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The Perfect Pho Broth


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#1 takadi

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Posted 13 April 2007 - 06:00 PM

I've been told only good pho can come from the streets and restaurants. Home-cooking simply does not work, mostly because equipment and time. I love restaurant pho except for two things: the broth isn't rich enough, and most of all, THE MSG. Everytime I eat pho, afterwards, I feel like I haven't drank for days, I start feeling numb and dizzy, and I get headaches.

But there's just that flavor of good pho that I can't describe. Is it the star anise? The cinnamon? The beef bones? The ginger? The onion?

I researched on the internet, and found many many recipes, all with different ingredients and amounts. So I decided to take all of those ingredients and average them out together. I also took different methods and combined them. The resulting recipe looked like this:

6-7 lbs beef knuckle/bones
3-6 lbs oxtail

2-3 lbs back/short rib bones
1-2 lbs beef neck
1-2 lbs brisket/flank


4-7 anise pods
3 cinnamon sticks or 6 cassia chunks
4-6 whole cloves**
2-3 cardamom pods
1-2 tbsp fennel**
2-3 tbsp coriander seeds
2-3 bay leaves

1 tbsp black peppercorn

1-2 large chunk of rock candy
2 tbsp salt
quarter cup-4 tbsp fish sauce


2-3 large onion
6-7 inches ginger

1 large parsnips* if using 3/4 daikon, use only one carrot or parsnip or half of each.
3/4 large daikon*
1 large carrot*



-soak bones over night
-trim fat from meat and bones and discard
-place oxtail, ribmeat/neckmeat, flank, and bones in pot and bring to a boil. Boil for at least 3-5 minutes and let simmer for 10 minutes
-remove bones and meat and rinse.
-add to pot meat and bones and bring to boil
-let scum rise
-poke hole in scum to observe broth; when scum ceases to rise, begin skimming
-add two more quarts of water and bring to another boil
-skim some more
-bring down to simmer and remove oxtail, flank, and ribmeat; leave a quarter to half of oxtails and add some fish sauce and sugar
-simmer for at least 3-4 hours OR simmer overnight and remove bones in the morning
-meanwhile, toast one half of spices. Mix together spices again, and then ground one half of spices. put ground spices in cheesecloth bag/fine sieve teaball and whole spices in large teaball
-dry roast onion and ginger under broiler or on a skillet or over gas stove; remove black parts
-place oxtail, rib/neck, flank in pot
-if using cardamom, crack cardamom and steep in broth for 30-45 minutes prior to adding other spices and remove once fragrant
-simmer for an hour
-place onion, ginger, and spices in pot
-simmer for 15-30 min
-remove oxtail, flank, and ribmeat/neckmeat when tender (keep in broth longer if still tough); take off meat and soak in cold water. Slice flank into thin strips. Reserve meat for later and return bones to pot
-simmer for 15-30 min
-simmer for 1 more hour
-taste broth; add back onion or spices if flavor is lacking
-strain broth with cheesecloth and remove fat
-take vegetables, onion, ginger and at least 3-4 egg whites and shells and grind coarsely in blender
-take broth and let cool to room temperature
-mix in egg white mixture
-increase to simmering temperature while stirring constantly
-stop stirring when coagulation starts
-allow an egg white raft to form and poke a hole in the middle to allow bubbles to escape
-remove raft after 30 minutes
-move to rinsed pot and bring to a boil and then let simmer
-add fish sauce, salt, sugar, and pepper to taste


There were things I changed during cooking. I left the bones to simmer for three extra hours because I thought the stock was a little thin.
A recipe that's very rough around the edges, but I actually tried it out. And they were right: this was extremely labor intensive and time consuming. The whole kitchen including me was covered in beef fat and particles. There were many things I noticed about the resulting liquid

It did not smell like the pho I ate in restaurants. It smelled overwhelmingly like star anise and carrots, which was not something I planned for. I noticed that when I was roasting the ginger and onion and crushing up the spices, I had that EXACT same smell of pho from restaurants on my hands. I had no clue why it wasn't present at the end of the cooking. Perhaps the aromatics had evaporated away because I boiled it too long.

I also noticed that the stock was very lacking in flavor. It tasted like slightly beefy water. So I added a VERY large amount of fish sauce until it tasted okay.

Then the taste test arrived. I prepared some noodles, cut up some of the beef from the stock and cut up some rare beef. I chopped scallions and cilantro and basil. I prepared the bowl and poured in the hot stock. Topped it off with some pepper.

The results? It was actually pretty good...but it wasn't good enough. It wasn't something I would consider absolutely delicious, and it definitely did NOT taste like the restaurant styles. First off, I noticed that it just tasted like regular beef broth with a hint of fishiness. In fact, I didn't really think it was beefy at all. I didn't detect my of the ginger, onion, spices. The broth almost tasted like a blander vegetable broth my grandmother made a while back. And I think if it weren't for the generous amounts of fish sauce I added, the broth would have been unpalatable. However, on the contrary, the soup was VERY rich. It was so unbelievably thick. Afterwards, my hands were actually sticky from the gelatin. And the spoon was glued onto the bowl. Wow. And when I refrigerated it, the stock became a stiff block of Jello.

I keep hearing that more bones equal more flavor, but I'm seriously starting to doubt that. I'm starting to think that the gelatin and the richness of the stock actually is muddling up the flavors of the aromatics. Perhaps I am using poor quality ingredients. I bought the beef bones from an asian grocery store. It came in a bag and I didn't really find much marrow content in the bones. However the bones were VERY heavy in cartilage and fat. Perhaps I should buy bones with more meat and marrow.

Maybe next time, I'll add more ginger and onion, add less bones and more meat, and leave out the toasting of the spices.

#2 tmcook

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Posted 13 April 2007 - 06:20 PM

my favorite pho is at a hole in the wall in chicago, and they use beef, pork, and chicken bones. maybe something to try in the future..

#3 heidih

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Posted 13 April 2007 - 06:55 PM

Not sure how many quarts you were making but that sounds like a huge amount of bones. I would add enough bones to cover with water. Some meat on bones is nice. Beef is the key for pho. I would definately toast the ginger and onion. Keep the star anise, cinnamon, garlic and clove and black pepper. Veggies adds are not traditional. The whole skimming thing eludes me- unless I boil vigourously which you are not supposed to do for stock- I never get much skum from bones. Basically, put the bones and aromatics in water to cover and simmer with barely a bubble for 6 to 8 hours. Strain. Proceed with soup assembly. In my experience the brisket or tendon that are long cook items are separately cooked and are all add-ins like the raw beef. Cardoman, fennel and bat (!) - NO

#4 takadi

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Posted 14 April 2007 - 04:48 PM

I've heard people add all sorts of stuff to their pho. For instance, the peanut worm, spuncules, sipuncula, etc. also called "ruoi" in vietnamese is added to the pho for flavor. Cardamom, called "thao qua" is a very common ingredient, though it isn't necessary. All I did was take every recipe I found and combined them together.

#5 Didi Dishi

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Posted 14 April 2007 - 10:50 PM

Hi Takadi--

I've been making pho for exactly the same reason you mentioned--I want a bigger, beefier taste. In looking at your recipe, I notice three things I do differently: first, I omit many of the ingredients you include, second, I brown the meat before I make the stock, and third, I boil the flavoring components for the last 15-30 minutes only. Here's a bit more detail:

First the stock:

1. I use only meaty cuts when making the stock--generally oxtail and chuck
2. I always brown the meat in a saute pan or in the oven prior to making the stock (this is not traditional Vietnamese technique).
3. I pack the meat in the stockpot relatively tightly, then cover with cold water by only 1"
4. I bring the stock slowly up to a simmer and cook for about 4-6 hours.
5. About 2 hours before the stock is complete I add chuck or any other beef I plan on plating with the soup (browned first).
6. Note I don't use any carrot or vegetables to flavor the soup at this point.

Flavoring the stock:

About 15-30 minutes before the stock is complete, I add:

1. handful of shallots that have been peeled then roasted on a gas burner until completely black (roughly 8-12 blackened shallots for about 6 quarts of finished soup),
2. 6" of peeled, ginger that has also been roasted on the gas burner until black
3. star anise, clove, and cardamom. (while I can't say with any accuracy how much spicing I use, it's probably about 4-6 star anise for 6 qts of soup, along with 3 cardamom, 4 clove, 12 peppercorns

About 5 minutes before the soup is done:
1. Add fish sauce until the flavor is appropriate (it may be undersalted at this point, but with the correct 'fishy' flavor)
2. Add salt if it needs it
3. I generally don't add sugar, but mostly because I don't remember it. I think it would be great either way.

The things in your recipe that may be giving you a flavor different from what you were expecting are the carrots, bay leaf, fennel seeds and coriander seeds. If I were you I would definitely omit the first three and probably the last as well.

Good luck on your next batch--it's well worth it for a rich, beefy bowl of pho!

#6 takadi

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Posted 14 April 2007 - 11:13 PM

Thanks didi!

About you mentioning about simmering aromatics for the last 15-30 minutes, I've actually taken that into account because I've seen alot of sources out there that say that either simmering evaporates all the flavor or some of the spices actually overpower the entire stock if simmered for too long.

Also I have a strange case of OCD in that I am always afraid of leaving something out. As a result, I always make all my recipes extremely complex. I have this irrational thought that if I include everything I can put in under the sun, it will at least taste a little like restaurant styles. I really have to learn that simplicity is better.

I like northern style pho in that it has very strong spice aromas and very very beefy flavor. However, I feel like it that style is a little too rustic for me. It's just missing that distinct taste that I taste in southern style pho (most of which you find in restaurants in the US). It's very noticeable but I can't seem to recreate now matter how hard I try.

As for browning the beef, I find alot of purists don't like doing that because it makes the stock too cloudy. I think that depends soley on tastes. I personally think cloudy equals hearty. I will experiment with that.

I actually bought some two inch cross sections of hind-shanks with the bone in. I know chuck is very flavorful (I actually added ground chuck with egg whites in one batch I made to clarify the stock). I'm wondering if hind shank meat will match up.

As for the carrots, I distinctly remember my nanny a long long time ago making pho and adding carrots to her stock. I can't say it was restaurant style but it had this flavor that was so delicious and hearty. I'll omit the carrots and see what happens

Now alot of vietnamese say beef knuckle is the only way to go. Others say oxtail is the only way to go. Any thoughts on this?

I shall make a small batch tomorrow with fewer bones, less ingredients, and I'll simmer the flavor components lastly. I'll tell you all how it goes.

#7 Mallet

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Posted 15 April 2007 - 04:30 AM

Usually when you make stock, you would simmer the bones etc... with vegetables (carrots, onion etc..). This adds complexity that bones alone just can't. Consider making your broth with all the aromatics (discarding them along with the bones at the end). You can then add more aromatics as per your usual recipe towards the end, this way you get a strong complex base plus the fresher, lighter flavours of freshly simmered herbs etc..
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#8 Soup

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Posted 15 April 2007 - 11:07 AM

I know this isn't what you are probably looking for but this is how I make pho at home and it is as good as my favorite pho place.

When I go out for pho I always ask for a few containers of soup (just the soup) to go. Yes, i know about cooking it yourself but I can honestly say that I will never get the soup as clear and flavorful as my favorite pho place. I get a few large containers of soup for $3 a pop and I bring it home stick it in the freezer. I get fresh pho noodles and all the fixens at the local asian mega mart and I can have pho anytime at home that is every bit as good as the pho in my favorite place in about 15 minutes.

#9 Didi Dishi

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Posted 15 April 2007 - 02:34 PM

It occurs to me that the clarification step might be taking away some of your beefy flavor. I know you're replacing it with ground beef, but you may want to try skipping it. I also know the impulse to add more and more ingredients! I think you can get the complexity you're looking for with star anise, black pepper, cloves, cardamom, and cinnamon, though.

As to browning clouding the stock, that's never been a problem for me. I follow James Peterson's directions for stockmaking from his book Sauces--his technique works extremely well. Off the top of my head, the important items in this case are browning (unbrowned beef doesn't have a distinctive beefy flavor, in my opinion), maintaining a high beef to water ration, adding COLD water to moisten the stock, and not agitating the beef when cooking. The simmer itself should be EXTREMELY slow--a couple bubbles a secod or less. When you drain the stock, it's important NOT to press on the solids to extract any additional liquid. I'm also extremely OCD about stock making. :)

Also, on the cloudy issue, if you are adding raw/rare beef to your pho you're going to get cloudy broth in any case. :)

I've never tried the knuckle, so I'd be eager to hear what you think. I just make sure that at least 1/2 the weight of my beef is the meat rather than the bones.

On the carrots question, I've never seen it. Then again, there are as many recipes as there are families and shops who make Pho! I wonder if you might be remembering another dish called Bo Kho (pronounced Bo Kah, I think, although my spelling may be wrong). This is a wonderful stew made of beef chuck, tomato paste, carrots, and spices. It's topped with the Vietnames herb rau ram and traditionally eaten with crusty french bread or noodles, with lime juice, salt, and fresh chilis on the side. At least that's how we eat it. Large carrot chunks are very prominent in that dish.

#10 takadi

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Posted 15 April 2007 - 09:50 PM

When you drain the stock, it's important NOT to press on the solids to extract any additional liquid.


Hmm why is that? lol, that's probably what I did the whole entire time while straining the stock. So much to learn....

I like the bo kho comparison. The carrot addition might be a westernized addition to pho. The pho I ate that had carrots in it didn't taste like typical light clear pho I had before, it actually tasted like a stew almost.

*cracks knuckles* I bought all my ingredients and I'm gonna give it a go. Wish me luck. :smile:

#11 Didi Dishi

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Posted 15 April 2007 - 09:58 PM

Good Luck! Take some pictures. :)

#12 miladyinsanity

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Posted 18 April 2007 - 09:52 AM

When you drain the stock, it's important NOT to press on the solids to extract any additional liquid.


Hmm why is that? lol, that's probably what I did the whole entire time while straining the stock. So much to learn....

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Because solids are pressed through the sieve that cloud the stock.

You might want to check out the Cooking forum's stock thread.
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#13 Chris Amirault

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Posted 18 April 2007 - 10:44 AM

I also, humbly, suggest a tour through the Asian Noodle Soup eG Cook-Off, in which there's an extensive discussion about pho.
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#14 takadi

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Posted 19 April 2007 - 01:36 PM

I finally cooked a batch, and the end result was good, but not great. I don't have a camera so I couldn't take pictures

This time I added way fewer bones, probably about 3 lbs. I used hindshanks with the meat around them, a couple of oxtails, and some bones with marrow I bought from the store. I used about a 6 cloves, 3 whole star anise, 2 cinnamon sticks, 1 cardamom pod, a teaspoon of black pepper and a teaspoon of coriander seed. I used about two large onions and about 6 inches of ginger. I roasted those and I toasted the spices. I also put about half a daikon root into the stock.

The end result was surprisingly bland, despite the fact that I probably added a cup of fish sauce and loads of salt. It smelled like pho during cooking, but after a while the smell just dissapated when I was straining the stock. I have no clue what's going on. I felt as if the stock was a bit sweeter than I expected, but there was something about it that was lacking in depth.

I blanched the bones and the meat. I then roasted the bones in the oven for about half an hour and brown the meat. I simmered all of this for about an hour before I added the onion and ginger. I simmered for another hour before adding the daikon and spices. I simmered for another two hours.

Did I do anything wrong? I am just not getting why I can't get that bright restaurant flavor. Too little bones? Tommorrow's another day....

Edited by takadi, 19 April 2007 - 01:37 PM.


#15 heidih

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Posted 19 April 2007 - 02:09 PM

That sounds likea boatload of fish sauce. How did you de-fat? I have not had good success skimming it and always overnite it and then pull off the congealed fat from the gelatin broth. I can only think that maybe fat is smoothing out your flavors too much and losing the brightness. Anxious to hear what others think. Pho is my son's default meal so it is always in play at our house. What is the standard you are comparing to?- a restaurant?- maybe you have an MSG generated taste in your palate's memory and are not addressing it.

#16 takadi

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Posted 19 April 2007 - 02:15 PM

maybe you have an MSG generated taste in your palate's memory and are not addressing it.

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That is exactly what I keep thinking. I've always noticed homemade pho tastes so different than restaurant versions. I'm not trying to imitate restaurants, just improve on it.

A big reason for the blandness could be because I added alot of water. Probably twice as much needed. I only realized this when I chilled it and it didn't turn into gelatin. However, I've made pho in the past that was extremely rich and I still had to add ALOT of fish sauce. I would say that it was just my messed up palate, but my mom and my brother also said it was a little bland. I've asked my mom and she said when she or my grandmother cooked pho, they had to add alot of fish sauce too. I am seriously thinking I am doing something wrong. Should I add more bones? More beef? Should I roast the bones more? Brown the meat more? More aromatics? More spices? How much water should I put? Does reduction simmer out the flavors? Does extra simmering time spoil the taste?

:wacko:

I am thinking of an idea of maybe adding some kombu to the stock next time for some of that extra umami. Is that too insane, or would that actually make any slight difference?

Edited by takadi, 19 April 2007 - 02:19 PM.


#17 Chris Amirault

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Posted 19 April 2007 - 02:28 PM

takadi, what's your ratio of meat, bones, and water? I mean, if what you just said about water is true, then you may have a fine set of ingredients and a waterlogged stock.
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#18 takadi

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Posted 19 April 2007 - 10:33 PM

Yea, that is probably the culprit. I actually added extra water because the stock was turning cloudy. I don't know where that deranged logic came from. I've actually tried clarifying methods with pureed beef and egg whites. But I'm being told that it actually takes away flavors? Plus I find the egg white method to be a pain in the ass because afterwards, I still find egg bits all over the place and I have to strain the entire huge pot of stock all over again.

The traditional method is to blanch and wash the bones before using them, which I also did before roasting.

I've actually been reading the daily gullet article about stock and how one guy actually puts ice on the bones after he roasts them to clear the stock. He explains that it forms slower larger protein bonds, but I really don't understand what he is saying.

Edited by takadi, 19 April 2007 - 10:36 PM.


#19 takadi

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Posted 21 February 2008 - 04:50 AM

I ran across an article that describes what I've been trying to do with my pho broth.

http://www.cookthink.com/blog/?p=719

Does the French consomme method do anything to the taste of the pho broth? It just seems like extra work for nothing (plus it seems like it takes away some extra flavor components). It seems like consomme method is only practical when used in aspics or extremely concentrated broths. Doing it for pho seems like overkill to me (unless the extra beef added for the clarifying process adds more flavor)

#20 origamicrane

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Posted 21 February 2008 - 06:38 AM

I ran across an article that describes what I've been trying to do with my pho broth.

http://www.cookthink.com/blog/?p=719

Does the French consomme method do anything to the taste of the pho broth? It just seems like extra work for nothing (plus it seems like it takes away some extra flavor components). It seems like consomme method is only practical when used in aspics or extremely concentrated broths. Doing it for pho seems like overkill to me (unless the extra beef added for the clarifying process adds more flavor)

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yep overkill unless you plan to serve this as fine dining pho as the clarification step doesn't add any flavour just removes the debris from the stock.
a quicker version would be just to filter it through muslin or a fine coffee filter or some kind.

As said above you might be trying to get the taste of a pho with msg in without using msg.

The only way you going to do that is to add more meat and stuff to get more flavour in the stock or reduce the stock to concentrate the flavours.

One of the things that restaurants do is that they add stock from a previous batch to make a new batch, so you are adding concentrated stock into making a new batch.
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#21 PopsicleToze

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Posted 21 February 2008 - 07:17 AM

-soak bones over night
-trim fat from meat and bones and discard


I've never heard of soaking the bones overnight or trimming the fat off before making stock. It would seem that this would negatively affect the flavor of the finished stock.

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#22 takadi

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Posted 21 February 2008 - 07:27 AM

Yea it's been a while since my last post and I've drastically changed alot of the things I do. The last time I tried making pho, I used alot more meat (I use those cross-cuts of shank meat with a two inch bone section in them)

There are two things that seem to happen when I make pho. Either it's too bland and stale, or it's too salty or medicinal tasting (adding too much ginger or spices). I just can't get that perfect combination of ingredients. I haven't tried experimenting with different ingredients like adding pork or chicken bones, so I might try that as well. Sometimes I feel like it's either too simple or too complicated, just never right.

I plan on making a batch some time in the next weeks, so I'll write down what happened and hopefully try to get pictures so everyone here can critique what I'm doing :)


Also, I think it would really be a sad story if I ended up liking MSG more than the real thing :sad:

Edited by takadi, 21 February 2008 - 07:30 AM.


#23 origamicrane

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Posted 21 February 2008 - 08:11 AM

msg is everywhere that it's hard to avoid
I think you might have to train your palate to not like msg.

I think pho should be relatively simply.

If i was you I would try the back to basic approach
get your meat, bones, onions, etc and
chuck all into a pot and simmer.
Then taste the broth after two hours and then add your spices bit at a time until you get the taste you want might take longer but might get you closer to what you are looking for.
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#24 Ce'nedra

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Posted 22 February 2008 - 03:43 AM

I've been told only good pho can come from the streets and restaurants. Home-cooking simply does not work, mostly because equipment and time.  love restaurant pho except for two things: the broth isn't rich enough, and most of all, THE MSG.


I've heard (and believe) the exact opposite. Restaurant pho just can't compete with homemade pho -AND I mean the ones from scratch, not ones where you throw in a packet.
I made pho with my mum before but it was only once (she cooks it herself every other time) so I don't recall all the ingredients. I can ask her some time later if you want...when I'm not so lazy hehe.

The reason why restuarant pho isn't that rich is most likely because the ratio of water to proper seasoning is high, high, high! They're not going to use all that much of the REAL stuff (star anise, etc) for you because it'll cost them money!
They probbably just throw in some artifiical flavourings and a heap of msg to make up for the lack of it. Whereas at home, you know exactly what you put into your pho soup and you're using good produce/seasonings/whatever. And THAT is why homemade pho is better than restaurant pho.

With that said, a tad bit of msg in pho is not a bad thing at all. It definately enhances the flavour -however, NOT the amount that restuarants give you. THAT can't be too healthy.

Anyhow, my mum's pho is the BEST!
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#25 Zeke

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Posted 26 February 2008 - 10:38 PM

According to Alton Brown, adding a little lemon juice to beef broth brightens the flavors. This might be what your broth is missing, Tadaki.

Here in south Texas we put lime juice in our menudo, which is basically beef broth with tripe and hominy, and it really seems to enliven the dish.

I hope this helps.

#26 takadi

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Posted 16 March 2008 - 08:14 AM

I found this very very interesting

http://www.chowhound.com/topics/441951

"

Many Hounders have professed their mom's pho to be the best. I am no different, and recently asked my mother to share her secret to the amazing steaming hot bowls of lovin' that grace our table when I come home to visit the Pacific Northwest.

When I asked, she took out a step stool, a rickety thing covered in red leatherette, and opened a cupboard. Inside, on the very tippy-top shelf, she took out a jar. Inside swam a sea of anise stars in a brown liquid.

"Sherry," she said.

Yes, sherry-soaked anise stars are the secret to my mom's incomparable bowl of pho bo (for you whitey tighties in the audience, or just newcomers, bo is beef). You basically buy the most crappy sherry available, fill a used Smucker's jam jar to the gills with anise stars, and pour. It must steep at least a few months to taste right for soup. I don't know if that's useful (or just gross) to anyone else. Thought I would share.

Does anyone else's mom have a secret ingredient? Spill the bo here!"


I've heard all sorts of claims of secret techniques or ingredients that makes their particular pho special, all from adding dried sea worms, adding a bit of tendon, etc. If anyone has any particular peculiarities about their pho broth I would be interested in hearing them

#27 cookfast

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Posted 05 May 2009 - 02:15 PM

Over the past several months, I've been periodically making batches of pho broth, trying different things in an attempt to get somewhere near the flavor of the broth at the good local restaurants.

With the huge variation in recipes I found online, it was difficult to come up with a good starting point, especially since many of the ingredients are things I had little or no experience with. After a lot of reading, I thought I had identified the common elements and had a good understanding of how they worked together, but the more I try, the further I seem to get away from the target.

So we have bones, meat, aromatics and spices. My current formula is:

6lb beef leg/knuckle bones
3lb chuck roast
2 yellow onions
2x 3" pieces ginger
3x 3" pieces cassia bark
8 whole star anise
8 whole cloves
10 black cardamom pods
1 tbsp black peppercorns
2oz chunk yellow rock sugar
1 tbsp sea salt

Boil the bones. Slice the onions and ginger in half lengthwise and put them under the broiler for about 15 minutes total, turning half-way. Smash the ginger good. Add the bones, meat, onions, ginger, sugar and salt, and 7qt water and simmer for 6 hours or more. Then toast the spices for 2-3 minutes in a pan, and thoroughly crush the cardamom pods. Put them in an infuser and drop it in the broth, simmer for another 30 minutes. Then strain and cool overnight, and defat the next day. I add about 1 tbsp fish sauce to each bowl when I reheat it.

And while the broth smells very aromatic when it is simmering and when reheating it, it just lacks the spice flavor and even aroma of the restaurant stuff in the bowl. I would have thought MSG, but even the smell of the restaurant broth is 10x as potent.

I've learned a lot from trial and error. Biggest thing is that the flavor of the spices evaporates out over time, which is why I now add the spices only for the last 30 minutes - maybe that's still too long or not long enough, or possibly the various spices take different amounts of time to release their flavors. Or something else I just considered last time around - maybe just reheating it to a full boil is evaporating off most of the flavors from the spices (next time around, I plan to try tasting it as it finishes simmering, before it cools and needs to be reheated).

Aside from the lack of spice, the broth is very beefy, and with the noodles, garnish, and meat, my homemade pho blows away the restaurant stuff in every other category. Seems like I'm close but need a breakthrough to get the rest of the way there.

#28 v. gautam

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Posted 07 May 2009 - 01:10 AM

Just from my Indian experience, here is what I think, not necessarily correct:


you have 9 lb/ 4.5 kg meaty stuff: 8 cloves 8 cardamoms etc. 30 min

per 2 lb in slow cooker or slow oven ALL UNTOASTED 3-4 cloves, because these are not often fresh, small piece cassia bark 1 inch or more, green or black cardamom 3 green or black 1-2, peppercorns as you wish, star anise, i would cook cook low and slow 6-8 hours with the spices in cover on, very low in oven

You can even dum by sealing with dough ring a dutch oven. Broth will be clear and very fragrant. We do not make pho but similar broth with lamb or goat trotters or marrow bones and shanks. Shank bones of beef then and oxtails.

Pho is a classic yakhni with a garam masala!! Nothing more!

Roasted onion is for color and slight taste. You may consider adding some raw sliced onion and ginger with meat for deeper taste.

Edited by v. gautam, 07 May 2009 - 01:17 AM.


#29 Kerry Beal

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Posted 07 May 2009 - 04:37 AM

Over the past several months, I've been periodically making batches of pho broth, trying different things in an attempt to get somewhere near the flavor of the broth at the good local restaurants.

With the huge variation in recipes I found online, it was difficult to come up with a good starting point, especially since many of the ingredients are things I had little or no experience with. After a lot of reading, I thought I had identified the common elements and had a good understanding of how they worked together, but the more I try, the further I seem to get away from the target.

So we have bones, meat, aromatics and spices. My current formula is:

6lb beef leg/knuckle bones
3lb chuck roast
2 yellow onions
2x 3" pieces ginger
3x 3" pieces cassia bark
8 whole star anise
8 whole cloves
10 black cardamom pods
1 tbsp black peppercorns
2oz chunk yellow rock sugar
1 tbsp sea salt

Boil the bones. Slice the onions and ginger in half lengthwise and put them under the broiler for about 15 minutes total, turning half-way. Smash the ginger good. Add the bones, meat, onions, ginger, sugar and salt, and 7qt water and simmer for 6 hours or more. Then toast the spices for 2-3 minutes in a pan, and thoroughly crush the cardamom pods. Put them in an infuser and drop it in the broth, simmer for another 30 minutes. Then strain and cool overnight, and defat the next day. I add about 1 tbsp fish sauce to each bowl when I reheat it.

And while the broth smells very aromatic when it is simmering and when reheating it, it just lacks the spice flavor and even aroma of the restaurant stuff in the bowl. I would have thought MSG, but even the smell of the restaurant broth is 10x as potent.

I've learned a lot from trial and error. Biggest thing is that the flavor of the spices evaporates out over time, which is why I now add the spices only for the last 30 minutes - maybe that's still too long or not long enough, or possibly the various spices take different amounts of time to release their flavors. Or something else I just considered last time around - maybe just reheating it to a full boil is evaporating off most of the flavors from the spices (next time around, I plan to try tasting it as it finishes simmering, before it cools and needs to be reheated).

Aside from the lack of spice, the broth is very beefy, and with the noodles, garnish, and meat, my homemade pho blows away the restaurant stuff in every other category. Seems like I'm close but need a breakthrough to get the rest of the way there.

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I wonder if it's not enough fish sauce. When I made pho using the recipe from recipeGullet it tasted one dimensional until our nanny at the time pulled out the bottle of fish sauce - added a bunch - and voila - it was suddenly perfect!

#30 cookfast

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Posted 07 May 2009 - 12:27 PM

Just from my Indian experience, here is what I think, not necessarily correct:


you have 9 lb/ 4.5 kg meaty stuff: 8 cloves 8 cardamoms etc. 30 min

per 2 lb in slow cooker or slow oven  ALL UNTOASTED 3-4 cloves, because these are not often fresh, small piece cassia bark 1 inch or more, green or black cardamom 3 green or black 1-2, peppercorns as you wish, star anise, i would cook  cook low and slow 6-8 hours with the spices in cover on, very low in oven

You can even dum by sealing with dough ring a dutch oven. Broth will be clear and  very fragrant. We do not make pho but similar broth with lamb or goat trotters or marrow bones and shanks. Shank bones of beef then and oxtails.

Pho is a classic yakhni with a garam masala!! Nothing more!

Roasted onion is for color and slight taste. You may consider adding some raw sliced onion and ginger with meat for deeper taste.

View Post



I've been simmering the broth in a stockpot on the stove, uncovered. I thought about at least partially covering the pot while simmering to limit evaporation, but temperature control could be a problem - it already simmers a little fast uncovered at the lowest heat I can get, though I haven't tried the simmer burner on my stove yet. Maybe I will try that and cover it next time.

The first few times I made pho broth, I added the spices right at the start of simmering. Within about 15 minutes, the aroma was strong in the steam rising out of the pot, and it stayed that way for an hour or so. But then the aroma started to weaken, and by 2 hours in, it had almost completely gone away. After it was finished simmering, it just tasted like beef broth with some onion flavor and no trace of spices. This is how I learned of the evaporation problem.

Then I found an article in the Washington Post by the guy who owns Pho 75 here in the DC area (the one in Rosslyn has the best pho I've ever had). His recipe said to add the spices at the end. In fact, he specified just 10 minutes of simmering with the spices. I tried 30 minutes (after 10 the aroma wasn't very strong yet), and I could finally taste a little bit of spice flavor, but very subtle, and all I could really taste was the cassia and a little anise. The cardamom and cloves just seem to be lost completely.

Are the oils evaporating out too quickly while simmering? Am I simmering too long? Is there too much heat? Is reheating the broth to a boil destroying it no matter what I do? I dunno. I'm a scientific person so I just want to optimize the procedure and be able to replicate it over and over again. :)