Saturday, June 29, 2013

#149 Vietnam's phở Sài Gòn

Saturday is here, after a crazy busy week. It's time to rechannel my energy and connect to home, where the heart is. Time to relax, and gives lots of hugs to the ones I love that's near, thoughts and prayers to a dear love who is thousands of miles away, and praise to the Almighty who makes things okay in the end. And it's the time I make my plans on what to make for the next week, do some grocery shopping and go the farmers market. Ingredient hunting has become one of my favorite things to do. Cooking so many different dishes introduced me to a new perspective in life, I feel more connected to nature. Now each ingredient is no longer viewed as just a spice, meat, or a vegetable, but each has it's own character and is special. I marvel at man's intelligence, how each of these ingredients were discovered, and I thank to God for being alive in this day and age, because everything is just so convenient to make, which makes it easy for everyone to forget how special every single living or non-living thing is, in this lifetime.

I made  phở Sài Gòn, or beef soup. And what a great dish it was. Soup brings me great comfort, and it is easy to feed to others who are hungry, especially the little ones, and simple to make too. :) I cannot get over how good this beef phở was. Unbelievable. I usually go to a nearby Vietnamese restaurant, there's lots of places to enjoy a good beef pho in this area, but this time, I wanted to learn how to make it.  I was introduced to many new ingredients and a special way to make soup using the recipe I found online. I've been planning to make this soup since the inception of, and I am so happy I finally did! Oh my, what took me so long? This is one of the best soups I have made in my entire life. In the Philippines, we make broth based beef soup also by boiling the meat with bones for long periods of time. It's a national favorite and it's really good, but what makes this beef phở better in my opinion, is the blend of the herbs, and the spices, absolutely amazing.

I needed to make this right the first time so I made sure I also bought the  cheese cloth. It is very important, because it is what you use to wrap the spices before adding it in the water to cook with the meat. I also made sure  I bought star anise also (pictured below).  Illicium verum, commonly called Star anise, star aniseed, or Chinese star anise is a spice that closely resembles anise in flavor, obtained from the star-shaped pericarp of Illicium verum, a medium-sized native evergreen tree of northeast Vietnam and southwest China. The star shaped fruits are harvested just before ripening.Star anise is grown in four provinces in China and harvested between March and May. It is also found in the south of New South Wales. It has been used in a tea as a traditional remedy for rheumatism, and the seeds are sometimes chewed after meals to aid digestion, in traditional Chinese Medicine,  star anise, as a warm and moving herb, is used to assist in relieving cold-stagnation in the middle jiao, which refers  to the midsection of the body and includes the Spleen, Stomach, Gall Bladder and Liver organs. Read more

Cinnamon, I love it's scent, and little did I know  what great flavor it brings when added to soup. Fragrant, it is referred to as the "real cinnamon", most cinnamon in international commerce is derived from related species, which are also referred to as "cassia" to distinguish them from "true cinnamon". It was so highly prized among ancient nations that it was regarded as a gift fit for monarchs and even for a god: a fine inscription records the gift of cinnamon and cassia to the temple of Apollo at Miletus. Though its source was kept mysterious in the Mediterranean world for centuries by the middlemen who handled the spice trade, to protect their monopoly as suppliers, cinnamon is native to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Malabar Coast of India and Burma.

Allspice berries are the dried fruit of the Pimenta dioica plant. The fruit are picked when green and unripe and are traditionally dried in the sun. When dry, the fruit are brown and resemble large brown peppercorns. The plant is dioecious, meaning plants are either male or female, hence male and female plants must be kept in proximity to allow fruit to develop. Read more

I read many recipes for  beef phở before I even bought the ingredients, I was confused which beef cut to use, and got all the more confused because there are so many variations and recipes you can find online! After going back and forth, and asking myself out loud at the grocery store "Why is oxtail so expensive?", my little girl said: "but Mom, the more expensive it is, the better the quality"...LOL. She's right on that, and.. there's only 1 oxtail in 1 cow, I took that long to figure it out? duh..basic economics!  I am such a natural bargain hunter, and my brain does not operate like that in stores.  I don't know if her knowing that this early is good or bad?! :) So after I bought the oxtail, I was $14 poorer, it is a highly priced commodity for making beef broth. I learned that in the past, the price for oxtails was nowhere near this expensive, it is when a chef extraordinaire like Anthony Bourdain let out secrets of whipping up great food made of oxtails that the price started soaring high. I tried not to visualize a live cow, which was hard because oxtail does not look like a regular meat, this is a body part of a cow that moves, and I always notice it when I look at cows...and  then peeled, and cut. But guess what, if I got over that stage and cooked it, and enjoyed it, you can too! :) And now I know why it's expensive. The broth was delicious, and not as fatty as the regular cuts. My best friend A came over and saw this too, and he said "holy cow, I did not think oxtail had that much meat?!" :)

Daikon radish is a great vegetable for clear broth based soups. They're  huge, so I just used half of it, and half of which I sliced thinly and snacked on it.

Purple stemmed basil? Yes and with flowers too! This is Thai basil, tastes very much like the regular basil, but it's prettier don't you think? Also called  Asian basil (húng quế in Vietnamese) is a type of sweet basil native to Southeast Asia that has been cultivated to provide distinctive traits. Its flavor is more stable under high or extended cooking temperatures than that of sweet basil. Thai basil exhibits small, narrow leaves and purple stems, with a mauve (pink-purple) flower. One cultivar commonly grown in the United States is 'Queen of Siam'. Read more

I bought this mint from the Asian market, and not only did I notice the bigger leaves compared to ones sold at whole foods, trader joes or nob hill, the packets are also much bigger! for a fraction of the price!

So can you imagine this soup's flavor with all the spices and herbs pictured above? Hard to explain, but once you taste will know what I am trying to say. And that beautiful blend of flavor? Fresh cilantro ties them all together. When I ate it without Cilantro, it was great. But a generous amount of it added to the soup, made it perfect!

And beef  phở is not perfect without mung bean sprouts as part of the garnish. Great flavor! You see,  making this soup was not just plain cooking for me, it was a discovery, a great adventure to the unknown, and a great joy.

Pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup consisting of broth, linguine-shaped rice noodles, a few herbs, and meat. It is a popular street food in Vietnam and the specialty of a number of restaurant chains around the world. Pho is primarily served with either beef or chicken. The Hanoi and Saigon styles of pho differ by noodle width, sweetness of broth, and choice of herbs. The origin of pho and its name is a subject of scholarly debate.  The style in which we made ours is called, phở Sài Gòn,  a variation of pho that originated from the Southern part of vietnam. The several regional variants of pho in Vietnam, particularly divided between northern (Hanoi, are called phở bắc or "northern pho"), and southern pho (Saigon, called phở Sài Gòn). Northern pho tends to use somewhat wider noodles and much more green onion, and garnishes offered generally include only vinegar, fish sauce and chili sauce. On the other hand, southern Vietnamese pho broth is slightly sweeter and has bean sprouts and a greater variety of fresh herbs. The variations in meat, broth, and additional garnishes such as lime, bean sprouts, ngò gai (Eryngium foetidum), húng quế (Thai/Asian basil), and tương đen (bean sauce/hoisin sauce), tương ớt (hot chili garlic sauce, e.g., Rooster Sauce) appear to be innovations made by or introduced to the south,also called Pho Sai Gon ("Saigon Style" Pho). read more from source.

Are you ready to make yours? Here's how:

Yield: serves 6
phở Sài Gòn 

5 pounds beef knuckle, with meat
2 pounds beef oxtail
1 white (daikon) radish, sliced
2 onions, chopped
2 ounces whole star anise pods
2 cinnamon sticks
2 whole cloves
1 teaspoon allspice berries
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 slice fresh ginger root
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 1/2 pounds dried flat rice noodles
1/2 pound frozen beef sirloin

chili pepper sauce or chili pepper paste
hoisin sauce
thinly sliced onion
chopped fresh cilantro
bean sprouts (mung beans)
sweet Thai basil
thinly sliced green onion
limes, quartered

  1. Place the beef knuckle in a very large (9 quart or more) pot. Season with salt, and fill pot with 2 gallons of water. Bring to a boil, and cook for about 2 hours.
  2. Skim the fat from the surface of the soup, and add the oxtail, radish and onions. Tie the anise pods, cinnamon stick, cloves, allspice berries, peppercorns and ginger in a cheesecloth or place in a spice bad; add to the soup. Stir in sugar, salt and fish sauce. Simmer over medium-low hear for atleast 4 more hours (the longer, the better). At the end of cooking, taste, and add salt as need. Strain broth, and return to the pot to keep at a simmer. Discard spices and bones. Reserve meat from the beef knuckle for other uses if desired.
  3. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Soak the rice noodles in water for about 20 minutes, then cook in boiling water until soft, but not mushy, about 5 minutes. Slice the frozen beef paper thin. The meat must be thin enough to cook instantly.
  4. Ladle soup and meat in a bowl, and add toppings to your desired amount. Squeeze limes in soup before serving. 
Recipe adapted from here

Add freshly squeezed juice of lime, it's heaven on Earth!

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