Eggs, bacon, pancakes and cereal might be what comes to mind when you think about a traditional breakfast. In Vietnam, however, the day begins with bright and nourishing pho — bowls of broth, a tangle of rice noodles and an accompanying plate of fresh bean sprouts, slices of lime and jalapeno, purple basil, scallions and cilantro.
Unlike a stodgy chicken noodle or beef barley — soups that have never seen the morning hours — pho is an eye-opener with a vibrancy of flavor and presentation and a style of garnishing and eating that’s very hands-on.
The beauty of pho is its intensely aromatic nature that comes from hours of simmering bones with a warm palette of Spice Islands®
spices that includes star anise, cinnamon, white pepper, clove, fennel and ginger with charred onion. Incorporating these spice route flavors into a rich stock is the building block for a perfect bowl.
Spice Up Your Pho
There’s something rewarding about creating your own ideal balance of deeply rich and thoroughly spiced broth. This comes with tweaking your choice of protein — oxtails, short ribs and chicken wings work particularly well — along with playing with ratios of spices. Add more ginger for tang, white pepper for a bite and coriander if you prefer your pho more floral.
When it comes time for presentation, blanch quick-cooking noodles in advance. Slices of shaved flank steak will cook in the broth, while additions like lemongrass-poached chicken or fatty brisket are sliced and added before serving. Before serving, add to the bowl thinly sliced white and chopped scallions.
Perhaps the most enjoyable part is dressing up your pho with condiments and plates of greenery. Sriracha, chile paste, Hoisin and fish sauce allow guests to add layers of spice and savor, while leafy herbs, citrus and sprouts lend crunch and freshness.
Pho makes for a great summertime meal, especially when you have a stash of broth, herbs and meat in the fridge. Then it’s just a matter of heating it up, setting out bowls, spoons and chopsticks and letting the soup be garnished and slurped to order.
Try Beef Pho with Flank Steak
using homemade Basic Pho Broth.
Basic Pho Broth
Pour oil into cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Char both halves of the onion until dark brown to black. Remove the onion from the pan, set aside and brown the oxtails on both sides. Bring water to a gentle boil in a large stockpot. Add the onion, oxtails and remaining broth ingredients. Once boiling, reduce to a low simmer and let cook for 3 to 4 hours, skimming off any foam that rises to the surface, tasting intermittently for seasoning. Once the broth has reduced by a quarter, strain through a sieve or colander.
Recipe Note: Use broth immediately or pour into shallow container and refrigerate.
Caroline Russock is the editor of Zagat Philadelphia. Past gigs include vetting thousands of recipes for Serious Eats, bartending in rural Sicily, and running a French bistro in San Diego.