Monday, March 22, 2010

To Pho Or Not To Pho?

My first attempt making Vietnamese Beef Pho! (with side of kimchee)

Welcome to my first Pho 'show and tell"...

Please check links below to 5 more Pho Stars! Also visit Pho Variations for more.

This is not a competition, it all started with many foodie buddies and I comparing notes about pho on Twitter and formed a very loose Pho group. So I decided it would be a great idea for us to make our pho and share it on our blogs (their links are below.) But we'd crank it up a notch by preparing it with non-traditional ingredients. At least, that's what I did after making my initial traditional one. It's open to each person's interpretation. What we add to it would be our own personal spin, the goal of a "Wok Star!" except this time we are Pho Stars!

Here are the Pho Stars...

I am so honored to include my Pho Stars and their tantalizing Pho recipes. They put so much time and effort into making and sharing their recipes, they've put me to shame with my simple pho and Pho Variations. I wish we could live closer and actually have a Potluck Pho gathering. Thanks for sharing!

We hope you will be inspired to make your own pho after reading our blogs! Once you make it, it's addictive, so watch out.

Bonita, a publishing professional in Toronto and food hobbyist made an out-of-this-world, complex Duck Pho. I definitely want to try this version next. If you love duck, this is IT! Boneats, I'll Show you mine if you show me yours.

David, field rep and new dad living in Houston. David is the only Vietnamese among the Pho Stars! His unique game hen Pho is thought provoking: HoustonWok: Chicken Fusion Pho (Pho Ga) Friend or Pho

Shao, born in Guanzhou (we share same birthplace!), grew up in Philly likes to blog about her food journeys. I always enjoy her sense of humor. Her Cambodian slant is very tantalizing especially with the Chinese breadstick! Fried Wontons For You: Mrs. Taing's Family Pho

Don and Jenn, Don's an IT professional, their blog Foodieprints, Lamb Faux Pho: An experiment in Fusion shows their pho obsession. Our broth share a similar element - it's not clear. Another favorite meat of mine is lamb, what a wonderful use of it.

Robbie Nicolaisen, Private Chef, spice blends, hopefully adopting father of Asian kid. Gosh, another complex duck pho and made from scratch. I can smell it now, I like your choice of veggies! ESEChefs: My Style of Pho.

For my first attempt...

Pho is a Vietnamese broth and pronounced feu, French meaning fire. This post is not about the history or a step-by-step how pho is made because there are numerous and fabulous blogs who do that very well. I've mentioned them below so you can check them out.

I stuck to very traditional vegetables like daikon but didn't use fresh bean sprouts to add prior to eating. Having just visited the Redlands and bought some big head onions, I decided to use one and carrots and just top off with cilantro. I really wanted to notice the flavor of the broth and not be distracted by too many other ingredients. When I understand the basis of what a dish consist of, I can then make my variation. So, I'll be posting Pho Variations to illustrate my point.

I added only 3 vegetables to this beef pho: daikon, carrots and onion

The real deal

I'm a big believer in taking the shortest cut to make dinner that's quick while keeping it simple and tasty. But, when it comes to pho, out goes this belief. The intrinsic flavor of this dish is the broth, so you cannot scrimp on the most important element. At first, I was thinking, am I crazy to spend so much time focusing on just the broth? But once I started, there's no going back. This is not like making chicken broth which you can easily buy in a carton. I've never seen ready made pho in a carton, so if anyone knows of a source, do share. Many of the packaged pho mix has MSG in it and taste processed, so I decided it was worth making it from scratch.

Surfing for the best recipe online is so wonderful because you can compare which one gives the best technique. As an advocate and teacher of a no-recipe technique, I use recipes for inspiration. I just never follow a recipe completely. I pick and choose what I think makes sense and/or have in my fridge. Steamykitchen and Vietworldkitchen (also see below) were TOP of my search for Pho! I'm a huge fan of technique because that's what I teach when it comes to wok cooking. Once you know the technique of how to do something, you can basically decide how to proceed.

Below each photo, you'll see a very loose "recipe" and method I used to make my pho. I hope this will spark your creativity. I must reiterate I don't measure anything, so use recipes from the list of Sources below for specific quantities.

Boiled broth for 2 hours: I used 2 packs of beef neck bones, 1 pack of knuckle in a big pot of cold water.

Seasonings: 2 bashed ginger chunks, stick of cinnamon, 5-7 cloves, 4 star anise. Added fish sauce and salt.

Skimmed fat and impurities but didn't throw out first batch of soup. Wiped inside pot clean of impurities with paper towel. I like texture in my soup, so didn't make mine a clear broth.

I added in daikon, onions and carrots into broth.

Sprinkled thinly sliced onions and also chopped scallions as garnish.

And hey, sometimes my dishes don't turn out as well but the best part is experimenting and the more I do it, the more I'll know what flavors and textures I like. Don't just follow a recipe blindly, use it to fit your own needs.

Had this beef neck bone pho with glass noodles.


Andrea Nguyen's blog: Vietworldkitchen: Basic Pho Cooking Secrets and Techniques If you scroll to the bottom, she lists other pho posts! What an oustanding writer and teacher. I've learned so much from her and always enjoy her posts. Her book: Into the Vietnamese Kitchen was a finalist in the James Beard Foundation Award for Excellence, Best Asian cookbook among many other accolades.

Jaden Hair's comprehensive and gorgeous step-by-step color photos on Steamykitchen for Vietnamese Beef Noodle Pho is how I made my first pho and based on Andrea's book! Jaden is great with breaking it down and keeping it real plus she knows how to make cooking fun with her witty writing. Anytime I mention Jaden, I must thank her for including Wok Star in her recent Steamy Kitchen Cookbook! She's on the forefront of the latest media, hang in with her. So many new Wok Stars are born due to her.

Loving Pho is the ULTIMATE resource - EVERYTHING you need to know about pho!

Taste Book has 45 pho soup recipes (referred by Don of Foodie Prints, thanks):

In Pho Variations, I added different ingredients using the same beef broth as base, take a look.

Love to hear about your Pho creation and what's your favorite Pho?

Now that I've shown you I don't always cook everything in my wok, here are some dishes I have made in my wok!

One Dish Wok Meals

Malaysian Chicken Curry

Wok Breakfasts


  1. Great job,Great post!!!I love it!

  2. Loving this post! Everyone did such a great job. :)

  3. I have to admit that I was a little nervous going in with you guys for the pho compilation, and now I see why. Everyone that participated did an excellent job! Just glad I could be amongst the experts! All in good fun! Bravo!

  4. Great post! Great event!

    Loving how much veg everyone put in theirs. It is something I will have to correct when I make pho broth again.

    Thank-you so much for including me in the Pho and Tell.

  5. Loving all the creative posts, and all the different varieties! It was great to me in such great company! Thanks for including me!

  6. Terrific idea for the pho off! Love the culinary creativity!! I'm flattered to be an indirect part of this post.

  7. First thnx to Andrea and Jaden for their inspiration. Very honored you stopped by Andrea.

    Thnx to Dave, Don, Shao, Bonita, Robbie for participating in our first Pho and tell. Enjoyed it tremendously. Look forward to next "Rock Out with your Wok" using 5 ingredients, more info soon (title suggestion by Robbie).

    Anyone stopping by who wants to join, let me know. More the merrier.

  8. Woah!!! love it! Thank you so much!

  9. Very cool, Eleanor, i could go for some pho right now!

    Me and my blogging buddies do Dim Sum Sunday and Culinary Throwdowns, little cooking competitions for fun. It's good because it challenges you to try something new and gets you out of your comfort zone plus you get all the feedback and ideas from everyone else!

    A few weeks back, I had an amazing 11 course tasting menu at Vietnamese restaurant in Sydney by Chef Luke Nguyen. Best I've ever eaten!

  10. Hi Eleanor,
    I love your preparation of pho , the daikon,carrots & onion ( Is this not the "Asian trinity, LOL!....or is lemongrass, one of them too? Anyway, I definitely would love to give your recipe a try. Yummee!

  11. Thx for dropping by Laura. Do you live back in Australia?

    Hi Nazarina, I LOVE your blog and now you have the ning site for foodies, wow, what a nice idea. I'll have to drop in. Thnx for comment. Hope you look at the other pho links who've done some amazing interpretations too.

  12. No, I was just there for three weeks though. I ate and ate and ate my fill of Asian food! And seafood too!

  13. i am so happy to have found your blog though Bonita. absolutely adore pho and love all your other posts here as well. best wishes, shayma

  14. Hi Shayma, thnx for lovely comment and well wishes. I checked out your lovely blog. Got tons more Penang, S'pore and Hong Kong posts to write, so hope you keep coming back.

  15. I have not yet read through all the posts and links but I noticed that you have used cilantro with your pho. If I understand correctly, and it is definitely my preference, the herb should be culantro (Vietnamese "ngo gai")rather than cilantro.

    Also we have a new pho restaurant Pho Joy in town (Poway, Ca) and on the menu was "Fatty Broth" which I ordered and a small bowl of the fat skimmed/removed from the top of the broth was delivered. A spoonful of the fat added to the bowl of broth provides a richer taste and wonderful mouth feel! I have not seen fatty broth offered at any other pho restaurant.


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