I had an urge for oxtail pho, so I looked up a couple recipes to find the seasons to use for the broth. Taking that and a few things I had tried before for beef pho, I played with it and tweaked it until I ended up with a rich, hearty broth full of spice and season.
From what I understand, there’s thin light pho which is more of a light broth and there’s heavy bold pho. The second one is the one I favor, and although technically a clear soup, it’s darker and the flavors are more in your face.
First, I started a broiling an onion, some pork bones and oxtails until they were partially cooked and I had brought out the flavor and oils. Then pork bones and oxtail went into a large pot of water, simmering there for a few hours. When the oxtail was cooked but not yet falling off the bones, I pulled them and immediately put them into an ice bath, then stored the in the refrigerator once cooled.
I was loosely following a recipe for Vietnamese Pho broth and it really came out fantastic. There were two things I learned as I was making this.
One, don’t skimp on the onions. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like onions, if you like the dark rich broth you’d get in a Vietnamese restaurants, you’ll need the onions. You will end up straining them all out later, so don’t worry and just go for it.
Two, and this I consider the big ‘secret’ I learned by the experience is to roast your bones. For me, I used a couple pounds of large bones and a couple pounds of beef back ribs for soup. That way I had a good portion of bones and a good portion of meat too. You could go all beef back rib, but 50% cheap stuff works too 🙂 Put it all in a pan with a couple halved onions on the bottom and roast it all. If you want, put a little water in the bottom of the pan so the onions don’t burn too much, then cook at 350 degrees for 2 hours. The difference in flavor compared to boiling is phenomenal.
What was even more impressive, is after I was all done boiling the broth for most of the night, is that the meat is still delicious and the connecting tissue rendered perfectly.
The next time I make any kind of beef soup – minestrone, beef and been, vegetable beef… I’m going to try roasting the bones first and see if the intense flavor works too (I suspect it will!)
Wood Ear (sometimes known as Cloud or Black Fungus) mushrooms are a common, yet interesting, ingredient in Asian cooking. Used more for it’s texture, than it’s mild flavor, the mushroom still adds a substantive quality to the dish. You can buy them dried, or you can buy them fresh. Around the San Francisco Bay Area, they are easily found in Asian markets. If you don’t have access to an Asian market, or one that carries the fresh variety, the dried are just as good. You can find them online here:
In my video, you can get an idea as to the texture and appearance of the mushroom.
If you have never seen or tried cooking with this ingredient, don’t fear! It’s really hard to go wrong with this in savory dishes. Just slice or chop up and add it. The taste is mild, as is the gentle crunchiness of it. It’s excellent to add a little texture to a silken tofu dish or even scrambled eggs.
One of the things I like to do with it is cook it and serve in Vietnamese spring roll rice paper or in leaves of Romaine lettuce hearts. Costco seems to have the Romaine lettuce nearly all the time.
A nice savory filling for use in lettuce or rice crepes.
(caveat with the ingredients, it's ALL to taste. I usually don't measure a thing when cooking Asian foods. The measurements below are my best guesstimate, having cooked this just a half hour before writing).
1-2 lb. Ground Beef (ground pork or chicken would work too)
1 tsp. Soy Sauce, or to taste
½ tsp Lee Kum Kee chicken powder (opt.) http://bit.ly/LKKChickenBouillonPowder
½ tsp Beef powder (opt.) http://bit.ly/BeefStockPowder
2 Thai Bird's Eye Chili Peppers, chopped very fine (to taste)
2 cloves Garlic, chopped fine
3 Tbs Corn Starch
¼ cup Cold water
Salt and Pepper to taste
Mix all the ingredients except the cold water.
Add the cold water a little at a time, until you have a soft, wet meat mixture, but not so much that it's puddling.
Preheat a wok with a few tablespoons of oil to med-high.
Once the oil is hot, add the meat and leave for 3 minutes.
Stir, breaking up any lumps to a medium fine ground texture.
Strain excess oil and service in a bowl.
This works well with Romain lettuce "tacos", butter lettuce cups, or Vietnamese spring roll wrappers. http://bit.ly/SpringRollWrapper
Serving suggestions. Have a bowl of cooked rice noodles or bean thread noodles. You can serve it with Hoisin sauce as a condiment to be spread inside as well. If you're using spring roll wrappers, have cucumber shreds and lettuce or spring mix to put inside and add a nice fresh, healthy crunch to it. A small bowl of lemon or lime wedges will put a contrasting sour to complement the salty, savory, and spicy taste of the meat.