3 articles Articles posted in beef

Dad’s Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)

I’m not sure when exactly it became cool to eat pho — that iconic Vietnamese dish of thin rice noodles in beef broth perfumed with spices. Nowadays, you’d be hard-pressed to walk down the street without running into a pho restaurant with either a double digit or a bad pun in its name. The pho craze has gotten so big that it’s resulted in pho food trucks, pho sandwiches, instant pho noodles, and specialty pho places that serve it with things like oxtail, filet mignon, ox penis, or — what might even be strangest of all — broccoli and quinoa. :) You can find it at Vegas buffets, at summer camps, school cafeterias, even in rap songs!

Growing up in suburban Phoenix, Arizona, pho was as much a part of my childhood as Kraft macaroni and cheese. But sadly it was often the latter that I requested when friends from school had dinner with us. As an awkward teenager just trying to fit in, I specifically asked my mom one time to make Kraft macaroni and cheese when a friend came over, just to make sure nothing strange would be on the menu that night, like tripe or pigs’ feet. After that time, my mom would automatically get the blue box out whenever a friend stayed for dinner.

When it was just us, though, it wasn’t uncommon for my dad to cook up a pot of pho for a weeknight family dinner, a dinner party with friends, or even for our entire Asian church congregation. In our home, cooking pho was both an elaborate ritual and yet second-nature to us all. It was a two-day affair, and we each knew our roles by heart. In the evening, Dad charred the ginger and onions over an open flame on the stove, filling our home with the sweet, smoky aroma. As the soup cooked overnight, Mom got up from bed every few hours to tend lovingly to the broth, making sure it always stayed at a gentle simmer. The next day, my sister and I washed and picked through all the herbs to make sure every leaf was green and every bean sprout white. And it was my special job to roll the lime under the heel of my foot to make sure it was extra juicy before we washed and cut it into wedges. Then the final, most important job was always Dad’s — tasting and seasoning the broth. He somehow always managed to achieve a balance of flavors that’s been beyond our imitation. It must come from decades of pho-making experience.

When I went to college, I finally met other people who enjoyed trying new foods and happened to love pho just as much as I did. Not only was it okay to like pho, it was maybe even cool. And having a dad who knew how to make it — now that was something to to be proud of. And so for my 20th birthday, I invited all my friends over and asked my dad to make his famous pho for my birthday celebration.


I’ve been lucky enough to have lived close to my parents or, later, in cities where good pho could still be sought out. But that all changed a year and a half ago, when I moved to a tiny island in the middle of the Caribbean. While there’s no shortage of things like sugar cane or other tropical fruits here (some of which also grow in Vietnam), I had to resort to bringing my own rice noodles. And I definitely had to start making my own pho.

My sister, on the other hand, has not come by pho so easily in the places she’s lived. Whether it was in the desertlands of Tucson, Arizona, or sub-Siberian Beijing where she lives now, she had long ago prepared for pho emergencies by taking down Dad’s notes. And so it is her recipe and notes that are shared below. And it was this recipe that I followed when I finally simmered my first pot of pho broth earlier this year.

What I’ve found is that my love affair with pho is only deepening as I learn to appreciate the complexity and subtleties of fine pho-making. It’s not until you sit down and learn how to make pho from scratch that you finally understand the whole story of pho. How the smoky sweetness comes from charred onion, the rich mouthfeel of the broth from bones full of marrow and collagen, the clear golden broth color from hours at a bare simmer, and the soft-yet-chewy noodles from flash-boiled, fresh rice noodles.

And when you combine all that with the childhood memories of a mother who’d remember to leave out the scallions and cilantro for a picky eater like me, or a father whose artistic temperament translated into perfectly balanced broth every time, or a family of four who often couldn’t wait for the broth to finish simmering the next day that we’d just drink a bowl of the soup with some meatballs as a midnight snack — well, it’s not hard to understand why I often tell people that if I could have one last meal before I die, I would choose to eat Dad’s pho.

Click through for notes and recipe.

Continue reading →

vietnamese beef stew (bo kho)

Fall is well under way here on the Hill. That means lovely cool days, gorgeous colors, scarves, boots, hot apple cider… Indeed, after growing up in Canada, then spending high school and college in the desertlands of Arizona, one of the major things I celebrate about being in the Northeast is having distinct seasons. I love all of them! There is something about seasonal change that my body and soul cannot live without — the cyclical nature of time and growth, the end of one thing and the beginning of another.

Among the many things that fall marks is harvest time and the change in the foods available to us and what we eat. Hot stews make some of the greatest meals now, and this one is a favorite in our household. You might say fall came early over here, as both my husband and his dad love slow-cooked meats and stews, so when my father-in-law came for a visit in August, this was an obvious dish to put on the menu.

Bo kho is actually my husband’s favorite Vietnamese dish. It’s his regular order at any Vietnamese restaurant that serves something other than pho. And what he loves even more than slow-cooked meats is soft, gelatinous beef tendon. So when we make bo kho at home, we make sure to include plenty of that.

Bo kho is another one of those French-influenced Vietnamese dishes. It’s essentially a French ragout with Asian spices. In Vietnam, it’s actually eaten for breakfast and often with a baguette for sopping up the sauce. At Vietnamese restaurants in North America, you will often have the option of eating bo kho with baguette, rice noodles, or egg noodles, all of which make for a hearty, comforting meal. It’s served with Thai basil, a squeeze of lime, and a dipping sauce of salt, pepper, and lime.

Bo Kho
Makes 6 servings

This can be made in either a slow cooker or a Dutch oven. Beef tendon is very tough and requires cooking separately for several hours to become tender. We like our tendon super soft and gelatinous rather than chewy, so we simmer it for a good number of hours, until it can be easily sliced through, before adding it to the stew to simmer even longer and to soak up some flavor.

1.5 lbs beef tendon
1 tsp baking soda
1.5 lbs beef chuck or shank

1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 Tbsp fish sauce
1 6-oz can tomato paste
2 bay leaves
2 star anise
3 cloves
3 stalks lemongrass, cut into 4-inch pieces and bruised
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp 5-spice powder

2 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
beef broth or water
3 medium carrots, cut into thick slices

baguette, rice noodles, or egg noodles
Thai basil
lime wedges
salt, pepper, and lime dipping sauce

1. Boil a pot of water with the beef tendon and 1 tsp of baking soda. Simmer for 3 hours or until tendon becomes tender enough for a knife to cut through it with some ease. You may want to simmer this in a slow cooker overnight, so that the tendon is ready to cook in the stew the next day. When tendon is tender, drain and rinse. Cut the tendon in half lengthwise and then into pieces about 2 inches long.

2. Wash and pat dry the beef chuck or shank. Cut into 1.5-inch cubes. Mix in the marinade ingredients. Let marinate for 30 minutes and up to overnight.

3. Heat the oil on medium-high, and then add the crushed cloves of garlic. When the garlic begins to brown, add the marinated beef chuck/shank, along with all the marinade ingredients, and let it brown. You may want to do this in several batches to avoid overcrowding the pot, so that the meat sears rather than steams. Put all the meat, plus the cooked tendon, back into the pot. Then add enough beef broth or water to cover everything by an inch or so.

4. Let the stew simmer on low for about 3 hours. (You can also transfer the stew to a slow cooker at this point and cook on low overnight.) Add carrots to cook during the last half hour.

5. Serve the stew in shallow dishes with baguette, or serve over rice or egg noodles. Include Thai basil, lime wedges for squeezing over, and salt, pepper, and lime dipping sauce for the meat.

taiwanese beef noodle soup (niu rou mian)

Happy birthday to my wonderful husband!

He is in Istanbul today, probably stuck in meetings. I hope they are at least feeding him well!

I figured he probably wouldn’t be able to enjoy the day as much being on the job, so I made him an early birthday meal this week to celebrate before he left. After his comment a few days ago about needing more meat, I decided to do something meat-inspired for the occasion. Grilling is not so much of an option where we live. And given that our schedules were pretty tight this week, I wanted to try and make do with what I already had on hand. I had been saving this beef shank in the freezer, so I thought I’d try to make Taiwanese beef noodle soup with it. Despite his earlier comment, lucky for him it takes a SE Asian not to balk at the idea of making a hot noodle soup in the middle of a DC summer. I think he didn’t mind eating it either. :)

Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup
Adapted from Viet World Kitchen
Serves 3

Normally I’d make this in a Dutch oven or stock pot, but to cut down on some of the heat from the stove in the summer, I browned the meat and pan-fried the aromatics and spices in a skillet before transferring everything to a thermal cooker to slowly stew. Ideally I’d let it sit overnight, but since I didn’t start this until the day of, I just waited a few hours. The meat could have been more tender, but it was still flavorful. I’ve kept the recipe’s original instructions for cooking in a pot here but incorporated a few of the modifications I made. Next time I would use chicken or beef stock instead of water for fuller flavor.

1.5 lb bone-in beef shank
1 Tbsp canola oil
5 garlic cloves, bruised
1-inch fresh ginger, cut into 3 slices, each one bruised
2 scallions, halved crosswise
1/2 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
2 star anise
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
1 Thai bird chili, split lengthwise (seeds and ribs removed if you want less spice)
2 Tbsp chili bean sauce (doubanjiang)
1/3 cup Shaoxing rice wine
1 oz yellow Chinese rock sugar
3 Tbsp light soy sauce
1 Tbsp dark soy sauce
5 cups water or chicken or beef stock

1/2 lb broccolini, broccoli, or baby bok choy, cut into bite size pieces
1/2 lb Chinese wheat noodles
1 Tbsp coarsely chopped cilantro

1. Pat the beef dry and then season all over with salt. In a 5- or 6-quart pot, heat the oil over high heat. Sear the beef on both sides until there is some browning, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Remove and set aside.

2. To the same pot, add the garlic, ginger, five-spice, star anise, peppercorns, chili, and bean sauce. Stir for 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Add the rice wine. Scrape up any browned bits at the bottom of the pot. Add 1 teaspoon salt, rock sugar, both soy sauces, and water.

3. Bring to a boil, skim off the scum that floats to the top. Lower the heat to medium-low to gently simmer. Cover and cook for about 2 hours, until the beef is tender. The broth will simmer under cover.

4. Turn off the heat and move the lid askance so that there’s about a 1/2-inch opening. Let the soup cool. The beef will finish cooking to fork tenderness as the broth cools and concentrates in flavor. (If you make the soup in the evening, let it sit overnight.)

5. Remove the meat and set aside. Strain the broth into another pot. Discard the solids. Skim off the fat if desired. Reheat the broth over high heat.

6. Meanwhile, cook the vegetable and noodles in a large pot of water. Divide among soup bowls.

7. Cut the meat into 1/2-inch-thick pieces; if it the beef is cold, use a mesh strainer or skimmer to warm it in the hot broth. Divide it among the bowls.

7. Bring the broth to a boil, taste and adjust the flavors. Ladle the broth into the bowls. Top with cilantro and serve.