First thing to know about Phở is not what it is… it’s how do we even say it right? Fuh!
Prior to coming to Melbourne in year 2005, I have actually never heard of Pho before. I’m guessing Vietnamese food probably wasn’t that popular yet in Singapore then. However, over the years, I personally feel that the Vietnamese cuisine is more authentic and taste better in Melbourne compared to Singapore, especially with one of my top favourite Vietnamese foods – rare slice beef pho (Phở tái). How did I come across this dish? Thanks to my eldest brother, who is a much bigger foodie than I am, was going through a phase of picking the best place in Melbourne with the best pho. He was always very particular about the broth. Anyway, he took me to some place in Springvale, which is ‘Viet town’ in Melbourne, but sadly I don’t even recall the name of it because there are just too many pho restaurants there and all of them have such similar interior designs with the double walled mirrors, the menu items listed on a big board usually close to the ceiling for everyone to see and cramped tables filled with the plates of herbs, chilli, lemon/lime wedges and a generous amount of bean sprouts. First impressions of the place? Dirty!! Crammy! Greasy Floor! Noisy! The bowl of pho was very unaesthetic, HOWEVER service was incredibly quick and best of all, it tasted so amazing and nothing like what it looks at all!
On the other hand, for Ben’s side, he grew up in ‘Springy’, and ate pho his whole life, his favourite being the special beef and chicken pho (Bò gà đặc biệt). He claims its a dish he can eat for the rest of his life if he could only pick one type.
When we dated in the beginning, he would bring me to eat pho not only at his place, but during dates, and every special occasion we had. We had so much pho that we decided it might be worthwhile learning to do it ourselves, that way we may save some money. It turns out… NOT! The more we experimented, the more expensive it got. In the end, we decided that our favourite pho and recipe was a gourmet one with exquisite meat. Usually, pho broth is meant to be made with just bones, or the quicker method is with premade beef stock, but we not only used beef bones, we include chicken Maryland (tip from Ben’s dad who’s a chef: adding chicken improves the taste and complexity of flavour), expensive delicious oxtails as well, and sometimes beef briskets. We have made this many times and shared it with our loved ones, and so far everyone loves it!
We don’t even remember how we ended up with this recipe, but we do remember spending hours on research and multiple adjustments. This dish is actually not too complicated. If you get the broth right, with the right cut of meat slice, you are good to go! Most of the preparation is in the beginning and at the end. In between is just a lot of waiting around the stove, sifting fat, and adding water. Overall, you need patience!
Begin by washing the meat! Who knows who have touched the meat before or where it has been. Ew. Next remove scum. Pho broth needs to be cleeeeeean. Boil to remove scum and scrub scrub scrub with your own hands with running cold water.
Prep the ginger and onions, skins can be left on for bettering coloring of the broth. Make sure to toast the spices till they are fragrant. Seasonings are added in the beginning, so that at the end, all you need to do is reduce it to desired flavour. Keep an eye on the stove frequently, sift the fat and add water in covering the bones every now and then. If you can, cook half way or nearing end, leave overnight for fat to solidify for clean removal of fat. you’d see a thick yellow layer. Next day, continue cooking till it adds up to about 8-10 hours of cooking. I know sounds crazy! 8-10 hours is ridiculous!!! But trust us, it does make a difference.
Everything else afterwards is straight forward. Boil water and let it simmer, cook one serving of Pho noodles, depending on which Pho noodles you get it should take approximately at most 1 min to cook. Place cooked noodles in the bowl. On a separate pot, boil water and let it simmer, cook one serving of sliced meat and cook slightly under to your liking. Place partially cooked meat on top of the noodles. Add the other meats, garnish to your liking and then pour the hot broth to the bowl and serve.