March 6, 2011 at 9:53 pm | Posted in South Asia & South-East Asia | Leave a comment

Vietnam, a country that seems to be primarily known for it’s wars, is the next stop.   My father was in Vietnam in the 60’s, back when the South was being supported by a UN operation.   He returned on business in the mid 90s, as Vietnam slowly returned to the world stage – at the time, it was cautiously embracing Western commerce.   He spent one evening with hosts drinking the local brew before hopping on the back of a motorcycle and cruising the city.  His companion pointed out an old French-colonial mansion, in partial ruins but blocked by an elderly guard unit.   Despite my dad’s concerns, the driver zipped past the guard and they toured around the largely empty grounds that surrounded the old building.  Upon their return, they found themselves facing a contingent of guards pointing automatic weapons at them in a high state of stress.    After 10-20 minutes of intense shouting from the guards at my dad’s host (during which time he spent facing into a wall wondering whether his not-inconsiderable experience in the Australian army would be of interest), his white-faced driver motioned for him to get on the bike and promptly zipped away.   Unbeknownst to both of them, the Vietnamese Politburo has chosen that abandoned building for a secret meeting that evening.

Despite my Dad very nearly getting shot 30 years after very nearly being shot a number of times, I’d like to go to Vietnam.   And tonight, we’ll eat there.

The Plan

The dish that attracts my attention is Phở.  This is a famous dish of Vietnam, pronouced ‘fuh’.   It’s a big soup, with lots of ‘add-your-own’ side dishes that one adds to your broth. I’m using an excellent guide from Steamy Kitchen.

2 onions, halved
4″ nub of ginger, halved lengthwise
1 kg of osso bucco
6  litres of water
1 package of Pho Spices [1 cinnamon stick, 1 tbl coriander seeds, 1 tbl fennel seeds, 5 whole star anise, 1 cardamom pod, 6 whole cloves – in mesh bag]
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
1/4 cup fish sauce
1 inch chunk of yellow rock sugar- or 300g of regular sugar

1 kg rice noodles (dried or fresh)
cooked beef from the broth
250g  rump, sliced as thin as possible.
big handful of each: mint, cilantro, basil
2 limes, cut into wedges
2-3 chili peppers, sliced
2 big handfuls of bean sprouts
Hoisin sauce
Sriracha hot sauce


Char: Turn the grill on high. Place ginger and onions on a baking sheet. Spray  a bit of cooking oil on the cut side of each. Cook until ginger and onions begin to char. Turn over and continue to char. This should take a total of 10-15 minutes.

Parboil the bones: Fill large pot (12 litre capacity) with cool water. Boil water, and then add the osso buccon, keeping the heat on high. Boil vigorously for5 minutes. Drain, rinse the meat gently (not losing the now soft-ish marrow) and rinse out the pot. Refill pot with bones and 6 litres of cool water. Bring to boil over high heat and lower to simmer. Using a ladle or a fine mesh strainer, remove any scum that rises to the top.

Boil broth: Add ginger, onion, spice packet, beef, sugar, fish sauce, salt and simmer uncovered for 1 1/2 hours. Remove the beef meat and set aside. Continue simmering for another 1 1/2 hours. Strain broth and return the broth to the pot. Taste broth and adjust seasoning – this is a crucial step. If the broth’s flavor doesn’t quite shine yet, add 2 teaspoons more of fish sauce, large pinch of salt and a small nugget of rock sugar (or 1 teaspoon of regular sugar).

Prepare noodles & meat: Slice your flank/london broil/sirloin as thin as possible – try freezing for 15 minutes prior to slicing to make it easier. Cut or shred the previously cooked  meat and set aside. Arrange all other ingredients on a platter for the table. Your guests will “assemble” their own bowls. Follow the directions on your package of noodles. For some fresh rice noodles, just a quick 5 second blanch in hot water is all that’s needed.

Ladling: Bring your broth back to a boil. Line up your soup bowls next to the stove. Fill each bowl with rice noodles, shredded cooked beef and raw meat slices. As soon as the broth comes back to a boil, ladle into each bowl. the hot broth will cook your raw beef slices. Serve immediately. Guests can garnish their own bowls as they wish.


The Event

This was a lot of fun to cook, and less trouble that it looks.  The resulting stock was simply gorgeous.  However, I did muck up the soup-to-meat-to-vegetables ratio somehow.   I think I stinged too much on the sprouts and as a result it was really watery soup with a bit of meat.  The very rare beef didn’t go down so well either with the family.

However:  I used the set as a follow-up leftovers the next night and it was awesome.

The Outcome

Chris:  “Not too bad, but not my thing”

Jacq:  “Hmm.  I don’t like the coriander”

Liam: “more meat!  more meat!”

Me:   The soup was really good, and the fresh herbs sensational.  I left out the chilli for the kids and by adding it back in it made a world of difference.


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