September 26, 2010

Project Food Blog: The Classics (Challenge #2)


Project Food Blog is the first-ever interactive competition where thousands of Foodbuzz Featured Publishers are competing in a series of culinary blogging challenges for the chance to advance & a shot at the ultimate prize: $10,000 & a special feature on for one year.

Challenge Prompt: Ready to tackle a classic dish from another culture? Pick an ethnic classic that is outside your comfort zone or one you are not as familiar with. You should include how you arrived at this decision in your post. Do your research then try to pull off successfully creating this challenge. Try to keep the dish as authentic as the real deal & document your experience through a compelling post.


As soon as I read this prompt, I knew what recipe I wanted to try: PHO TAI, Vietnamese beef & noodle soup. According to Chef Mai Pham, pho is the national soup of Vietnam, can be found on practically every street corner, & is served around the clock.

Asian food is definitely outside my cultural comfort zone. I don't cook Asian food at home (outside of an occasional make-shift stir-fry to use up expiring vegetables & leftover meats). I don't go out to eat Asian food (aside from getting cheap Chinese take-out a couple times a year). I'm not sure why exactly. I think it's because I don't like cilantro & lots of Asian dishes contain cilantro. And, I don't want to be that person who asks for spring rolls or pho sans cilantro. Other Asian foods tend to be too spicy for me. I'm a mid-western white girl through & through (i.e. a delicate wussy).

But, pho? Pho seemed like something I could like. It's in my "comfort foods" comfort zone...hearty broth & noodles...what's not to love? It's the perfect dish to make on a chilly, gray, & rainy St. Louis Sunday.


There was one small problem. I'd never eaten pho. In fact, I'd only recently learned that it's pronounced "fuh" (rhymes with "duh") not "foe." So, in the name of research I took myself to lunch at Pho Grand yesterday. Thankfully, my friend Stephanie went along to school me in the art of eating pho. I topped my steaming bowl of broth, rice noodles, & thinly sliced eye of round beef with a squirt of lime, bean sprouts, Thai basil, saw leaf herb, & cilantro (!). When in Rome, right? The broth was so flavorful...deeply rich, salty, sour, & a tad sweet all at the same time. The beef was meltingly (that's a word, right?) tender. So good. I couldn't believe I'd never eaten--or made--this dish before.

Cookbook author & chef Naam Pruitt gave me some advice about pho recipes & ingredients at work on Friday night. She assured me that pho isn't all that difficult to make; it's just a matter of simmering a stock for a few hours. After talking to her, I felt inspired, confident, & ready to tackle some pho!


To procure authentic ingredients like palm sugar, coriander seeds, rice sticks, Thai basil, Thai bird chilies, & soy sauce, I visited Jay's International, an international market on Grand Avenue in St. Louis this morning. Surprisingly, I already had star anise, cardamom, fennel seeds, & whole cloves. Go figure.

I used beef knuckle bones & oxtail bones for the stock. As most traditional recipes call for, I blanched the bones & rinsed them first to remove impurities. The bones are then simmered with charred yellow onions & ginger as well as the spices, palm sugar, salt, garlic, & fish sauce.

Since the directions for cooking the rice sticks (aka noodles) is in Vietnamese, I used to translate them: That boiling water detector, bun bo about 5 minutes. Turn off heat and secure the lid for 2-3 minutes. Roi bun away by cold water. Age would be like bun.

Age would be like bun?

The broth was actually very greasy. I even let it cool a bit after staining & tried to skim some of the fat off the act which begged the question, "Why don't I have a fat separator?" None of the recipes I read said anything about removing fat from the broth. If I'd had time, I'd chill the broth for several hours & remove the fat layer that solidified.

It also tasted strongly of star anise, so I'd cut back on that spice next time. However, the broth was hearty & richly flavored.

Overall, though, I was very pleased with my first attempt at making Pho Tai.

adapted from Mai Pham's The Best of Vietnamese & Thai Cooking

My First Pho. Isn't she a beauty?
 serves 4-6

For the broth:
5-6 pounds beef knuckle bones & oxtail bones
2 yellow onions, halved (no need to peel)
5" piece of fresh ginger, halved lengthwise (again, no need to peel)
1/4 cup fish sauce
1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds *
5 whole star anise
1 piece of palm sugar
6 whole cloves
2 whole cardamom pods
1 clove garlic (unpeeled)
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon whole fennel seed
1 1/2 tablespoons Kosher salt

* Spices are listed in order that they are pictured above, clockwise from top.
  • Bring a large stockpot of water (about 6 quarts) to a rolling boil. Add the beef bones & boil for 10 minutes. Drain the water, then rinse off the bones & rinse out the pot. Return the bones to the pot.
  • Meanwhile, char the onions & ginger on a sheet pan under the broiler for 5-8 minutes, turning once.
  • Add the onions & ginger to the bones. Then add the fish sauce, all the spices, palm sugar, & salt. Cover with water. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer & cook for 3 hours.
  • Scoop out all the solids in the pot with a spider (wire strainer), then strain the broth through a cheesecloth-lined colander into a large bowl.
  • Set aside until ready to use.

For the noodles:
1 pound dried rice noodles
1/2 pound eye of round beef, sliced as thinly as possible *
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1 pound fresh mung bean sprouts
fresh cilantro, Thai basil, & mint leaves
2-3 red Thai bird chilies, thinly sliced
2 limes, cut into wedges
Sriracha hot sauce, optional

* Freeze the meat for about 15 minutes before slicing to make the job easier.
  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
  • Meanwhile, arrange the sprouts, herbs, chilies, & limes on a platter.
  • Place a handful of noodles in a spider or sieve & lower into the boiling water. Using chopsticks or a fork, stir the noodles often & cook until just done, about 2 minutes. Remove the noodles with the spider & shake to drain well. Transfer the cooked noodles to a large--preferably warmed--soup bowl. (Mai Pham suggests a bowl large enough to hold 1 part noodles to 4 parts broth, which she calls the correct way to enjoy pho.)
  • To serve: Bring the broth back to a boil. Place a few slices of raw beef on top of the noodles, then ladle some of the boiling broth on top (the hot broth cooks the beef). Sprinkle with chopped green onion. Serve immediately. Guests can garnish their bowls as desired with the sprouts, herbs, chilies, lime, & Sriracha.


FOODalogue said...

Nice job...good luck!

Victoria said...

Looks so good!! I didn't know pho was pronounced that way, and was saying it wrong all this time, haha!! Thanks for the heads up ;-)

Amy (Sing For Your Supper) said...

Wow, you should be proud of yourself- this doesn't look easy! I love pho!!! You've got my vote, for sure!!

Curt McAdams said...

I scanned for other pho entries for challenge 2, and I'm voting for any that look good, so you got my vote! My version includes smoked beef, and can be found here.

emily (a nutritionist eats) said...

I made pho too! I enjoyed hearing about your experience! :)

Gina Ruiz said...

Beautiful pho! Good luck in the next stage. Voted for you.

The Cilantropist said...

Ah you get my vote bc I couldnt live without Pho, athough I am sad to see you dont like cilantro... ;) Great job!

Shelly Borrell said...

Excellent job -- That looks so pretty!!! I wish I could taste it. Good luck to you :)

Shelly, Nibbles of Tidbits

Mara @ What's for Dinner? said...

Looks fantastic! Pho has always intimidated me, which is why I almost always order it out!

Unknown said...

i've never had pho, but it definitely seems like my kind of dish :) great entry!

jen cheung said...

this looks delicious :) Good luck with project food and you got my vote for this one! Feel free to drop by :) Good luck and best wishes for making to the top !! WOOHOO

jen @

Anonymous said...

Great post! Looks delicious. I love pho, it is SO comforting. I voted for you!

Good luck! =)

You can check out my PFB post at :

Food o' del Mundo said...

I really must give this a go, it sounds too delicious!
You've got my Foodbuzz ♥!
Hope we both make it to round three.

Peter said...

Pretty, pretty soup! You got our vote!

Anonymous said...

A truly beautiful post! I'll trade you my burnt shrimp toast for your pho! :-P

Sending a vote your way and best of luck to you! Would love to see your dinner party!

Peggy said...

Great job on this post! Good luck!

Leslie Holmes said...

i love pho!
great jog- voted for you!

Joanne said...

I love the sound of the real live spices in this dish! Uber tasty. Although I'm sorry to hear that it was greasy! I would totally do the fridge trick next time - good call.

I voted for you! Way to step outside your comfort zone with this dish!

sweet swallows said...

Mmmm, i had Pho for lunch yesterday. You definitely get my vote!

Kelly @ Barbaric Gulp! said...

Thanks for the votes & compliments everyone!

I hope I move to the next round, as I already have my "luxury dinner party" planned. ;-)