Pho-Real!

I’m a little late to the Pho-train. About a decade late to be honest. Years ago, in my former life as a teacher, Summers were spent working a register at Fuzzy’s Taco Shop in a strip shopping center. I was grateful for the opportunity and I’ll still eat there to this day, though I haven’t worked there since I got married. While I was there, I had a manager who was tough as nails, but incredibly fair and treated everyone with respect. She was by no means trendy, or hipster, or a foodie; but she used to love to go to this Vietnamese place at the other end of the strip for Pho. Sometimes she would trade tacos for Pho. I brushed it off as another simple bowl of ramen.

Fast forward a few years and Pho is really trending in a big way. Personally, I don’t tend to jump on trends for the sake of being trendy. It just feels awkward and forced… inauthentic. I prefer to “like” and “try” something because I value it intrinsically. I have an amazing cohort of girlfriends who balance me in this area. I rely on each to keep me looking current, while still appreciating my classical (more “capsule” style). I do my part by keeping them in yummy treats and (hopefully) inspiring them to be creative in the kitchen!

That’s me on the far right. Aren’t my friends just gorgeous?!

So back to trends. I’m not great about staying on top of culinary trends either honestly. I plan our meals around seasons, our lifestyle, and relevant events. It keeps things interesting and provides variety. Things don’t always turn out as planned, but we have fun in the process and rarely have repeat menus. Lately, I’ve been trying to expand our meal plans to include more variety in cuisines. In that vein, I finally broke down and tried my hand at Pho. I had been craving a brothy, Asian dish and Pho just kept coming back to me over and over and over again. Thankfully I had a pretty solid, straightforward recipe courtesy of Alex Guarnaschelli in her book The Home Cook (a gift from one of my SILs who knows I aspire to be the best home cook I can be).

With possible French influences due to colonization, Pho is a staple of Vietnamese street cuisine. Pho was originally a Northern Vietnamese food (it wasn’t super popular in the Southern region) until refugees brought it South escaping communist rule after WW2. It started more simply with just broth, rice or noodles, and sliced beef; but with the diaspora, other meats and herbs and sprouts and other things were added here and there causing the dish we all recognize today. After the Vietnam war, some of these same refugees took this delicious soup worldwide and eventually to trending on social media.

Since it’s just me and The Mr at the moment, I usually have to cut recipes in half. I could just freeze half the recipe of course, but there’s only so much freezer space and there are so many recipes I want to try (and create) that cutting recipes in half (as best I can) just seems like a better option. This is easier to do in cooking rather than baking (as baking is more of a science) and works out pretty well honestly. This recipe made me regret cutting it in half. We fought over leftovers like they were the last food in the house! Often, I fudge a little bit on ingredient amounts, but not so much to compromise the integrity of the original (and resulting) dish. This usually leaves very few leftovers, but we (delightfully) had plenty this time. The same can be said about this dish. I’m giving you my take on it below.

Ingredients:
1tbsp veg oil
2.5lbs beef oxtail (I got mine at Walmart!), cut into 3in pieces
Kosher salt
1sm yellow onion, sliced thin
3med garlic cloves, minced
1 cinnamon stick
2 star anise pods
1/2tbsp soy sauce
1-1/2tbsp sugar
6c beef stock (I used Better Than Bouillon)
6oz dried rice stick noodles
6oz boneless beef round steak, sliced into 1/2in slices
1sm serrano chili, sliced thin
1/4c chopped cilantro
1/2c packed basil leaves
2 green onions, green and white parts chopped
6oz bean sprouts
1/2tbsp red wine vinegar

Directions:
1) Preheat oven to 350ºF. Heat a large cast iron skillet (I used my new Lodge 12in for this) over med heat and swirl in veg oil.
2) Season the oxtail pieces all over with kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper. When the oil is loose and shimmering, slide in the oxtail pieces in a single layer. Brown the oxtail pieces on one side for 5min, turn them over and brown on the other side for another 5min. Sprinkle in the onions & garlic and continue cooking 3min. Sprinkle in the cinnamon, star anise, soy sauce, sugar, and stock. Increase heat and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer 8min. Skim off foam. Place skillet in the oven (uncovered). Cook 2hrs until the oxtail meat easily pulls away from the bone. (Check liquid at the 1hr mark and add more beef broth or water if the liquid looks low.)
3) 10min before you pull the skillet from the oven, drop the rice noodles in cold water and fill a large pot with water and a generous pinch of kosher salt. Bring to a boil. In a large bowl, toss together the beef round steak, chiles, cilantro, 1/4c basil leaves, green onions, bean sprouts, and red wine vin.
4) Drain the noodles from the cold water and drop into the pot of boiling water. Boil the noodles for 2min and drain. Remove the skillet from the oven and transfer the contents to the large skillet and add in the cooked, drained noodles. Toss to combine. Stir in the beef round steak slices combination and top with the rest of the basil and a few sprigs of cilantro (if desired).

Y’all, this dish was out of this world! The layers and incredible depth of flavor that was coaxed in a (relatively) short amount of time was just palate-blowing! Every piece of the puzzle worked harmoniously with the next. I still have a few things as per my usual, I would recommend using an uncovered dutch oven due to amount of liquid required. The Mr even dribbled some sriracha on top for extra flavor and heat. This recipe was not altogether authentic, but was an excellent nod to the Southern Vietnam street food staple. Seriously, how have I been sleeping on Pho this long?!

What are some of your favorite dishes with history?

Currently Reading: Nothing. I’m taking a little breather for now!

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