I was introduced to my first steamy bowl of Pho while I was in massage school in the winter of 1998. I was intrigued by the mysterious subtle spices that I couldn’t quite place. I began experimenting with any recipe I could find and came up with this express version. Traditional Pho is an art form, simmered over 24 hours and and doesn’t contain sake like my recipe here. I use the sake to enhance the sweetness of the star anise. I have tried various pre-made Pho broths in the stores but I find they are too heavy with cloves, sugar and salt. Pho is really all about the broth and is great alone without the toppings. This dish is very nourishing and has become a staple in my home year round.
Pho For Two
Star Anise, Cinnamon Twig and Fresh Ground Coriander Seeds are warming and dispersing medicinal herbs.
6-inch piece fresh ginger
2 yellow or sweet onions
3 cinnamon sticks
5 star anise
3 teaspoons coriander seeds
1-32 oz box of low-sodium chicken, vegetable or beef broth (or bone broth would be ideal)
2 T Sake or Rum
4 Green Onions
Mung Bean Sprouts
Fresh Hot Pepper of your choice: Serrano, Jalapeno, Thai Chili.
Mint, Cilantro and Basil
Sriracha-I love the Thai True brand Its gluten and GMO free and nicely hot!
Optional-10 prawns with shell on, or any other meat or tofu of your choice.
Fresh ground black pepper
Peel and slice the onions. Slice the ginger into thin strips. Roast the onions and ginger: Drizzle sesame oil into an iron wok or heavy pan and roast the onions and ginger over medium heat until charred and remove. You may also broil them with sesame oil in the oven. Toss any pieces that get burnt.
Broiling or roasting onions and ginger brings out the sultry flavors that balance the sweet anise.
Roast the spices: Using a mortar and pestle, lightly crush your spices and place in your iron wok or heavy pan and dry roast over medium heat until aromatic. This will also make your home smell fragrant and welcoming.
Place the roasted ginger and onions back into your pan, with the roasted spices and add the broth and sake. Bring to a quick boil, and then simmer on low for 30-40 minutes while preparing your fresh herbs and noodles for serving. Its a good idea to have extra broth in case you end up cooking it longer or it reduces down and you need more broth before serving. The idea is to infuse the broth with the roasted herbs and barely reduce the liquid. (If you were making a traditional 24 hour Pho, starting from the meat bones, then you would just keep adding water.)
Spices simmering in broth. In this image I let my decoction boil down too fast and needed to add more broth. Its OK if this happens, just add more broth or water.
Boil the rice noodles. This only takes a few minutes; be careful not to overcook. If you do overcook and they are mush, its better to compost the noodles and start over.
Fish Sauce, Tamari and Sriracha. Traditionally fish sauce is cooked in the broth. Its fun to let your guests experience the broth alone and make their own adjustments.
Assemble your Pho toppings on a side plate. You may either make one big platter of toppings to share or make individual plates. Thinly slice the hot peppers and green onions. Wash and pat dry the basil, mint and cilantro, quarter the limes and arrange on side plates with the mung bean sprouts and green onions. Set out the fish sauce and Sriracha. Offer generous amounts of fresh herbs. The herbs are an important part of the dish, and not a simple garnish.
Strain the broth. Compost the used spices, ginger, onions and other scraps.
Return the strained broth to the stove and quickly blanch the prawns (or other meat) in the broth until done. Leaving the shells on the prawns while cooking imparts an earthy flavor to the broth. Remove the shells before serving.
Portion the noodles into the bowls and top with prawns or your other protein.
Pour the broth into the bowls and serve with the Pho toppings.