Today’s recipe is labeled Southeast Asian Beef and Rice-Noodle Soup, at least that’s what Gourmet called it when it showcased the dish in February 2009, but in reality, it’s phở.
The ingredients list is unmistakable; this is the deeply flavored and intensely aromatic Vietnamese soup that is perhaps its country’s most famous culinary treasure. Thanks in no small part to the millions of South Vietnamese who dispersed throughout the globe after Saigon fell, phở has become increasingly familiar to outsiders as well.
Despite genuine phở being rather complicated to prepare, the instructions Gourmet printed years ago are a little more streamlined. In fact, perhaps pronouncing the dish’s name presents even more of a challenge. Though to English-speakers, phở looks as though it’s pronounced, “foe,” a closer approximation is, “fuh.”
No matter what the soup is called, its main party piece is a clear broth that is, nonetheless, deeply savory. That may sound impossibly rich, but the broth’s transparency keeps it surprisingly light. Moreover, diners are presented with an array of sides, all of which offer contrasting tastes, keeping the flavor profile lively.
There’s hot sriracha pepper sauce, whose tingly heat accentuates the beef’s flavor. Mint leaves and cucumbers each bring their own variety of coolness, while freshly-squeezed lime juice inserts a layer of tangy freshness. Speaking of which, cilantro provides a burst of ethereal greenness.
The vast majority of prep time is consumed in simmering the beef, which intensifies the broth’s flavor. That accomplished, the soup comes together quickly, and more easily in other phở recipes. Depending on how pretentious you want to be, you probably will spend more time practicing how to speak Vietnamese.
Southeast Asian Beef and Rice-Noodle Soup
- 3 pounds beef short ribs
- 3 pounds beef shank, cut into two or three pieces
- 2 tablespoons peanut oil, divided
- 1 large onion, sliced (*1)
- 2 (1-inch) pieces of ginger, smashed
- 1 bunch scallions
- 3 garlic cloves, smashed
- 1 long chili, stemmed and halved lengthwise
- 2 quarts water
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 4 whole star anise
- 1 (4-inch) cinnamon stick
- 14 ounces Asian rice noodles
- sriracha sauce, cucumber slices, mint leaves, cilantro leaves and fresh lime pieces, for serving
In a stockpot set over medium-high flame, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil until it shimmers. Brown the meat (working in batches if necessary), flipping to ensure all sides are seared. Set aside the beef when it just begins to brown.
Reduce the flame to medium. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil and cook the onions, ginger, scallions, garlic and chili, stirring occasionally until browned, about 12 minutes.
Put the beef back in the stockpot and add the water, soy sauce, star anise and cinnamon. Simmer covered until the meat is tender, about two hours.
Turn off heat and use tongs to extract the meat. Once it is cool enough to handle, discard the bones and fat, and slice the beef. Strain the broth through a cheesecloth, discarding the solids.
Cook in a separate pot of water the rice noodles, until just soft. Drain the noodles in a colander and rinse with cold water.
Return the beef to the pot and add the noodles. Bring just to a simmer, season with salt, and serve. Accompany with the sides listed above.
1 – Or two large-ish shallots. Of course.