Faux Pho

faux pho

I once looked up how to make the real pho--Vietnamese noodle soup.  Forget it.  The agony in getting the broth to be clear, the boiling of soup bones.  Our Vietnamese neighbors have us over for pho every few months.  Huang gets bored on a weekend afternoon (I never see him quit working), cooks up a huge vat of pho, buys a case of Heineken, and knocks on our door. Whatever we are doing, we drop it. I don't care if the Commander In-Chief himself was visiting.  We'd leave him and the beautiful first lady for Huang's pho.  When I asked Huang how to make it, his son translated for us--"Oh, it's easy.  You just get such-and-such spice packet from such-and-such Asian grocery, and you boil it with such-and-such bones for 4 hours." Like I said, forget it.

Unless you happen to borrow Lynne Rossetto Kasper's How to Eat Supper from your mother's infinite cooking library and find her pho recipe.  Then, by all means, attempt it.  Because it's easy, delicious beyond description, and your children will slurp it up.

Disclaimer:  when I say "easy," that doesn't mean lots of chopping and washing isn't involved.  Vietnamese and Thai food, with their crazy variety of fresh vegetables and herbs, require lots of prep.  So this soup isn't technical, but it took me about 45 minutes to make. In my book, that's not fast.  And I don't think it's worth making without the "table salad"--fresh Asian herbs, crunchy bean sprouts.  It meets my dream meal criteria of hot and cold together; soft and crunchy.

We still have our favorite pho haunt in the neighborhood, and this will never take the place of that.  But it's an incredibly worthy faux pho.  I'd love to hear how it turns out for you.

Faux Pho
Serves two, but doubles easily.  And more preamble here.  I used fresh mint, Asian basil, and cilantro for the herbs, all found for cheap at one of the ubiquitous Asian markets in my neighborhood.  If you don't have gems like that where you live, lots of cilantro would do.  Use whatever medium-width rice noodles you like.  Just make sure to prepare them according to the package instructions. Some require just soaking in hot water, and others need boiling.  Even if you have bad luck and they end up all stuck together, they should separate just fine under the influence of boiling broth.  And follow Lynne's instructions to broil your veggies on a piece of foil--it worked beautifully.  It will look like a lot of onions, but once they simmer in the broth, they soften and begin to disappear.  You need a huge squeeze of lime once you're at the table--the soup won't taste like it's supposed to without it.  And one more thing--her recipe calls for very thin slices of beef round or chicken breast, dropped raw into the boiling broth and cooked at the table.  We used medium-soft tofu instead.

For broth:
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
One 2-3" piece of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
6 whole cloves
1 whole star anise, bashed a bit to bruise it
fresh ground black pepper
Four 14 oz. cans chicken broth
2 Tb. brown sugar
2 ts. Asian fish sauce

For soup:
6 to 8 oz. linguine-style rice noodles
6 to 8 oz. medium-soft tofu, cut into small cubes or thin slices

For table salad:
10 springs fresh cilantro
6 to 8 sprigs fresh Thai basil
6 to 8 sprigs fresh mint
2 serrano or jalapeño chiles, thinly sliced
Generous handful bean sprouts
1 large lime, cut into wedges

Sauces
Hoisin sauce
Sriracha sauce

Position an oven rack 4-6" from broiler and preheat.  Double a very large piece of foil.  Scatter the onion, garlic, ginger, cloves, anise, and a generous grind of black pepper on the foil.  Broil for five minutes.  You want the onion to have some toasted edges, and the spices should be fragrant.  Scrape everything into a big pot.

Add the broth, sugar, fish sauce, and bring to a gentle bubble.  Cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the rice noodles according to package directions.  When they're cooked, rinse them with cold water, and divide between two large bowls.

Arrange table salad ingredients on a large platter and set in the middle of the table along with sauces.

To serve, top the noodles with tofu.  Ladle the bubbling broth into the bowls.  Top with whatever you like once you're seated--don't forget a whole bunch of fresh lime juice.