This soup of the week post is WAY early because I couldn’t wait to share this project. It also isn’t so much a recipe as it is an adventure.
I had tried my hand at making homemade phở stock once before. I can’t recall if I followed a recipe or not, but I do recall NOT charring aromatics and NOT par-boiling the bones and definitely allowing the pot to boil – all no-nos in the phở-making process, so I have learned – so if I had one, it super-sucked. It was a fun process with a delicious outcome, but it was not phở.
A few months ago, my brother and sister-in-law had a go at it with great success, so I obvs punked the recipe from them, pinned it, then promptly lost it in a sea of phở-related pins…or perhaps not.
Any which way, this is the recipe/method I ended up following. It might be the one they used? Maybe?
Why did I choose that one? I really enjoyed the authors’ writing and passion for the food and their content. It’s a really great blog.
Even though I followed what looks to be an incredibly authentic recipe (but I’m not Vietnamese, so I have zero authority on the matter), I’m sticking with calling it “faux phở” because I did end up bastardizing it in the final presentation.
Also, the inspiration to make it came from having a carcass leftover after the mister roasted this bad boy:
While I’ll bet the life of my first born on duck phở being very much a thing because the internet says so, once again, I have zero authority on the matter, so duck faux phở is what I did.
I ran out the very day after the duck roasting to amass ingredients for the phở and, in true Melanist form, totally over-did and over-thought it, but learned a whole lot about ingredients available to me within a few blocks of my home.
SOAPBOX TIME: I’ve written before about the amazing little Asian grocer’s we have in our wee borough. SHOP THERE. I don’t think they’re in any danger of going out of business, but if they do, I’m sunk. I rely very heavily on them for hard-to-find ingredients at really, really good prices and, even after 30 years of shopping there, I still manage to discover new things each time I’m in.
You guys, this was such a fun experience in culinary learning and growing. I got to get out my wee spice toasting pot that I had completely forgotten about:
Yes, my stove top is in a constant state of disarray.
I learned that charring the aromatics was an essential part of the process.
Mine were not as charred as they could be. I used the broiling method recommended in the recipe for we poor sods who don’t have gas elements or access to a BBQ. Should you also use this method, raise the cooking rack you’re putting the aromatics on so it’s as close to the top oven element as possible without the ingredients touching it. Mine did ok, but they cooked as much as they charred:
One of the goals I had in following this method through was coming out with a crystal clear broth like the ones we’re served in good phở-serving restaurants. To obtain that with certainty, the recipe recommends wrapping the aromatics and spices in cheese cloth. So, I did that:
Lookit those happy bundles of deliciousness!
One of the ways I veered from the recipe was in beginning with already roasted bones. The authors say you can par-boil, or roast, or par-boil, then roast. I opted to par-boil the already roasted carcass before getting into the proper soup makings mostly because we had added some of the leftover duck-roasting detritus to the bone bag before I realized that I wanted to make phở with it, so I wanted to make sure that was all gone before I carried on:
Once everything is in the pot, it’s a waiting game. Hours and hours of waiting while this baby simmers away, making the house smell so good one could go crazy. Oh! AND YOU’RE NOT ALLOWED TO TOUCH IT. No stirring. No poking. No prodding. No whispering sweet nothings in its ear. The reason for this is so everything stays as still as possible so it doesn’t break down and make the stock cloudy.
I am not good at passive cooking, let alone this level of passive, totally hands-off cooking. At least when doing crock pot pulled pork, I could poke it a bit. Not this guy. In fact, world war three almost broke out the day after I started the stock. Like, a good 16 hours into resisting my own urges and leaving that sucker alone, I caught Rob poking at it with a spoon! I just about poked him into next Sunday, which was the next day, so not that far, but still. I yelled. He questioned. I yelled again. I didn’t even feel badly about it. Pot-stirring jerk.
(I LOVE YOU, ROB)
I did taste test a bunch and worried more and more with each tasting. I don’t know if my taste buds were off because I’ve been dealing with allergies or what, but the duck flavour I expected just wasn’t coming through. I went forward with the plan, obviously, but I set my expectations lower.
For the final soup, I decided on a pretty typical spread of herbs and such – bean sprouts, limes, cilantro and basil:
I hadn’t planned on using mushrooms in the final product, but I have such a hard time resisting the gorgeous beech mushrooms they always have at Minh’s. Aren’t they the cutest?
The whole project took a swift turn toward the French at that point, which is ok, right? Because those cultures totally collided without issue, right?
To fill out the rest of the soup, I very lightly sautéed the beech mushrooms, some reconstituted dried shiitakes and bits of leftover duck meat in oil, just enough to get them hot:
The bowls were built on a base of noodles, then very finely sliced red onions, then the ‘shrooms and duck meat:
AN ASIDE ABOUT BOWLS: I bought these two comically large bowls a little over a year ago specifically for eating phở out of. They are actually serving bowls and will accommodate a full bag of potato chips each, but man, they are great for eating anything that is made better for getting to stir it around and poke at: stir fries, all manner of soups, those trendy Buddha bowls. No regrets except they take up almost the full bottom rack of the dishwasher.
After straining the stock through a colander, then through a finer sieve with cheesecloth, I brought the broth to an almost boil and dished it out over the bowl beginnings:
JUST LOOKIT HOW CLEAR THAT BROTH IS!!!
I was so chuffed when I saw that.
The rest is the usual: we topped our bowls with the garnishes and went to town:
As I said, I had lowered my expectations through taste-testing and it not having the duckiness I had hoped it would, but once it was all together and we tucked in? Oh my word. It was one of the best bowls of phở I’ve ever eaten.
And it was plenty ducky.
Totally worth the waiting and maybe even the yelling.
In hindsight, I probably cooked it for far longer than I needed to, which is a bit of a relief. I can’t wait to get the hydro bill after this adventure, but a same-day phở isn’t out of the question as long as I can hold off on getting it going until the day I plan to serve it.
In the beginning, I completely overthought it and had lofty ideas of adding shrimp and marinated tofu and few other odds and sods, but I’m glad those beech mushrooms took me off course and made me keep it far simpler in terms of flavour profile than the mess I had in my imagination. And now I have tofu and shrimps for other dishes.
10/10 recipe. Will do again. It covered off on all of the Big Phở Secrets all of my research (aka: Pinning) says are essential to an authentic phở. Those are:
- Good bones (any good phở recipe will have clear instructions/opinions about what kinds of bones to use, or not – in the case of veg phở your recipe should have clear instructions/opinions about what veg base to use for the right flavour profile)
- Par-boiling and rinsing the bones
- Charring the aromatics
- The right spices to use and how to toast them
- Yellow rock sugar – there really is nothing else like it
- Using fish sauce…at the end
- Great condiments
- Good noodles that should be cooked separate from the phở broth
Luckily, someone made this great phở recipe round-up. Each one looks totally in-line with all that I’ve learned after this adventure. I urge you to pick one, or use the one that I used, and try making your own phở. It is so rewarding and like nothing you’ll get at a restaurant because you made it! Please let me know in the comments if you have or do!