Thursday, November 5, 2009



Pho, while not necessarily my absolute favorite thing to eat, is without a doubt one of my comfort foods.  Everything about it invokes some kind of memory and puts me at ease.  I don’t recall my mom cooking pho too often when I was young, and when she did it seemed like it was usually pho ga which is chicken-based rather than beef-based.  Even so, going out for pho wasn’t uncommon.
The thing about pho is that it’s so personal.  From the cuts of meat that you like in it, to whether or not you put hoisin sauce and sriracha directly into the soup, to whether or not you add bean sprouts or lime, to how you eat it, the list goes on and on and every choice is a personal one.  My idealized version of pho consists of the following:
  • a super beefy stock that is on the sweet side
  • short rib, oxtail, raw flank steak, tendon, and bible tripe
  • green onion, cilantro, and Thai basil
  • slightly chewy noodles
  • 2/3 hoisin mixed with 1/3 sriracha on the side
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For the base of the stock, I like to use a combination of oxtail and marrow bones.  This time, I opted for just oxtail and I like to brown them first so they develop a nice crust for some extra flavor due to the Maillard reaction.  One of the keys to getting a sweet stock is to char the onions and ginger that go into the stock.  I also like to put roasted garlic into my stock for another subtly sweet note.  It was pretty cold outside, so instead of using my grill to char and roast, I used my oven.  An additional sweet component that is traditionally used in pho is yellow rock candy.  Never try to substitute sugar for yellow rock candy.  It just isn’t the same.  A myriad spices including star anise, cinnamon, cloves, fennel seeds, cardamom, and coriander seeds give the stock its distinctly anise-y tone.  Lastly, you can’t call something Vietnamese without a decent amount of fish sauce.


As I mentioned earlier, I tried something different this time around: gelatin filtration.  The process took forever, 4 days, because the blocks of stock were pretty thick.  My entire fridge started to smell like pho and I was left with quite a bit of gelatin.  But was it worth it?


Above and to the left is the gelatin after all the liquids had melted.  Above and to the right is the resulting liquid.  It turned out crystal clear.  In fact, I could indeed see the date of a dime at the bottom of a bowl.  In the end, I probably won’t bother filtering my stock in the future through gelatin filtration.  It was just too time consuming even though I didn’t have to do anything.  I mean, how’s a person supposed to wait 4 full days to enjoy some pho after cooking it?  Perhaps if I was trying to impress an audience I’d do it, but for me I don’t care if my stock is murky and full of impurities.


As for how I eat pho, I usually get some noodles, meat, and herbs between my chopsticks and use my spoon to slather on the hoisin/sriracha sauce to what’s hanging off my chopsticks and gorge.  My perfect bite of pho is illustrated above.  Between shoveling noodles and meat into my mouth, I’ll take a sip of broth.  I’m not the biggest gulper of pho broth and like a larger ratio of noodles to broth.  And that’s what pho is to me.


  1. I've never made clear stock because I'm too impatient- I just want to eat as soon as possible. Plus, marrow is good for you!

  2. Ya and marrow is full of flavor. If anything, clarifying the stock potentially removed some flavor.