Fi fy “Pho” fum

Fi fy “Pho” fum
Jenny Morris

Fooding Around with Jenny Morris

I have my body wrapped in thermal clothing from head to toe, I’m propped in bed with the electric blanket on and feel all cosy, and hungry for something delicious, comforting and satisfying to eat. It’s the weekend and I have no guilt about having a lie in. I can’t remember when I felt so cold – maybe it was on the Great Wall of China in the snow a few years back, but never in Cape Town. I start to think about what I can cook with what is in my fridge and store cupboards and freezer so that I do not have to leave the house to shop.
I know that in my freezer there will always be thick cuts of beef shin and oxtail. There is a lot I can do with beef shin, like make a heart-warming pot of Osso Bucco and serve it with creamy parmesan polenta, or a nourishing beef and vegetable soup, or a steaming pot of Pho. Yes, that’s exactly what I feel like – a delicious bowl of beef broth and noodles and wonderful fragrant herbs to finish it off.

One of the happiest travel memories is slurping a bowl of delicious Vietnamese Pho and noodles in Hoi Chi Minh City. I love the Vietnamese cuisine. It has been influenced by the Chinese, with the finesse of French, and the spices of India. What I love about Vietnamese food is the balance of flavour, textures and temperature; nothing is too sour or salty, and you can control the heat. All food is consumed to nurture and heal. When I first arrived in Vietnam I didn’t know what to expect, but I had an idea of what I wanted to taste because I had tried Vietnamese food before. I was curious though – would it taste better, or just different? Oh boy, it was far better than anything I could ever have imagined.

I have vivid memories of Vietnam of two young girls sitting on their haunches in a broth house kitchen with an enamel basin the size of a small fishpond between them. It was piled high with steaming, fragrant beef flavoured with star anise, cloves, ginger, garlic, onions, peppercorns, cardamom and cinnamon. They were removing big chunks of fat from the meat before shredding it to add to the noodle broth we were about to eat, served with huge bowls of herbs, sprouts and greens I couldn’t identify. It’s not so much the beef that’s the star of the show, but the broth itself. As the steaming bowl was placed in front of me I couldn’t help inhaling deeply. I just had to fill my body with that delicious aroma.

Serves 6

Ingredients for the broth:

  • 500g oxtail
  • 1kg beef shin
  • 4cm peeled ginger, thickly sliced and bashed
  • 5 cloves garlic with skin on, bashed
  • 3 medium onions in their skin, quartered
  • 4 stalks celery, roughly chopped
  • 2 dried cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 split cardamom pods
  • 10 peppercorns
  • 2 star anise pods
  • 4 litres cold water

Ingredients for the bowl:

  • 200g rice noodles, cooked
  • 300g fresh bean sprouts
  • 6 spring onions, thinly sliced
  • 6 fresh chillies, thinly sliced
  • Sliced-up beef, from the broth
  • Fish sauce to taste
  • Lime wedges – one per person
  • A large bowl of mixed herbs (fresh basil, mint, coriander)
  • Fresh soup celery leaves, chopped

Place all the broth ingredients in a large soup pot, cover with the water and gently bring to the boil. Skim the surface to remove the scum that rises to the surface.
Turn down the heat and simmer gently with the lid on for 1½ hours until the meat is really soft and tender. Remove the lid and simmer for another 1½ hours; the stock should just tremble.
Remove the meat from the broth, slice it up and put the slices in a serving bowl. Strain the broth, pour it into a clean pot and fling in a couple of ice blocks to gather up any floating fat. Remove the fatty ice blocks and reheat the broth by simmering for 20 minutes with the lid off
Place all the bits for the bottom of the soup bowls in little dishes on the table and let everyone help themselves Place some noodles at the bottom of each soup bowl, then some sprouts, spring onions, chillies and beef. Cover with hot broth, season with fish sauce and a squeeze of lime, and add the herbs of your choice – happy slurping!

Tip: Skim the stock all the time and do not boil after the initial boiling stage, otherwise you will have a tasty, but cloudy stock. I make this the day before I need it and once it has cooled completely put it in the refrigerator – this makes it easy to remove any fat.

© Jenny Morris from the Book ‘Taste the World with Jenny Morris’ 2013-2014