerge the beef in water, together with your herbs and vegetables.

What you see here is vegetables like daikon, which I cut into relatively thick pieces so that they wouldn't disintegrate. You can put in chinese white cabbage as well, though you should scoop them out early as they do disintegrate. There's also chives, cilantro, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, you are supposed to use a muslin bag but well, I'm all for free-floating form. You boil and boil for three hours and can re-use the meats and herbs. It makes for a thick, luscious, tasty stock and I served it with noodles and left guests to cook their own beef slices and beef balls.

The guests were so hungry and I was so greedy that we took pictures of neither the finished bowls of beef pho nor the fat vegetable spring rolls that accompanied them. It was my first experience making spring rolls and they were delicious! The secret is, always fry them twice. I was invigorated to make them by my friend N. who slyly emailed "Thank you for the invitation to dinner, I love pho. I will come early to help wrap the spring rolls". And then one space line down... "Are spring rolls on the menu?"

I will definitely do this recipe again and in the coming posts, will show the other parts of the meal. Hopefully I'll remember to take more photos of the finished product the next time!

I know it was good too, because my brother was highly aggrieved to learn that the pho dinner coincided with a night that he wasn't home for dinner. The good thing about this recipe by the way, is that you can make it a day before hand, in fact, you must, because the soup has to be chilled and decanted of all the oil several times, until you get a clear brothy soup. Upon waking up on the morning of the dinner, I came downstairs to find him sitting at the breakfast table, tucking into a big, steaming bowl of beef noodle soup that he'd helped himself to out of my pots sitting in the fridge.

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