Using and adapting a recipe found on epicurious.com, here's what happened.
Charring onions and ginger. I imagine that back in the day, pho would have been made over an open fire, thus making it quite easy to blacken the onions and ginger. The modern version saw me broiling these guys until they got smokey and black. Then I peeled them and they went into the stock pot.
Toasting the spices to go into the broth. Do not underestimate the power of a medium heat applied to fragrant cloves, anise seeds and cinnamon. By throwing this trifecta of deliciousness into a hot pan, you release all of its oils and somehow, the secrets of the universe come wafting into your nostrils. You smell this, and you just KNOW it's going to taste good. These spices go into cheesecloth and basically brew in the beef stock, elevating a beef bone tea into delicious pho juice.
Starting the broth. Beware, this blog is becoming very very non vegetarian. After a visit to the local butchers, where we bought some beef bones, some flank roast, and some sirloin, we came home and started the broth.
The broth takes hours, people. Hours wherein you skim the scum and fat from the liquid, transforming bones and bringing them one step closer to some Vietnamese fantasy.
Repeat after me: Pho juice! Pho juice! Pho juice! The broth's been strained, the cheesecloth with spice trifecta has been removed, and it's piping hot, ready to be made into pho.
This isn't just about the beef broth and the noodles. Oh, no. Pho is all about the garnishes. When I ponder the mysteries of the beautiful pho, I realize that it's the perfect combination of soup AND salad in one bowl.
When I was in Vietnam I was amazed at the variety of greens that you could throw into your bowl: mustard greens, dandelion leaves, mint, holy basil, coriander, beansprouts...and those greens just kept on coming, appearing in huge wet piles on white plastic dinner plates.
You mustn't forget about balancing the flavours with some lime, chillies, hoisin and hot sauces too!
Steamed some properly cut (lengthwise!) baby bok choi to add even more greenery to the pho.
Pho assembly line action. Getting all the ingredients in the bowl before pouring the broth.
That flank roast bubbled away in the stock pot for over four hours. It tasted like heavenly cows. Please note the raw, paper-thin sirloin. Just a bit in the bowl, save some for the others!
My bowl, post-garnishing. I was so excited to finally taste it!
Ah...perfectly nourishing, just the right amount of heavy and light, of crisp and soft, of spice and sweetness. If this soup was a gesture, it would be a hug.