Pho is definitely at the top of my comfort foods list, as it is for so many of my friends and family. I grew up in the Seattle area, which has a huge Asian population, and access to tons of fantastic and authentic Asian food. Personally, I don’t think I could’ve grown up in a better culinary area in terms of growing up on global cuisine, besides maybe New York.
Pho became a weekly, or daily, dish in my life throughout all of my 20s; now, when I get sick, or sad, or overwhelmed– nothing makes me feel better than pho.
As always, I love to share recipes that are accessible, and this is no exception. None of these ingredients are expensive or rare– you should be able to pick up anything you’ll need at your local market.
Here’s just a few ingredients that you might have a hard time finding, and the simple common substitutions:
Kombu – this can be excluded, or substituted for nori.
Tamari – this can be swapped for low-sodium soy sauce, or coconut aminos.
Pho is all about the broth, no matter how you make it. Traditionally, pho broth is made using beef bones and tendon, as well as charred onions, garlic, ginger and several toasted spices. Obviously, all of the latter are perfect to keep included; so you’re left with just needing to swap out the savory, umami flavor from the beef. Also, pho typically includes fish sauce– but that’s much easier to swap out.
For this recipe, I use roasted portabella mushrooms and whole carrots in the broth. Mushrooms and carrots both have a deep flavor, with mushrooms adding similar complexities of flavor as traditional proteins.
The secret to extracting the flavors completely is to briefly roast them in the oven before tossing ’em in the pot– just as they begin to brown, the flavor starts to change and deepen, and this is how you get the full flavor into your broth.
This change is called the Maillard Reaction, which is indicated by the browning of the food. The Maillard Reaction describes what happens at the molecular level when food is exposed to a high, dry heat– the practical impact is that is becomes sweeter, and the flavor becomes deeper. This is how you get a full flavor from your vegetables for this broth.
The other tricks to this broth are tried-and-true culinary traditions. Toasting these sweet spices is essential to getting the right flavor, and so is charring the onions and aromatics.
Charring the onions gives you a smokey flavor, and also keeps the onion tender and sweet on the inside; you’ll love having done this when the onions falls apart into your broth, and you scoop some of it into your soup at the end.
This is the perfect ‘set-it-and-forget-it’ recipe– start the broth in the morning, and have very little to do come dinner time.
Thanks for reading!
~ Chef G