“But the worst was when Rich criticized my mother's cooking, and he didn't even know what he had done. As is the Chinese cook's custom, my mother always made disparaging remarks about her own cooking. That night she chose to direct it toward her famous steamed pork and preserved vegetable dish, which she always served with special pride.
‘Ai! This dish not salty enough, no flavor,’ she complained, after tasting a small bite. ‘It is too bad to eat.’
This was our family's cue to eat some and proclaim it the best she had ever made. But before we could do so, Rich said, ‘You know, all it needs is a little soy sauce.’ And he proceeded to pour a riverful of the salty black stuff on the platter, right before my mother's horrified eyes."
While not everything I make comes out exactly like I want or expect it to, I love trying to cook new things – especially ones I think my family will enjoy. And, replicating an amazing restaurant dish is a challenge I can’t help but take, thus I recently became determined to learn to make beef Phở. I painstakingly gathered all the necessary ingredients and made a huge pot of homemade beef stock. I was ready to cook. However prepared, I knew the noodles would be the hardest part - indeed they often vex me.
Through time, I have learned to slightly undercook my udon, saimen, soba and similar type noodles because they WILL keep cooking in the soup base. These take only a few minutes to cook, so I was prepared for the Phở rice noodles to cook just as quickly. Unfortunately, when I turned the package over I found no cooking directions. Quick & Easy said simply to “cook the noodles” and Complete Asian’s directions included soaking the noodles in warm water for “at least two hours.” A third set of directions from http://www.vietnamese-recipes.com/ instructed me to soak the noodles for twenty minutes until “soft” and cook in boiling water until “tender but not mushy.” Hmmm...
The stock, now perfectly seasoned with cinnamon, cloves, anise, ginger and fish sauce, simmered on the back burner while I waited for the noodle water to boil. The noodles enjoyed a nice warm water bath for about 40 minutes (a happy medium between 2 hours and 20 minutes) - which is when I thought them to be “soft” – before being dropped into the boiling water. I then set my timer for 3 minutes and waited, watching, gently stirring.
At three minutes I was surprised to find the noodles not only tender but also rapidly approaching mushy! I quickly drained them, divided them into the four waiting bowls, topped with a handful of bean sprouts and strips of thinly sliced raw beef (it cooks in the soup), added the piping hot broth and rushed the bowls to the table where three hungry people and little plates of basil leaves, lime wedges, and thin jalapeño slices waited. The smell was divine, the presentation beautiful and the noodles – a gelatinous glob in the bottom of the bowl. Oh Phở-ey! As the others ate heartily and proclaimed dinner delicious - I will admit, it was very, very tasty - I silently steamed over the ones that had betrayed me yet again!
I’ll get you, noodles! Next time, I’ll get you!!