Sunday, August 14, 2011


You may be wondering why there is a lack of Vietnamese restaurant posts lately, and to be honest I have taken up learning how to cook Vietnamese food.  Especially, now that I have learnt to make Cheesecake Boy's favourite of pho or beef noodle soup, we tend to eat pho at home.  Inspiration for this dish actually came from the most used cookbook in our household and it has never failed me yet, the great and easy to use book being Little Vietnam by Nhut Huynh of Snakebean Asian Diner.  Huynh's version is from South Vietnam, and is a very easy to follow recipe.  However, being the girl that I am, I had to play around with this recipe, and have adapted this recipe to Cheesecake Boy's and my taste. 

Now I must stress something to you, if you are planning to make this recipe, you will need at least a ten litre stockpot.  I managed to get my mum's stockpot that was my grandmother's, they don't make them like that anymore.  However, back to the recipe, patience will reward you with ten bowls of pho, even if the book says six servings, so either have lots of people over for dinner or be prepared to pho day and night for a while.  Also, this recipe is temperamental, so depending on your radishes and how fresh your meat is, the taste can slightly vary at times.  This recipe lasts three days at best.  All critical things aside, let the cooking begin, I guess...

Ingredients for the infusion bag
1 x 8-10cm piece of cassia bark
3 dried, but bruised Chinese cardamon pods (or black cardamon) (this was not easy to find, had to get a jar from Essential Ingredient)
4 star anise
7 pieces of cloves
Kitchen string or plain dental foss

Ingredients for the stock
1 whole oxtail (between 750g to 1.25kg, ask the butcher to cut this up into pieces for you)
1kg of gravy beef
1kg of daikon radish (better to get 2 smaller radishes, as I find the taste of the stock tends to be sweeter)
50g of ginger (keep skin on)
1 large brown onion (keep skin on)
5.5 litres of water
100ml of fish sauce
100g of yellow rock sugar
Salt to season

Ingredients for serving*
Fresh rice noodles (Cheesecake Boy and I usually eat a quarter of the pack per serving each)
200g beef eye fillet (centre cut) thinly sliced (Cheesecake Boy and I omit this, as we like to eat the beef cooked in the stock)
Basil leaves
Finely chopped coriander
Finely chopped shallots
Fresh bean sprouts
Wedges of lemon or lime
Finely chopped chillies
Hoisin sauce
Chilli sauce

*All portions depend on how much you are going to eat on the day, besides the rice noodles you are not limited to these ingredients, and it's up to you how you like your pho, so include and exclude your ingredients accordingly.

Plate of garnishes
Method for the infusion bag
  1. Cut a large square of muslin cloth, at least 10cm by 10cm.
  2. Bruise the three dried Chinese cardamon pods in a pestle and mortar, then place them in the middle of the muslin square.
  3. Add the cassia bark, four star anise and seven cloves to the muslin square.
  4. Get a long enough piece of kitchen string or dental foss.
  5. Bunch up the corners of the muslin square with the herbs and tie the string tightly around to secure the herbs in the infusion bag.
Method for the stock
  1. Get your 10 litre stockpot and add 5.5 litres of water into the pot.  It will not look full but he ingredients will push the water levels up.
  2. Place the pot of water on high and while waiting for the water to boil, prepare other ingredients.
  3. Wash the pre-cut pieces of oxtail and set aside.
  4. Wash your 1kg of gravy beef and cut up into four or 5 chunky pieces depending on your cut.  If it is thin, but long aim for four pieces.  However, if your piece is thick and short then cut up five pieces, and set aside with the oxtail.
  5. Peel your daikon radish, and cut into thick pieces similar to the gravy beef.
  6. Wash 50g of ginger and set aside.
  7. Wash the large brown onion.  Keep the skin on and cut in half.
  8. Water should be boiling by now, so add the prepared oxtail, gravy beef, daikon radish, ginger, onion and the infusion bag.
  9. Bring the stock and the ingredients to a boil and then lower to the thermostat to about five past and let the stock slowly simmer for 2.5 hours with the lid closed shut.  
  10. However, check regularly to skim the surface of the stock for any impurities.  Sometimes there will be a lot to skim off and other times hardly anything.  Again, depends on your cuts of meat on the day. 
  11. In the meantime measure out your 100mls of fish sauce and 100g of yellow rock sugar, and get your salt ready to season.
  12. After 2.5 hours pour in your fish sauce and rock sugar.  Taste the stock and season with salt accordingly.  Remember it's a big pot of stock so you can be more liberal.
  13. Now boil your stock over a high heat again.  
  14. Once the stock is boiling, return the stock to a simmer, so that the thermostat looks like it is five past the hour again and keep the lid on.  
  15. Now this is where the book and I also differ, the book says that after another 30 minutes of simmering makes sure that the gravy beef is tender and then the stock is ready after 3 hours of simmering.  I think the flavours come out more between an additional 2 hours to 3.5 hours.  If I am in a rush then I will simmer the stock for a total 4.5 hours, but if I have time 6 hours.  Best to taste the stock to decide how much longer you want to simmer for the second time round.  However, you will have a decent stock after 3 hours.  Remember to keep skimming for impurities, if necessary.
    To serve
    1. Prepare plate of garnishes like the picture above, when you are ready to serve.  We like basil, beansprouts, wedges of lemon and sometimes I add sliced chillies.
    2. If you like finely chop some coriander and shallots and set aside (optional).
    3. When you are ready to serve, bring the stock back to the boil.
    4. Boil a full kettle of water and then get your rice noodles out into a colander and place a bowl underneath it.
    5. Once the water in the kettle is boiled, pour it over the rice noodles and get some tongs to loosen up the noodles in the boiling water.
    6. Lift the colander up and then pour the boiling water in the bowl underneath the colander into the colander again and now fully drain the noodles.  You can now place noodles into separate serving bowls.
    7. Once the stock is boiling, take out pieces of gravy beef and oxtail.
    8. With the gravy beef, get a fork and knife and just gently break the beef into pieces.  The meat will be that tender.
    9. With the oxtail, remove the meat from the bone and discard the bones.
    10. Portion the pieces of gravy beef and oxtail into your bowl of noodles.  Cheesecake Boy and I will usually halve one piece of gravy beef and an oxtail each per serve.  However, this will depend on how big your pieces of gravy beef are.
    11. Place a piece of radish into the bowl (only if you like radish though, as the book discards them).
    12. Now pour the stock into your bowl of noodles, and sprinkle some finely chopped coriander and shallots on top if desired.
    13. Now serve the noodles along side with the garnish plate prepared earlier.
    14. Add basil leaves, beansprouts, squeeze in some lemon juice, and hoisin or chilli sauce if desired, and you are ready to eat.
    Note:  If you wish to add raw pieces of beef eye fillet in, then the book suggests that you add the slices of beef before the noodles, so that the beef will be at the base of the bowl.  Make sure that the soup that you ladle into the bowl is boiling hot.  This will cook the thin slices of beef.  The amount of beef eye fillet provided in the book caters for only six servings, so you may need to buy extra to feed more people.

    There really is nothing like the satisfaction of eating your own home cooked pho, and it's a great dish for large groups.  It may be time consuming, but the results are worth it.

    Cooking away, Dumpling Girl.


    sophia said...

    Wow that looks so comforting. I love pho, but never thought of making it at home. I didn't realize it's actually so simple, because the broth tastes so deep and complex.

    Dumpling Girl said...

    Hi sophia, I love pho too, and was surprise how easy it is. Honestly the hardest part was finding the Chinese cardamon, the rest was is a piece of cake.

    Vivian - vxdollface said...

    This looks like so much work for a bowl of Pho! If only it were as easy as 2min noodles lol ^^" at least it's healthier than eating out.

    chopinandmysaucepan said...

    Looks delicious Dumpling Girl and pho is one of our faves! Great job! I love cooking pho at home too especially when the weather is cold. My recipe is very similiar to yours except instead of rock sugar, I add a little crushed white peppercorns so that it neutralises the strong beefy aromas which can be overpowering at times and all the coriander roots as they add a beautiful flavour to the broth. I love adding strips of tripe (boiled separately until soft and to remove smell) and pork balls from Asian grocers.

    5.5 litres sounds about right but I believe the oxtail needs at least 2 hours of boiling for it to be soft and falling off the bone.

    A fave dipping sauce for this recipe that you might like to try is to mix lots of finely diced coriander, lemon juice, fish sauce and fresh red chillies (birdseye if you like it spicy). The dipping sauce should be slightly sourish spicy but is balanced by the saltiness of the fish sauce. The beef, tribe and balls are out of this world when dipped into this sauce. :) :)

    Dumpling Girl said...

    Hey Vivian, honestly it's a lot easier than all that writing suggests, and you get 10 bowls of pho :) Lol, we don't have 2 min noodles in our household.

    Hello chopinand, thanks :) Tripe is banned in our household, Cheesecake Boy has not taken a shining to it, and I try not to eat beef balls, but will try next time so I can dip with your sauce, it sounds good. Thanks for sharing.

    I totally agree with the oxtail, so that's why I boil my stock for at least 4.5hrs and to let the flavours develop.

    Anna said...

    What a comforting and nutritious winter meal!

    Is it possible to make a vegeterian pho - if so, I would love to learn how to do that!

    chopinandmysaucepan said...

    LOL, I know lots of people who don't like tripe probably coz of the aroma and texture. I don't like beef balls either. I meant pork balls which has a much nicer texture and sweeter than beef balls :)

    Dumpling Girl said...

    Hello Ladybird, it is lovely in winter. I did a search and found 2 versions, the first one requires mock meat, but the second is a vegan version.

    Hope one of them catches your fancy :)

    Hi chopinand, oops I misread pork for beef, you know why? I've never ate pork balls before, so it didn't register. I better try some soon, sounds like I am missing out.

    L said...

    ooh, bookmarking for later. I so want to try this recipe. Looks really good!

    Dumpling Girl said...

    Hey L, thanks. Hope you enjoy it as much as we do :D

    Dolly said...

    HAAHA thats so cute.. im viet and ive only ever made Pho once in my life ... >< how embrassing

    Dumpling Girl said...

    Hey Dolly, I have Viet friends and they have never cooked pho, so you are one up on them :)