What's Phở Dinner? (Part I)

I recently read a rave review of a Vietnamese Phở restaurant near my house – well, near enough anyway. I’d only had Phở once before but found this most famous Vietnamese noodle dish to be simply amazing. The huge bowl of almost translucent rice noodles I could top with my choice of lime juice, basil, jalapeños, and bean sprouts (I used all) was a perfect match for the thinly sliced beef and subtly flavored (I detected fish sauce, anise and perhaps coriander) piping hot beef broth. Yes, I had the recipe in both Quick & Easy Vietnamese: Home Cooking for Everyone and in The Complete Asian Cookbook by Charmaine Solomon, but I just never was ambitious enough to try and make it at home – until now.

Having this unforgettable dish again made me determined to figure it out. (Interestingly enough, during my research, I learned the Phở I had for lunch - as well as many other Vietnamese noodle soup dishes - is more frequently served as a breakfast food.)

First and foremost I needed good beef stock. While I don’t mind occasionally using canned chicken stock, I simply don’t like the beef version. Canned beef stock doesn’t have the same taste as homemade. Since I had no stock in stock, I needed to make a batch. At the grocery, I asked the butcher shop if he had any soup bones. He admitted they were out and instead offered a pack of almost $4 a pound Angus beef ribs. While I’m certain they would have made a delicious soup base, it went completely against my frugal nature and instead I went to a second store where I scored three pounds of meaty bones for a little over two bucks that I set to simmer in my 10qt stock pot. Twelve-ish hours later, I strained the stock and put it in the fridge to solidify the fat for easy removal.

Next I hit the Asian grocery store to ensure I had the requisite ingredients. Quick & Easy and Complete Asian vary slightly on ingredients and garnishes but both insisted on the right kind of noodles – specifically rice noodles labeled especially for Phở.

I found them nestled among an entire aisle of confusing imposters, grabbed a pack and put them in my basket along with the Thai basil, limes, bean sprouts and a bottle of my favorite fish sauce. While there are many brands of fish sauce (made from fermented fish – not always but usually anchovies), I have a preferred one I use for all my Asian dishes.

Stock made - check, ingredients assembled - check, Quick & Easy tabbed to the right page - check.  Tomorrow’s dinner was destined to be delicious - Phở sure!

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