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Pho Bo – Beef Noodle Soup Hanoi Style

Introduction:

Where phở originally came from has proven inconclusive to researchers. From my little bit of digging around in Hanoi (Hà Nội) I found three theories each with their merits, but one in particular sounding the most likely. First off is a nice little theory that phở originated from the French word feu (fire) as in the dish pot-au-feu (a dish of soup, boiled meat and vegetables). The theory is plausible in that phở is pronounced the same as feu, and that it is a soup dish usually served with boiled meat. However, most of the ingredients in phở and pot-au-feu are different, and in the French version the meat is usually eaten separately from the broth whereas in the Vietnamese version the meat is in the broth, along with the noodles (phở).

Second off is the story that phở was invented during French rule by a talented cook in Nam Định City, which at the time was Vietnam’s largest colonial textile centre. The industry there was an amalgamation of French employers and Vietnamese labourers and the chef, whose name I couldn’t find, decided that to please both the colonialists and the locals he would base a soup on noodles (appealing to the Vietnamese) and beef (appealing to the French) and a few other available ingredients.

Finally, and the theory considered to be the most likely (according to the book PHỞ a Speciality of Hà Nội by Hữu Ngọc and Lady Borton) is that the birthplace of phở was in the village of Vân Cù in the Nam Định province. The story goes that impoverished villagers created phở and then peddled their dish in Hanoi, about 100 kilometres ways. The phở was a huge success amongst both the poor and wealthy residents of Hanoi and this success may explain why several of the best phở chefs in Hanoi originate from Vân Cù Village. Vân Cù villagers do not know who created phở, they only know that in about 1925 a villager named Van became the first person to move to Hanoi to open a phở stall.

Although a year has passed since my 5 week sojourn to the astoundingly brilliant Hanoi, the memories of phở bò in particular remain entrenched in my bank of culinary experiences. The phở that I have created and posted here is a culmination of all the soups I tasted in Hanoi and advice I was given from the Vietnamese friends I made over there. I have tried to stay true to the Hanoian style: a simple, clean and uncomplicated soup that has a deep rich meaty and lightly spiced flavour, with a subtle hint of sweetness. The secret to a great phở is the broth – the broth will make or break your soup. This version is based on phở bò chin (boiled beef) and phở bò tai (rare beef).

 

Serves: 8  |   Preparation:  30-40 minutes   |   Cooking: 4 hours + resting overnight

 

Ingredients:

For the broth:
2 kg Brisket |
2 kg Beef bones | Get your butcher to cut them in to pieces.
300g Pork rib bones | Adds a ‘sweetness’ to the broth – advised by my Vietnamese friends and connoisseurs of phở
6-7 litres Cold water | Enough to ensure the bones are covered.
1 tbsp. Sea salt |
5 large Asian or French shallots | Unpeeled.
1 bulb Garlic | Unpeeled.
100g Ginger | Unpeeled.
1 Brown onion | Unpeeled.

For the spice pouch:    
5 pods Black cardamom |
3 quills Cinnamon |
10 Cloves |
6 pods Star anise |
1 tbsp. Black peppercorns |

Other flavourings for the broth:    
150ml Fish sauce | Also have some extra if the broth needs seasoning at the end.
90g Yellow Rock Sugar | This sugar tastes both richer and subtler than refined, granulated sugar. It also gives the broth a beautiful lustre and glaze. White sugar can be used but reduce the amount to about 60g.

Additions to the final Soup:    
200g per person Phở (Noodles) | Buy fresh from an Asian grocers.
1 bunch Garlic chives | Finely chopped.
250g Rib eye fillet beef | Sliced thinly.
25g per person Bean sprouts |
6 Spring onions | Chopped.
2 Birds-eye chilli | Finely sliced.
1 to 2 Lemon or lime | Quartered.
1 bunch Asian basil | Discard the roots, wash and split the bunch into small sprigs.
1 bunch Coriander | Discard the roots, wash and split the bunch into small sprigs.
1 bunch Perilla leaves | Discard the roots, wash and split the bunch into small sprigs.
1 bunch Vietnamese mint | Discard the roots, wash and split the bunch into small sprigs.
To season Fish sauce | Only of required.

 

 

How To:

Over a charcoal grill or a very hot griddle pan place the shallots, garlic bulb, ginger and brown onion and char-grill for about 20 minutes. We want the outer skin burnt and the inside soft; this really adds a depth of flavour of the broth. When done remove the burnt outer skins, discard and then chop up the rest in to smallish pieces.

Again over a charcoal grill or hot griddle pan toast the black cardamom pods, cinnamon quills, cloves and star anise pods for about a minute until really fragrant. Remove the spices from the heat and along with the peppercorns roughly grind them in a spice grinder or with a pestle and mortar. Make a pouch out of muslin cloth and add the spice mix. Tie up the pouch and set aside.

To an 11 litre (or similar) stock pot add the brisket, beef bones, pork rib bones, cold water and sea salt. Ensure that the water covers the bones completely. Bring the meat and bones to the boil and then reduce to a rolling simmer for about 15 minutes. During this time skim any impurities that rise to the surface (usually a brownish foamy scum). By removing these impurities you will end up with a clear broth. Now to the bones add the chopped char-grilled shallots, onion, garlic and ginger, spice pouch, yellow rock sugar and fish sauce and then bring back to the boil. Now turn down the heat to low, cover the pan and let it simmer for about 3 hours. The broth will reduce during this time, which is what we want.

After 3 hours turn off the heat and then allow the broth to cool for about an hour. Now carefully pick out the pieces of brisket. Leave them to cool overnight. Now, strain the broth through a fine sieve into a smaller stock pot (I use a 5 litre one) and then allow it to rest overnight in the fridge.

Once rested in the fridge the stock will have a layer of solid fat on the surface. Strain carefully through a fine sieve lined with a double layer of muslin and then return the broth to your smaller (5 litre) stock pot. You should see a lovely translucent brown stock. Discard the muslin cloth as it should now contain all the filtered fat.

Now to prepare the rest of the ingredients: take the Asian basil, coriander, perilla leaves and Vietnamese mint and put in to a bowl of iced water. This will ‘crisp’ the herbs. Drain them just before serving. Heat the broth to just below a simmer and season with fish sauce if required. I added about 1 teaspoon. Thinly slice the cold boiled brisket (used to make the broth) discarding any ‘lumps’ of fat.

Bring a large pan of water to the boil. In a large enough sieve place 200g of the noodles and blanch in the hot water for about 20 seconds. Loosen the noodles carefully during the blanching. Place the noodles in a serving bowl and repeat the process for the other serves.

Each serving bowl should now contain noodles. To each bowl add a good sprinkle of the finely chopped garlic chives, the bean sprouts, a few chopped spring onion pieces, a handful of sliced brisket and a few slices of the raw rib eye fillet. Now pour 3-4 ladles of hot broth into each bowl so that it looks like a soup. Serve immediately.

Prepare as a side a bowl containing the herbs and a dish containing the lemon/ lime quarters and sliced chilli. People can then add as much herb/ chilli/ lemon or lime to their soup. Remember a phở connoisseur first lightly stirs the noodles, then drinks a mouthful of the sweet broth.

Gazpacho

Introduction:

Boy, is this a polarizing dish. I can hear the Yorkshire folk of generations gone by saying “cold soup…cold soup, we’re in bleeding Yorkshire, not on Mercury”. Soup is of course traditionally hot, well in Northern parts any way. But when one looks at the history of gazpacho, the cold tomato soup (the modern version is a soup anyway), one can feel the romance of the Spanish labourers in the hot sun creating and partaking in this refreshing and nutritious delight.

It can be no more beautifully detailed than by the Chilean writer Marta Brunet, who was of Catalan descent, when she described the dish as the meal of the Spanish muleteers ( those that drove mules), who:

take with them on their travels an earthen dish, garlic, olive oil, tomatoes and cucumbers, as well as some dry bread, which they crumble up. By the side of the road they crush the garlic between two stones with a little salt, then add some oil. They coat the inside of the dish with this mixture. Then they cut up the cucumbers and tomatoes and place them in the dish in alternate layers with breadcrumbs, finishing with a layer of breadcrumbs and oil. Having done this, they take a wet cloth, wrap the dish in it and leave it in the sun. The contents are cooked by evaporation and when the cloth is dry, the meal is cooked.

Today’s version is a little less romantic, but is a brilliant balance of ingredients that delivers a tomatoey, cucumber-fresh, bitey and exhilarating gustatory delight. It’s also a very healthy meal.

 

Serves: 2-4   |   Preparation:  15 minutes   |   Cooking: Resting – 1 day

 

Ingredients:

4 medium Ripened tomatoes | Ripened Roma or truss tomatoes are great. Cut in to quarters.
1 whole Lebanese cucumber | Lebanese cucumbers are smaller’ than their European counterpart. If using a European cucumber try ½ cucumber.
⅓ of a medium Red onion | Roughly chopped.
1 medium Red pepper (capsicum) | Deseeded and roughly chopped.
⅓ large clove Garlic | Finely chopped. Not too much or the raw garlic will overpower the soup. We want just a hint of bite.
½ Chilli | I use a Jalapeno with seeds, finely chopped.
1 tsp. Olive oil | I use extra virgin.
1½ tsp. Sherry vinegar | Quintessentially Spanish vinegar that adds a wonderful nuance of Spain to the dish.
⅓ tsp. Sea salt | For seasoning. Adjust to your taste.
To taste Black pepper | For seasoning.

 

 

How To:

In a juicer juice the tomatoes, cucumber, onion and red pepper. Juicing the onion can be an emotional experience. Put the juice in a bowl or hand blender beaker and add to it the garlic, chilli, olive oil, sherry vinegar, sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste (optional). Blend with a hand blender so that all of the chilli and garlic have been obliterated.

Strain through a fine sieve, pushing through as much pulp as possible. Leave to ‘rest’ in the fridge for a day or so – the ingredients can then get to know each other on a friendly basis.

 

Notes:

  • If you want to give some airy volume to the gazpacho, use a hand blender to ‘foam’ it up (as in the picture above) just before serving. I serve this with a sprinkling of smoked paprika.
  • If you don’t have a juicer then you can blend all the ingredients in a food processor or with a hand blender and then strain. I find it easier to blend and strain the soup if I have first extracted the juice with a juicer.

Smoked Pea and Ham Soup

Introduction:

It’s currently summer here in Melbourne, averaging 30+ degrees C this week, which means it’s an ideal time for salads, charcoal flamed meat and glasses of the old jumping grape, or the fizzy hops. So, in a crazy contradiction to the ambience I decided to make one of my favourites, and indeed one of my five year old daughter’s favourites; pea and ham soup.

This is a recipe that I have worked on over the last couple of years and am really happy with it. The flavour hinges on a number of things, but the most important of these is the ham hock; the meat joint from the lower leg of the pig. I have the fortune of having a local purveyor of incredibly great smoked meat products. It’s a shop owned by a lovely old couple of Eastern European descent. They have had the shop for 51 years, and as I watch them quivering whilst manually slicing double smoked bacon with a well-used and worn meat knife I marvel that both of them have a full complement of digits on their hands. The produce is second to none though, and it is here that I buy the double smoked hock that I use in the soup.

All that’s required to accompany this little beauty is some rather good crusty bread. If you have the inclination then you could have a go at a home-made sourdough, which can be found here.

 

Serves: 12 or so   |   Preparation:  20-30 minutes   |   Cooking: 1 hour 30 minutes

 

Ingredients:

500g Green split peas | Pick through to remove anomalies i.e. black-eyed, off colour peas. Soak overnight, or if you decide to make this on the hop see below for a quick method of soaking.
2 rashers Long middle Bacon | Roughly Diced. If you are feeling indulgent then streaky bacon can be used – full of fat and taste.
2 large Carrots | Roughly chopped.
2 large Leeks | Use the white part only, and roughly sliced.
2 sticks Celery | Roughly sliced.
1 tbsp.  Olive oil |
1 large fresh Bay leaf | Plucked from the garden, otherwise greengrocers. Try to use a fresh bay leaf.
2 fresh sprigs Thyme | Dried can be used.
5 small Potatoes | I use Desiree or Sebago cut in to 1 inch diced pieces. Use 3 medium or 1-2 large if small ones are not available.
2.5 litres Cold water |
About 1 kg Smoked ham hock | The hock must be smoke-cured to add the depth of flavour required.
To taste   Sea salt |

 

 

How To:

The green split peas need to be soaked. You can leave them overnight and then rinse them well. If you don’t have time then there is a quick way of soaking them. Put them in a pan of water (about 2 litres of water) and bring them to the boil. When boiling turn down the heat and simmer for three minutes, covered. After three minutes turn off the heat and leaving the pan covered leave for an hour. Drain and rinse the peas well – they are now officially ‘soaked’

Put a stock pot (at least 5 litre) over a low to medium heat and add the olive oil and bacon. Fry until the bacon has browned and then add the carrots, leeks, celery, bay leaf and thyme sprigs to the pan – there should be enough fat/ oil already in the pan. Turn down the heat and gently sauté for about 7 or 8 minutes to soften the vegetables. The leaves should have detached from the thyme sprigs, so if you can pick out the stalks.

Now add the soaked split peas, and stir. Add the potatoes, water and the ham hock and bring to the boil. There is no need to skim this once boiled as we do not require a clear soup. Cover the pan, turn down the heat to low and gently simmer for 75 minutes. Once finished gently remove the ham hock and set aside to cool. Also carefully remove the bay leaf and discard. Now the fun bit; with a hand held blender blend the soup until it’s nice and smooth. Add sea salt and black pepper to taste.

Once the hock has cooled so that it can be handled break off what meat there is, cut it up into small pieces and then add to the soup. Serve with that crusty bread.

 

Notes:

  • I have to say that this soup is absolutely cracking the day after.

Vietnam – Chicken Noodle Soup (Phở Gà)

Introduction:

Here is the first of the fruits from my Hanoi experience; chicken noodle soup – phở gà. Along with the beef version this is an absolute staple of locals in Hanoi, and is traditionally served for breakfast. I have been fortunate to eat at a number of street food stalls serving phở, the more general term for noodle soup (its literal translation is noodles), however I have been extremely honoured to have been invited in to the kitchen of the owners of our rented apartment here to see first-hand how this fantastic dish is prepared.

What I have done is taken elements of every version I have eaten and tried to come up with a definitive recipe; which to be honest is not possible as every one that makes phở in Hanoi has their own version and secret ingredient(s) or method.

The first experience of cooking this dish was to procure the chicken from a local market. When you buy a chicken here it looks like a chicken; head and feet intact. Vietnamese chickens are not as ‘fattened’ as the western counterparts, so there tends to be less meat on the carcass. However, they are packed with flavour which is a great basis for the broth – the element which a great phở hinges on. Having bartered for a local chicken I then bought the noodles ready-made. It just makes sense to do it here, as you can buy 1kg of fresh noodles for about $1USD. Finally, I found a stall that sold such an incredible array of local herbs; a cook’s heaven. However, it was the Asian basil (also known as Thai basil) with its sweet, aniseed aroma that stood out from the rest, and so I decided that this should be the one to finish off the soup – of course with some fiery chilli and zesty lime.

 

Serves: 6-8   |   Preparation:  40 minutes   |   Cooking: 1-2 hours

 

Ingredients:

About 1.5kg Chicken | I used a Vietnamese chicken, which seems to have a lot of flavour – definitely use a free-range one, maybe organic, if you’re not in Hanoi!
2 tbsp. Sea Salt | Used to salt the chicken.
6 Spring onions (scallions) | White part only – roughly sliced.
6 cloves Garlic | Garlic bulbs in Hanoi are small, but pack a punch – I used a whole bulb, but 6 medium to large cloves will do.
About a 5cm piece Fresh ginger | Peeled and thinly sliced.
About ½kg Pork bones | These add a ‘sweetness’ to the broth – get them cut into 10cm pieces.
3 tbsp. Fish Sauce | I used a ‘butterfish’ variety that’s available here, but regular fish sauce (good quality) is fine.
2 tsp. Sea salt |
2 tsp. Sugar | Not sure what kind of sugar I used – I bought it from the market, procured from a large sack. Its sweetness was like raw sugar, but its appearance was like golden castor sugar.
2 tsp. Garlic oil | Make garlic oil by frying 6 finely sliced garlic cloves in 250 ml of vegetable oil (at 180 deg. C) until golden brown. Drain the oil. The garlic can be used as garnish and the garlic oil stored in a refrigerator for a week.
1kg Fresh noodles | I had the privilege of being able to buy great noodles here. You can by dried rice noodles and prepare yourself. However for a good consistency it is better to buy fresh packeted rice noodles.
8 Spring onions | Sliced.
8 Garlic chives | Finely sliced.
1 or 2 Red chilli | Finely sliced with seeds.
1 Lime | Cut into 8 wedges.
A few Herbs | To serve. Here I used Asian basil. You can also use Vietnamese mint, perilla leaves, and coriander. The one thing about Hanoians and their phở is that they don’t add too much to the soup – they let the chicken, broth and noodles speak themselves.

 

 

How to:

The first step is to put the chicken in a plastic bag and add the 2 tablespoons of salt. Shake the bag and ensure that the salt is evenly spread around the chicken. Leave this for about an hour then remove the chicken and rinse thoroughly to remove any salt.

In a mortar and pestle pound the spring onion and garlic to a paste. Put the chicken in a large stock pot and add 5 litres of warm water. Over a medium heat bring the water to a gentle simmer and cook the chicken for about ten minutes, skimming away any impurities (foam) from the surface of the water.

Add the spring onion and garlic paste, and the sliced ginger. Cook the chicken for a further hour (vary slightly for smaller/ larger chickens), ensuring that the water does not go past a gentle simmer and also as important turn the chicken every 15 minutes to ensure even cooking. We want to cook the chicken as gently as possible, whilst also extracting the flavour in to the water.

Once cooked, remove the chicken from the water and set aside to completely cool. Now add the pork bones, fish sauce, salt, sugar and garlic oil, and gently simmer for a further 25 minutes. Remove the pork bones and discard, and then strain the broth through a fine sieve and return to the cleaned stock pot.

To serve, heat the broth so that it’s on a gentle simmer and take one portion of noodles (about 125g or so) and blanch them in the broth using a cylindrical strainer (this is the first time I had seen this technique, but it works great). Add the noodles to a serving bowl, then slice a good portion of breast from the chicken (with skin) and add to the bowl along with a couple of pinches of garlic chives and spring onions.

Now pour over the broth until it has completely covered the noodles and chicken. Repeat for the other portions. Serve the chilli, herbs and lime separately. Please enjoy.

 

Notes:

  • This is just one version of this classic dish – it is pretty close to the versions I have eaten here in Hanoi.
  • I originally was going to cook the chicken for about two hours, but the waft of the broth must have risen to the apartment owner’s residence, and in a flash she came down, felt the chicken, picked up two chopsticks, picked up the chicken with the chopsticks, lifted it out of the broth, plonked it on the bench and said ‘ready’. She then toddled off. Of course the chicken was perfect (and so the cooking time is an hour!)