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Why is Asian(Westernized) broth so dang difficult to get right?


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take great pride in that knowing the fact that I can replicate recipes on my own. I've had some pretty good success with coming up with flavors and foods that remind me of my youth, specifically, takeout items. I think I do a pretty good job of burgers, fried chicken, pizza, a multitude of a Chinese food dishes, etc. One item that I cannot seem to figure out, which should be so simple to do, but it's frustratingly and deceptively difficult, is Asian broth.

I'm talking wonton soup and phö broth. I can't figure it out and I need help. I've scoured the forums here and tried everything. But I can't get a clear broth and I can't get the right flavour. I need to know what I'm doing wrong, I've spent a decade trying to figure this out.

To me, there is nothing in this world like good soup broth. Can someone find it in them to help me, please? I would be forever grateful.

Regards,

Mike

 

 
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It might help to know what your steps are....

Do you make a strong broth by roasting the bones you use?

What spices do you add to the broth?

Do you clarify the broth with a raft?

Are you cooking it at too high a temperature?

 

Inquiring minds want to know...........

 

Nothing is better than frying in lard.

Nothing.  Do not quote me on this.

 

Linda Ellerbee

Take Big Bites

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Depending on where you get your Chinese takeout from, many restaurants use a canned or reconstituted powder broth - they don't make it from scratch. Many of them are industrial products using ingredients unavailable to the home cook.

 

With regards to pho broth, it gets even trickier since the broth varies wildly in Vietnam from North to South. The broth in Hanoi is typically quite different than in Saigon. 

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A broth for wonton soup and a broth for pho are two very different animals. Literally. Pho is mainly beef. A good place to start for that might be Andrea Nguyen. She has a recipe in her first basic book "Into the Vietnamese Kitchen" and she has written a whole book devoted to pho, I think. It's a very rich deep broth made from various cuts of beef, bones, etc. I have made it, and it's a labor of love. As noted above, it can vary a lot, depending on who your Viet granny is. My one objection to some restaurant pho is that it is too sweet. 

 

Wonton soup is typically chicken-based, in my experience. Chinese chicken stock often involves a bit of pork, such as cooking pork neck bones along with your chicken backs, feet, carcass, whatever. You can add ginger, lemongrass, star anise to taste. I like to make a simple chicken stock with a couple of pork neck bones and no Asian flavorings to freeze for a variety of soups. Then if I want an Asian or wonton broth I just simmer the broth for 15 minutes or so with those flavorings. It works, and I don't have to have quarts of Asian broth overwhelming my freezer. In a pinch, if I have a stock made with only chicken parts, I sometimes add a bit of ham broth to give it a little kick when I add my lemongrass, ginger, etc. Restaurant wonton soups and pho also suffer a common problem, at least for me, and that's too much salt. Nothing beats home-made broth.
 

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Thank you for the replies. What you folks have suggested is pretty much what I've done in the past (sans MSG). I know that the protein will cloud the water, so I roast the meat first which seems to do a good job of maintaining clarity of broth. The problem seems to be the seasonings. If I add the (in the example of phö) ginger, garlic, star anise, cinnamon, onion, salt, sugar, soy sauce, fish sauce....in whole (and roasted) form, there is a lack of flavour. If I choose to add flavouring via ground seasonings directly, it becomes occluded. If I steep using an infuser, there is once again, a lack of flavour. 

This seems to be the crux of my problem. My latest attempt has been to reduce the broth about 90-95% and use the liquid as a concentration. That KINDA works, but I still lack the clarity that I so much desire.

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For the clearest broth, I use a pressure cooker with natural release - even though, true pho broth is never clear.  I've had many bowls in 3 different  regions of Vietnam and none of them have been clear.  In one place in Hanoi, I was able to watch them making the broth and it was boiling vigorously, ensuring a cloudy emulsification of fats and proteins.  In general, Hanoi style pho has an almost imperceptible sweetness and is barely scented with spices - it tastes mostly of meat.  In Saigon, it varies but all the versions we had were sweeter than the Hanoi style, some by a large order of magnitude bordering on clawing (yet it was still packed with locals so it was a stylistic choice) and some were so heavy with spices that I could smell them in my head 30 minutes later.  I would also say that none of the pho broths I've had in Vietnam were made from canned or powder - not so though for some of my local NYC shops where they cheat for sure.

 

Regarding wonton soups - while many of the broths are based on a chicken broth, in Hong Kong, the broth was almost always made from shrimp (and the wontons were filled with shrimp as well).  At many of the local NYC takeout joints, I know that some make their broth using a powder or bouillon cube (like Knorr) because they have showed it to me.  I'm not saying they all do, but quite  a few do.  It seems like the ones that taste the strongest are most likely to use the boullion/powder.

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heidih; I have read about parboiling to get rid of impurities, but I am recalcitrant to do it. It just feels like sacrilege to extract flavour out of meat, onto to just dump it. Like, I'm throwing out flavour here! Is it just me? Am I being biased to my own non-scientific prejudice? Why am I so stubborn about this? It is what drives me to roasting the meat in the first place. I do it with phö meat as well as wonton broth meat. I am conflicted.

Kenneth T; it is disheartening that the broth that I so crave to replicate is quite possibly a cheat of bullion. Say it ain't so! If it is, I want to see if I can create it despite "take out restaurants" convention. Full disclosure: I have created crystal clear broth, but that involves freezing the broth then using the frozen gelatin that was formed to act as a filter as I defrost the broth in a strainer. I know it's an old trick used by foodies on a myriad of foodstuffs, but it is time consuming. I wish there was a way that would essentially guarantee a relatively quick process of clear and flavourful broth. I know it must exist, I've seen it on cooking shows, dangit.

I've never tried to do a raft, I hear it involves ground beef. I don't know if I want to chase good protein after bad, if you know what I mean....

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I will admit that even when I make a broth with great ingredients I'll find something lacking at times. Subtle is not in my taste palette preference. My "solution" is either mushroom seasoning https://www.vietworldkitchen.com/blog/2011/07/msg-salt-mushroom-seasoning.html  (I use that brand) or if I'm out of that a touch of chicken powder. 

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Also forgot to mention that I usually omit sugar during the broth making process as I'll use nuac mam cham as a flavor adjustment in my bowl.  I never expect the pho broth to be the taste end product as customization in such soups is the norm I think.

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OK sorry. Do report back if you try it. It just shouldn't be that "hard" - this is rustic cooking. As to the above suggestions about the wonton broth including pork/shrimp- I absolutly agree. Again it is a coming together of flavors. Also the filling in the wonton enhances the taste of the broth in the spoon; kids actully playing well together. As the wonton or dumpling sits in the broth while you are eating the flavors marry. In my experience that is why the middle of the bowl , in time, is perhps the most satisfying and balanced.

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I have never been to China or Vietnam, so my experience of these soups comes primarily  from restaurants in NY and the Bay Area. I wish I had friends who grew up in Asian households and who had a deep tradition of homemade soups, but I don't have that either. I do agree that my home made stocks and broths are not replications of restaurant soups. However, I've grow to prefer them, since they are clean and unadulterated.

 

Emmey you may be overthinking this. As Heidi says, these are rustic soups and if you make them at home without a lot of additives they will taste like the meats they are made from. One mistake many people make (and I do it too) is to use too little meat and too few bones. Making home made stock isn't exactly cheap, contrary to our intuition about "broth from scraps," especially when we are talking about a rich pho base.

 

Trying to bump up the umami with bonito flakes and other ingredients more often used for Japanese broth is an interesting experiment, but I would be surprised if that ended up tasting more like the Viet restaurant soups you are aspiring to. A squirt of Red Boat is a lot easier and a lot more traditional. But variety is, at least, one of the spices of life, if not always the most "authentic.". If you make it from scratch it can't be Faux Pho. 

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Red Boat? Never heard of it. Please elaborate.

 

I am beginning to acquiesce and give in to cheating. But.....geez....there MUST be a way.

 

I immersed bonito and kombu innwater overnight and cooked it. Ummmmm, nope. Terrible. This is dashi?????? Yikes. Soni soaked some shitake in it for a while and reheated. Marginally better. I added some of my frozen concentrated broth and it was....decent. It isn't what I'm looking for, at all, but it's a good enough base for my ramen.

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I don't think I have that brand here. It's a redneck town. 

Also, I think I may have added too much "stuff" to my homemade umami soup. Next time I'm just sprinkling.

 

I still want to try to broth it up. Both wonton and phö. I'm heeding the various pieces of advice and experimenting.

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First - while kombu and bonito are the ingredients for dashi, the method is completely different. I usually put the 10g kombu per liter water and cook at 65degC for an hour.  Remove the kombu, bring to a boil, dump in a big handful of bonito flakes, let sit for 30 seconds, then strain.

 

In any case, dashi will not get you close to a pho or chinese wonton soup flavor because it would never be used in either.  If you want to amp up the umami, try some dried shiitake mushrooms or msg.

 

Lots of people on this forum love Red Boat fish sauce, but I think it's very expensive and completely not necessary if used in a broth or in anything other than finishing.  Maybe it would be worth the expense in a cold dipping sauce (that's never been cooked).  To me, it's kind of like using an XO cognac for cooking...  personally, I like the Squid brand of fish sauce - which is like $4-5 per liter, or Golden Boy which is similarly priced.

 

A homemade chicken broth will be orders of magnitude better than what's available at a chinese takeout place that uses boullion cubes or powder - but it won't taste the same if that's what you're trying to do.  Kind of like making a high quality genoise and buttercream filling taste like a Twinkie.  Also, the chinese takeout wonton soup broths are MUCH saltier than anything you'd make at home.  I think you'd be surprised at how much salt is in this stuff.  This is mostly because those boullion cubes are mostly salt.

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Emmey, before going to costly extremes or wasted ingredients it might be a good idea to do some reading. There are plenty of good sources for Pho recipes, no two the same. You can see how different cooks achieve the umami you strive for as well as get an idea for the ratio of meat and bones to water. Check out who has written well regarded Viet cookbooks so you aren't flying blind. It sounds like some basics are in order. Andrea Nguyen and Mai Pham are two good names, but there are plenty more. Perhaps some people who are following this thread can suggest other authors and titles they trust. 

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Yup. I'm going to adhere to your position on the whole dashi thing because it wasn't appetizing at all....

I'll take your advice and try again......

 

On the main thread......why does this look so easy, then when I do it, it goes south? https://youtu.be/f8oAW85cJW0

I've read Andrea's book but I just can bring myself to cleaning bones and dumping out water after 10 minutes to get rid of impurities. It just doesn't feel natural. What's wrong with me? It feels like rinsing out fond from my pan....

 

 

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