Saturday, March 7, 2009

Vietnamese beef and noodle soup

It was a grey, rainy day today, and I couldn't decide what to make for dinner except that I wanted comfort food that wasn't overly heavy. I finally settled on pho, that spicy, savoury Vietnamese beef and noodle soup I love to order in Chinatown, but have never made myself. I figured there was a reason -- with all those ingredients it must be terribly complicated and time-consuming, right? Actually, no!

I will say right off the bat that you should leave yourself at least an hour, hour and a half of prep and cooking time if you decide to make pho from scratch. But to me, that's not unreasonable considering the delicious end result. Besides, most of that is time spent waiting for spices to infuse the broth, and allowing the beef to soak up its marinade. The actual active prep time in this recipe is pretty minimal. Aside from the ginger and garlic there's nothing to chop, and the beef is so tender it's a breeze to slice.

Though I have a cookbook devoted purely to Vietnamese cooking, this recipe is actually one of Gordon Ramsay's. Whether or not it's traditional pho, it's absolutely divine, and the heady mix of spices -- star anise, cloves, cardamom and cinnamon -- made my kitchen smell incredibly exotic.

A couple notes here, before I share the recipe. If you find the broth overpowering, dilute it a bit with water. Also, though it seems like not enough time, 30 seconds in the boiling broth is plenty to allow the beef slices to cook. You want them to remain pink in the middle. And thirdly, though the recipe suggests side dishes of hoisin and chili sauce for dipping, I dolloped a spoonful of each right on top of the pho with the other garnishes, before stirring them into the broth. Both added bursts of flavour, as well as a bit of heat from the chili.

Vietnamese beef and noodle soup

1 lb (500g) beef filet (beef tenderloin)
1-inch (2.5cm) piece of gingerroot, peeled and finely grated
1 large garlic clove, peeled and finely crushed
sea salt and black pepper
1 tbsp (15ml) sesame oil, plus extra to toss
7oz (200g) dried thin rice noodles
5oz (150g) bean sprouts
2-3 green onions, trimmed and thinly sliced on the diagonal
small bunch of cilantro, leaves only
small bunch of mint or Thai sweet basil, leaves only


6 cups (1.5 litres) beef stock
1 1/2-inch (4cm) piece of gingerroot, peeled and thinly sliced
4 star anise
3 cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1 cardamom pod, lightly crushed
2 tsp (10ml) superfine sugar, or to taste
3 tbsp (45ml) fish sauce

To serve:

lime wedges
hoisin sauce
Vietnamese chili sauce

Trim the beef of any sinew, then slice as thinly as possible. Place in a bowl and add the grated ginger, garlic, some pepper, and the sesame oil. Toss to mix, cover, and let marinate in the refrigerator for 30 to 40 minutes.

For the broth, pour the beef stock into a large pot and add the rest of the ingredients with a little salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for about 30 minutes. Strain the broth into a clean pot or a big bowl, discarding the ginger and spices. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Add the rice noodles to a large pan of boiling, salted water and cook according to hte package directions until tender, but still retaining a bite. Drain in a colander and immediately toss the noodles with a little sesame oil to prevent them from sticking.

Bring the broth to a boil and tip in the beef and bean sprouts. Simmer for just 30 seconds, then remove from the heat.

Divide the noodles among warm bowls and ladle the hot broth over them, dividing the beef and bean sprouts equally. Sprinkle over the green onions, cilantro, and mint. Serve immediately, with lime wedges and little individual dishes of hoisin and Vietnamese chili sauces for dipping.

Serves 4.

Courtesy Healthy Appetite, Gordon Ramsay, Key Porter, 2009.

A few gulps of this spicy and satisfying soup and you'll be transported to Southeast Asia!



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