2 inch piece fresh ginger
2 beef marrow bones
3 star anise
1/2 pound piece of beef chuck
1 tbsp salt
3 stalks fresh lemongrass
soy sauce and Sriracha sauce to taste
1 pound beef steak
4 - 5 nests of dried rice noodles
4 scallions, cut into rings
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup sugar snap peas
1/2 cup bean sprouts
5 shiitake mushrooms
4 lime wedges
We just had one more rainy weekend here to destroy all illusions of spring. Yes, it's gotten a little warmer recently and yes, there are some tiny snow drops and crocuses in the park, and on random sunny days, people have begun populating all the little street cafes again. But is it spring yet? Not really.
To shorten the wait, I am craving the color of fresh, new green. Unfortunately, most of the seasonal dishes for the lent period don't feature a lot of that, because, well, historically, people around this season just didn't have a lot of lush green things to eat. So this weekend, I took a break from the traditional (vegetarian) lenten dishes and made a delightful bowl of beautifully green pho bo, the Vietnamese noodle soup.
And at least one of my lent resolutions will be more than fulfilled with this dish: mindfulness. Because with my ambition to use only fresh ingredients and get a rich and multidimensional broth, it takes a lot of time and planning to achieve a good pho bo. My recipe is slightly adapted from the VietWorldKitchen, where lots of pho secrets and tips can be found.
I began with the broth, which requires around 4 hours of simmering. For perfect flavor and depth of color, I first browned the onion cut in half and the ginger, until they were nearly burned, then added 3 quarts of water and the marrow bones. When the water had come to a boil, I put in the beef chunk, anise, cloves, lemongrass and salt. The 4 hours of simmering were relatively easygoing, just I just sometimes removed the foamy scum from time to time.
Being an avid cook of different meat and bone broths in the European tradition, it was a revelation to experience what a difference the addition of spices like anise, cloves and lemongrass made, transforming the end result from a beloved and well-known staple into something equally soothing but stimulantly exotic.
Around half an hour before planning to eat, I started soaking the dried shiitake mushrooms in some water, and as well as the rice noodles, and put the steak in the freezer. Then came the chopping (cilantro, spring onions, peas, mushrooms) and blanching (noodles, peas, bean sprouts), arranging a little of each in the bowls. Once the meat was frozen enough to be easily cut into thin slices, I cut it and cooked it very briefly in the broth, transferring it to the bowls and covering everything with lots of soup, to be seasoned individually with soy and Sriracha sauce and the lime wedges.
Every minutes of the 4 hours had been time well spent and worth it.
Life is good!