Pho in a hurry!

Making Pho in a Hurry!

There is definitely something special about pho. It could be the clear, exotically flavored broth – a marriage between a French consomme and Vietnamese spices. Or maybe it’s the soft rice noodles and crunchy bean sprouts. It could also be slices of meat, tripe, tendon, fish balls, or whatever your fav ingredients are, dipped ceremoniously in hoisin and srirachia sauce before you slurp them up. Whatever your happy place is within the realm of pho, we can all agree that we want more, and in this case, I wanted it fast!

When’s the last time you asked someone what they made for dinner, and their answer was, “Pho!” Probably never. And it’s not because pho is hard to make, but probably because it takes time. A properly seasoned broth can take at least 4 to 5 hours to make from scratch. And who has time for that? So I ventured to figure out a way to make pho in a hurry that you could put together in about 30 minutes without using artificial ingredients.

First I thought about the main part of pho, which is the soup stock. If you get this wrong, the whole deal is off. So, what I wanted to do was combine a ready-made beef stock with a combination of spices that would taste just like pho and could be put together quickly without having to brew up a batch from scratch. Yes, you can buy instant pho stock in cube or powder form, but being mostly chemicals and MSG, I wanted to stay away from that. What I did have on hand, was organic beef stock (made from Better Than Bouillon brand beef stock paste mixed with water – quick).

Using my flavor-memory and a Vietnamese recipe for pho stock, I put together a mixture of spices to flavor the stock, and pulverized them using an electric coffee grinder. You can use a coffee grinder, mortar and pestle, or even your “Magic Bullet” if you have one – most of them come with a grinding blade, (and FIY, you can buy the Wal-Mart version of the “Magic Bullet” for about $18). Grinding exposes the essential oils of the spices, and augments the flavors. And in this case, because one of the virtues of pho stock is that it’s supposed to be nice and clear, I didn’t want to see any big bits of spices floating around. The finely-ground spices dissipated into the stock and flavored it quite nicely!

By bringing some beef stock to a simmer and adding my pho spice mixture, I was able to come up with a really accurate, tasty version of pho stock almost instantly. The only addition was the juice of one lime to provide the tartness that I like.

Here is how you make the pho spice mixture:

Equal Parts

  • ground cardamom
  • dried onion flakes
  • ginger powder
  • ground coriander
  • ground cinnamon
  • anise seeds
  • black pepper
  • ground cumin

1. Put spices into a grinder and make into a powder. Store in an air-tight container

To flavor your stock, simply add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of the powder to every 4 to 6 cups of beef or chicken stock. First add 1/4 teaspoon, and taste it. If it needs more, add another 1/4 teaspoon and adjust flavor that way.

Pho Rice Noodles

The only other part of pho that people tend to wonder about is how to get the noodles right. Rice noodles have a really nice consistency, IF YOU PREPARE THEM WELL. If you don’t prepare them properly, you can end up with hard, crunchy, or mushy noodles.

I keep bags of dried rice noodles in my pantry for when I make pho, Thai, or Chinese dishes. To prepare them, you simply soak them in a bow of hot water from your tap, and let them sit in the bowl with the water for 15 minutes. I do this before I start working on my pho to save time.

I then mix my pho stock, bring it to a simmer and flavor it.

Then I added some soy bean sprouts to a large bowl, two chopped up fresh basil leaves (I use regular basil when I don’t have Thai basil on hand), chopped scallions, and I took a cheap cut of beef (chuck roast) and sliced some really thin slices with my chef knife. I put those in the bowl too.

Now, back to the noodles. Grab a handful of noodles out of the bowl (they’ll still be semi-hard), and drop them into the simmering stock for 30 seconds to 1 minute. I use a noodle cooking strainer (photo below) to do this easily. Take the noodles out of the stock. Now they are fully cooked. Place the noodles in the soup bowl. Add the hot pho stock into the bowl. This will cook the beef to a nice, medium rare while it’s in the bowl! And there you have it – pho in a hurry!