THE FOODIE FILES: Simply Pho You

By on February 9, 2016

Banish a wonky stomach and sip on comfort with a Vietnamese delight.

JACKSON HOLE, WY – The first time I feasted on homemade Pho Bo was in my friend Andy’s kitchen years ago. The aroma of the savory broth reached me before I even walked in the house—roasted onions, star anise, ginger, and what smelled like an incredible pot roast.

Andy was pulling a baking sheet of marrowbones from the oven and tipping them into an enormous stockpot of gently bubbling broth that had been simmering all day. When it was time to eat, he filled each warm bowl with a tangle of rice noodles and ladled enough broth over to almost cover them. He set out a platter of toppings for everyone to personalize their Pho. There were chopped green onions, bean sprouts, slices of beef brisket, basil, cilantro, paper-thin slices of yellow onion, fresh red and green chilies, and wedges of lime. Fish sauce and Sriracha were offered as condiments. Soon the kitchen was quiet except for the clicking of chopsticks and the sounds of enthusiastic slurping.

Marrow bones, onion, garlic, ginger and turmeric root ready to go in the oven.

Marrow bones, onion, garlic, ginger and turmeric root ready to go in the oven.

After tasting Andy’s Pho (pronounced “fu” as in “fun”), the national soup of Vietnam, I became obsessed with learning how to make it myself. Andy assured me it was easy. Granted, he is a chef, so making incredible food is always easy for him. But he was right: All you need to make really good Pho Bo (the beef version) is great bones, a few easy techniques, and time.

Last weekend, I found myself with a stockpile of marrowbones in the freezer and an abundance of time. Hit hard with a stomach bug, I didn’t leave the house for three days. I couldn’t eat anything the first day, but graduated to Fresca and spoonfuls of rice on day two. By then I was dreaming of what I would eat when I was better—this Turmeric Ginger Pho Bo popped into my head. I had just made it for a friend recovering from knee surgery. She said that after she ate it her “stomach felt calmer than it had in days.” I decided it would be my first real meal.

Making the Pho broth was pretty much the only thing I did that whole day besides binging on both seasons of “Fargo” (highly recommended). It took only a few minutes to cut an onion in half and place it on a baking sheet with bones from the freezer, hunks of ginger, garlic cloves, and a handful of turmeric root. While that roasted in the oven, I rested. An hour later, I rallied to scrape the contents of the pan into my stockpot. I covered it with cold water, heated it to almost boiling, and kept it on a low simmer all day. Before I went to bed, I strained the broth through a fine mesh sieve into a cast iron pot, covered it, and placed it outside in the snow. (I didn’t have the energy to clean out the fridge to make room.)

The next day, twinges of appetite were returning. I checked out my pot of Pho broth in the snow—the fat had formed into a hard layer on the top. I skimmed this off and set it aside (some people like to add that fat back into their soup before serving). I warmed up the broth and seasoned it with sugar and fish sauce. I took a few sips. My stomach did not do flip-flops. It was good—assertively gingery, salty and slightly sweet. And the turmeric made my whole mouth tingle.

Turmeric root is a secret ingredient for anyone with a queasy stomach.

Turmeric root is a secret ingredient for anyone with a queasy stomach.

Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, has been getting a lot of attention from medical researchers. Found to have powerful anti-inflammatory properties, it may become part of the treatment for those with chronic gastrointestinal diseases. Curcumin is also being studied as an anti-cancer therapy, and it may actively break up the amyloid plaques that accumulate on the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. If it can do all that, I figure turmeric in my soup can certainly help my little stomach bug.

For really great Pho, be sure to start with good bones. I prefer the marrowbones from Lockhart Cattle Company, which can be purchased at Aspens Market. Or check out the meat case at Jackson Whole Grocer. I have also used bison bones with great results. You can certainly just simmer the bones in a pot, but roasting them first will give you a more deeply flavorful broth.

A pot of Pho should not be rushed and it should never be boiled. Once the roasted bones are transferred to a stockpot, cover them with cold water. Slowly warm almost—but never to—a simmer. Then keep it at barely a simmer with large bubbles slowly rising to the surface. Use a fine mesh strainer to skim any particulate matter (scum) that rises to the top every hour or so. If the soup boils too vigorously, it will become cloudy and have an off-taste. High quality bones will give off very little scum.

My sick day Pho was very simply finished with whatever I had in the house: rice noodles, parsley and mint, pickled jalapenos, and slivers of raw venison tenderloin that become perfectly cooked when dunked in the hot broth. Did it make me feel better? You betcha. I polished off the whole bowl, washed it down with another Fresca, and went out into the sunshine for a walk.

Special thanks to Andy Parazette, chef/owner of Pica’s Mexican Taqueria, for the Pho Bo inspiration, and for supplying me with a winter’s worth of turmeric root. Turmeric root can be purchased at Jackson Whole Grocer in the produce section.

Turmeric Ginger Pho Bo

Yield: 5-6 quarts broth

For the Pho broth:

5 pounds marrow beef or bison bones

1 medium yellow onion, unpeeled, cut in half

3 2-inch pieces of ginger, unpeeled

1 handful turmeric root, unpeeled

5 cloves of garlic, unpeeled

1 ½ tsp. Kosher salt

½ tsp. ground white pepper

1 2-inch piece cinnamon stick

2 whole star anise pods

2 whole cloves

¼ cup fish sauce

1 T. light brown sugar

For the toppings: 

1 lb. wild game tenderloin, cut into very thin slices

16 ounces rice noodles or rice sticks, cooked according to package directions

3 scallions, thinly sliced

½ cup chopped cilantro

½ cup mint leaves, torn

½ cup basil leaves, torn

2 cups bean sprouts

2 limes, cut into wedges

2 jalapeños, stemmed and thinly sliced into rings

Sriracha

Beef fat

Make the beef stock: Place onion, garlic, ginger, turmeric and marrowbones on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for one hour. Place the contents of the pan into a large stockpot and cover with 5 quarts of cold water. Bring to just below a simmer but do not let the water boil. Adjust the heat until the bubbles are very slowly coming to the surface. Skim as needed as foam forms on the surface. Simmer for three hours.

Add the white pepper, cinnamon, star anise, and cloves, and continue cooking for another one to two hours. Add the fish sauce and the brown sugar. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.

Pour the stock over a fine mesh sieve into a large pot. Discard the solids. Keep at room temperature for an hour, or refrigerate overnight. Skim off any fat that rises to the top and set aside.

To make the soup, prepare the noodles and the toppings. Return the broth to a boil and warm the serving bowls in the oven. Season the broth with more brown sugar or fish sauce as needed.

Fill each bowl with a pile of noodles and cover with hot broth. Let everyone choose their own toppings, and drizzle with Sriracha hot sauce.

Leftover Pho broth can be kept in the fridge for up to three days or frozen for three months.

After delivering babies and practicing gynecology for 20 years in Jackson, Annie Fenn traded her life as a doctor to pursue her other passion: writing about food, health, sustainability and the local food scene. Follow her snippets of mountain life, with recipes, at jacksonholefoodie.com and on Instagram @jacksonholefoodie.

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About Annie Fenn, MD

After delivering babies and practicing gynecology for 20 years in Jackson, Annie traded her life as a doctor to pursue her other passion: writing about food, health, sustainability and the local food scene. Follow her snippets of mountain life, with recipes, at www.jacksonholefoodie.com and on Instagram @jacksonholefoodie.

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