Made Pho This Weekend...Suggestions For Improving?
Well I finally tried my hand at making pho this weekend. It came out OK, but was really lacking in meaty flavor.
Here is what I did...
I took 4 pounds of beef neckbones and 1 pound of chuck roast, covered in about 6 quarts of water. I brought to a simmer and skimmed all the scum off for about 30 minutes. When there was no more scum to be skimmed i added 2 onions i had roasted, a 4 inch piece of ginger i had roasted (of course i washed off any black skin from the onions and the ginger), a chunk of rock sugar, 3 tablespoons of fish sauce, 5 star anise, and 6 cloves. I simmered this very very gently for 3 and a half hours. I removed all of the meat and bones, strained through a cheesecloth, refrigerated, skimmed off a bit of fat. And then reheated so I could taste and finish the seasoning. While it tasted nicely of spices, it was lacking any richness or meatiness that i am accustomed to at pho joints. What else to I need to do, or how should i change the recipe next time to make it better. Any suggestions on how to tweak what I did to make it great?
From Making Pho at Home:
"1. Start with good beef bones: Avoid neck bones. Look for knuckle bones and leg bones that contain marrow. At Asian markets, you'll find beef bones cut and bagged in the refrigerated section. Vietnamese markets will sometimes have the leg bones at the butcher counter. You can specify how you want them sawed; ask for two- to three-inch sections."
Although a 3 hour simmer seems to be the norm, applying a little classic french culinary wisdom and simmering the meat/bones for longer wouldn't hurt. 3 and a half hours isn't nearly enough to extract all the flavor/body out of beef bones/connective tissue. Although there are different theories on the subject of stockmaking, I'd say you'd want to simmer them at least 8 hours. I go 12 with mine. You'll want to add the aromatics towards the end of the cooking time so the flavors don't cook away.
Regardless of whether or not one is Vietnam, France, or the US of A, good beef stock takes time. I really hope that the two 3 hour Pho recipes are not the norm. If the Vietnamese are only simmering their bones for 3 hours, they're throwing flavor/nutritition away.
I usually use variety of bones. Leg, neck and the best is probably beef ribs with some fat on it. If you're planning to use leg bones have the butcher cut it in smaller pieces. The chuck meat is unnecessary in my opinion, doesn't have much meaty taste or fat in them. Go more on the bones.
The fat will give you that beefy taste you're looking for. Just remember to skim it off after cooking.
No need to roast the onions and ginger.
I like to use a combo of beef oxtails, neck bones, and chuck roast. The oxtails give it a beefy richness and really complements the aromatics. Following in my mom's tradition, I also add about half a packet of Dynasty wonton soup base which has MSG and a little chicken/pork flavor. I've tried omitting this, but it adds an important dimension that I miss w/o it. I simmer my pho broth for about 3.5 hrs. too. Flavors taste better the next day, but sometimes I can't wait that long.
When I made my first pho broth several years ago, I had the same problem as you...tasted watery and not beefy enough. Leaving it fully uncovered is important so that it can reduce during simmering and the flavor can concentrate. I also don't season w/ fish sauce, sugar, salt, or soup base til about the last 30 min. since doing it well in advance may lead to overseasoning due to water evaporation.
Don't give up, keep trying new things, and you'll find the way...good luck!
I know this is a sacrilegious thing to ask, but is there anyplace one can buy beef pho broth pre-made? Like those convenient boxes of chicken & beef stock they sell at high end grocery stores (not the evil cans of salt...ooops I mean "beef" broth). I love pho and I love cooking from scratch, but rarely do I have the time to dedicate 4 hrs to homemade broth (or more rare than my cravings for good pho to be precise!).
re: InmanSQ Girl
InmanSQ girl, i've seen many canned 'pho bo' broths in asian grocery stores. you can get a large can for like $1.29. i have not tried it though. there are also 'instant pho' paste, similar to reduced beef paste, - but those are loaded with MSG. try them out, you might like them. you can definitley buy the cans and read recipes, adding a few spices at a time. could be good!
re: InmanSQ Girl