Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; Asian cuisine is not my strong suit. I find it very difficult to get the balance of flavours just so and, frankly, this is one area where I am more than happy to leave it to the professionals and frequent my local noodle shop for dinner.

However, one of the (many) nuisances when moving house is that you lose all your favourite ‘around the corner’ take away shops. In our case, the loss most keenly felt was Chez Tessa. A hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese place that makes the best Pho Bo in Brisbane. And a bowl as big as your head costs only $8.00. So, dying for Pho Bo but not wanting to drive half an hour across the city for a bowl, I decided to learn to make my own.

After much reading and research, I decided to first try a cheat’s version, using stock cubes instead of making my own stock. Mostly because I had beef stock but not beef bones to hand. And, to be honest, this recipe is so good I don’t think I’ll ever make the ‘real’ version. The key is in the spices and fresh herbs. Once you have those in order, the flavours just meld perfectly. In light of this I would say none of the spices or herbs are negotiable.

If you have a little beef stock in the cupboard and a steak in the fridge, I suggest you try this fantastic, spicy soup tonight to warm you up. You can have dinner on the table in half an hour.

Ingredients to serve 2:

  • 2 eye fillet steaks (one for each person. You can use other lean cuts if you prefer)
  • 2 handfuls of rice noodles (adjust to suit serving size)
  • 4 cups of water
  • 4 beef stock cubes
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 2 cloves
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground coriander
  • 1 clove fresh garlic, minced
  • ½ brown onion, diced
  • 2 spring onions, finely sliced
  • 1 fresh red chilli
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil
  • 10 sprigs fresh coriander
  • 10 sprigs Thai basil or Vietnamese mint (you can use both if you have them)
  • 2 handfuls of bean sprouts
  • 2 lemon wedges
  • Chilli oil or paste, to taste

To start, put the brown onion, garlic and oil in a saucepan to fry for a minute or two. Now add your cinnamon, ground coriander, cloves and fennel seeds.

Stir to heat briefly until fragrant. Pour in the water and add the beef stock cubes. Stir, cover and bring to a boil. Add the red chilli (de-seeded for a less intense heat). Turn down to a simmer and allow to bubble away for 20 – 25 minutes (as long as you can wait).

Meanwhile, prepare the bowls to serve. In each bowl, place the noodles and bean sprouts in the bottom, and the spring onions and herbs on top. Slice the beef as thinly as you can and put aside.

When everyone is ready to eat (and I mean seated at the table), bring the soup back up to the boil.

To the boiling pot, add the beef and then immediately turn off the heat. The thin beef will colour instantly so you can start ladling it out over the noodles straight away. The boiling water will cook both the noodles and the beef in the serving bowls with residual heat.

Serve immediately with the lemon wedge and chilli oil on the side, so people can adjust the sourness and heat to their preference.

This is an amazingly easy soup with such intense flavours that it’s hard to believe it hasn’t spent many hours stewing away on the stove top. I may one day attempt a more traditional Pho Bo recipe, but for now, this is as easy as going to the local noodle shop.

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