Vietnamese Pho

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I always think of this classic noodle soup as Vietnam in a bowl. With noodles and tender beef slices in a stock flavoured with ginger, cinnamon, cloves and star anise, it is everyone’s bowl of yin and yang. The stock is the star of the show and the Vietnamese go to great lengths to make it tasty – it takes time but it is worth it. To this you use your own artistry and add flavourings from a choice of fresh garnishes – a sprinkling of crisp bean sprouts, a sharp bite of spring onion or a splash of chilli sauce. Then, using your chopsticks, you lift the noodles up through the layers of flavours and slurp them hungrily into your mouth. The aroma is intoxicating and awakens your senses so it’s not surprising that street stalls specialise in pho for breakfast. You can splash a little whisky into your stock, or enjoy the pho with a dram.

Ingredients

For the stock

  • 1.5 kg/3 lb 3 oz beef shanks, brisket, stewing beef or beef bones
  • 2 large onions, peeled and quartered
  • 2–3 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
  • a big knob of fresh ginger, cut into chunks
  • 4 lemongrass stalks, bruised
  • 4–6 garlic cloves, bruised

For the pho

  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 100 ml/ fl oz whisky of your choice (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon black garlic cloves, kept whole or halved lengthways
  • 350 g/12 oz dried rice or wheat noodles, soaked in lukewarm water for 20 minutes and drained
  • 200 g/7 oz beef fillet, very finely sliced
  • 2–3 spring onions, trimmed and cut into long pieces
  • 1 red or green chilli, deseeded and finely sliced
  • a large handful of fresh bean sprouts
  • a big bunch of fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped
  • a big bunch of fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
  • 2 limes, quartered
  • salt

Method

To make the stock, put the meat and/or bones into a deep pot with all the other stock ingredients and cover with water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for two hours. Top up with water, if necessary, and skim off any fat. Strain the stock into another pot.

Bring the stock to the boil once more and stir in the fish sauce with the whisky and black garlic. Season to taste with salt, then reduce the heat and leave the stock simmering gently until ready to use.

Meanwhile, bring a pot filled with water to the boil, toss in the noodles and cook until tender. Drain the noodles and divide them equally amongst four to six wide soup bowls. Top each serving of noodles with the fine slices of raw beef, scatter over the spring onions and chillies and then ladle on the hot aromatic stock – the beef will cook gently in the hot stock but it should remain rare.

Garnish with the bean sprouts and fresh herbs and serve with the lime wedges to squeeze at the last minute.