Pho Sure

March 8 – March 14, 2021

Monday:                   Sheet-Pan Chicken Dinner

Tuesday:                   Pasta Putanesca, Green Salad

Wednesday:            ‘My Favorite Pho’ – Alex Guarnaschelli

Thursday:                 Tomato and Fennel Soup with Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Fri – Sat:                    On Retreat at Richmond Farm

Sunday:                     Pizza with broccoli, olives and prosciutto

It’s been so long since my last post that I am drawn in several different directions at once.  I should share the great week with Mere and Hoddy in Florida, with the excellent lamb stew cooked by the Duffy Sisters and the astonishing dinner at Old Collier.  And, I’m tempted to share with you the great new Chicken Enchiladas that knocked SWMBO over the week before.

Except that, my son Andrew and his friend Mike have praised the Pho that I made three weeks ago.  And, learning how to make a good Pho (Tony Bourdain and Phil Rosenthal both maintained that this was a favorite of theirs) was on my list of resolutions for the New Year.  Moreover it is the only positive resolution that I have achieved.  (All of the negative ones have been broken long ago, in the days before we were vaccinated.)  So, in coming weeks, we may come back to that week in Naples or those enchiladas, but for now, I think Pho has got to be it.

Pho is to Vietnamese what chicken soup is to Jewish grandmothers, that pillar of the Campbell family’s fortune, that thing that you can do with left over chicken bones and meat and a few vegetables, some salt, pepper and water.  Except, of course, that Pho is more often beef-based – but hey, protein is protein, right?

Perhaps a bit of context is in order:  SWMBO and I do not have a favorite Vietnamese or Thai restaurant.  We don’t have a favorite tortilla vendor, or Bulgoki restaurant, nor do we have a special tea or coffee vendor.  In other words, though we really like to eat and to cook well, we are not, in the metropolitan New York, DC or LA sense, true ‘foodies.’  So what’s with the Pho?

[Note:  ‘Pho’ is pronounced ‘fuh’ – which is achieved by a sort of disdainful exhalation – a light puff of air that gently separates the lower lip from the upper teeth against which it is resting when you begin to say “Pho”.  It is a fricative though not along the lines of “FORE” -that mighty bellow of the errant American golfer, but rather in the way that ‘meh’ is pronounced by those very urbanites who have favorite noodle shops.]

But if the name of Pho is unimpressive – a veritable wallflower among the fricatives – the taste of Pho is as mighty as a Bryson Dechambeau drive.  It is a 330 yard gorilla of a broth, with bits of beef, a sargasso sea of noodles, crunchy scallions and bean sprouts and, like all Asian foods, several thousand other moving parts.  It’s almost too rich to be called soup.  And here’s a relatively simple, but superior version, concocted by Alex Guarnaschelli.

My Favorite Pho

(adapted from Alex Guarneschelli, The Home Cook)

This recipe has a fair number of moving parts and will take a few hours.  The result is worth it.  Alex Guarnaschelli uses beef oxtails, but I used beef short-ribs because cooking oxtails and then separating the meat from the bone and gristle is one of the larger pains in the derrier that I have ever suffered.  And short-ribs give you the same sort of umami without the pain.  (Don’t tell Alex.)

Timing:                2 hours and 35 minutes – 3 hours and 35 minutes

Note:  the difference in time depends on whether you use beef oxtails (Alex does) or boneless beef short ribs (Bill does).


4 lbs. beef oxtails, cut into 3-inch pieces – Wait, do yourself a favor and buy, instead,

3 – 3 ½ lbs. boneless beef short ribs

8 ounces boneless beef round steak cut into ½-inch-thick slices

2 small serrano chiles, thinly sliced

¼ cup tightly packed fresh cilantro leaves (we used parsley)

1 cup tightly packed basil leaves

4 scallions, minced

1 ½ cups fresh bean sprouts

12 ounces dried flat rice stick noodles (banh pho) – these noodles are about 1/4” wide.

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons canola oil

2 small yellow onions (or one medium), thinly sliced

4 medium garlic cloves, minced

1 cinnamon stick

5 star anise pods

1 tablespoon soy sauce (dark, if you have)

3 tablespoons sugar

10 cups beef stock


Preheat the oven to 350 F

Trim any hard fat from the short ribs

Cut the round steak into ½-inch-thick slices

Don’t prepare the herbs until the meat is cooked

Cook the Pho:

Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium heat and add the canola oil.  Season the short ribs or oxtails on all sides with 2 tablespoons of salt.

When the oil begins to lightly smoke, remove the skillet from the heat and add the short ribs or oxtails in a single layer.  Return the skillet to medium heat and brown the oxtails or short ribs on both sides – 5-8 minutes per side.

Now, add the onions and garlic and cook until the onions become tender – about 4 minutes.

Now, you’re going to build the broth:  Add the cinnamon, star anise, soy sauce, sugar, beef stock and 2 cups of water to the meat.  Bring to a boil and then lower the heat and simmer for about 9 minutes, skimming off any impurities that rise to the surface.

Now put the skillet into the oven, uncovered, and cook until the oxtail or short rib meat is very tender (if you’re using oxtail, it should be falling off the bone)  2 – 2 ½ hours for the short rib, 2 ½ – 3 hours for the oxtail.

Soak the noodles:  When the meat has about ½ hour to cook, submerge the noodles in a large bowl of cold water.  Now fill a medium pot with water, add ¼ cup salt and bring to a boil.

Prepare the round steak and the aromatics:  When the oxtails or short ribs are cooked, combine the round steak with the chiles, cilantro (or parsley), ½ cup of the basil, the scallions, bean sprouts, and red wine vinegar in a large bowl.  Use a pair of metal tongs to carefully transfer the oxtails or the ribs to the bowl.  Now pour the hot broth over the vegetables and meat.

Drain the noodles from the cold water and add to the boiling water.  Boil the noodles until they are tender – about 90 seconds.  Drain and add the noodles to the soup.  Allow the soup to sit for a few minutes and taste for seasoning.  Remove the cinnamon stick and the star anise.  Ladle into bowls and top with the remaining basil leaves.


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