Multiple trips to Pho So 1, located in “little Asia,” aka Horsepen Rd. in Richmond, have left me with near constant cravings for Pho and Vietnamese Noodle Salads, or Bun. Pho is a beef-broth-based soup to which a number of accouterments are added. Notable additions include sambal, mung bean sprouts, and culantro. See the recipe below for the full list of addables.
Bun is a salad comprised of rice noodles, cucumbers, carrots, lettuce, some sort of protein (I used duck spring rolls,) and accented with a piquant fish-sauce-based vinaigrette.
Both recipes require a heapton of ingredients and quite a considerable amount of time and care. But once you’ve taken them on, they’re especially rewarding ventures.
This is the type of dinner spread that is best enjoyed with friends, and I chose my two dearest — my besty jonny d. and darling j.balls. Everything was met with enthusiasm — a chorus of slurps punctuated the Charlie Byrd record spinning on the turntable behind us..
At the end of the meal, we were all reluctant to leave the table, so we poured another round of cocktails and commenced to waxing philosophic on everything from crime dramas to heirloom tomatoes.
I did not go to the lengths that one could in order to make my pho — I used store-bought beef stock as a starting point for my broth. I could make my own stock for the project, and by all means, feel free if you’re so inclined, but this was meant to be a simple take on my recent favorites, not an exhaustive exploration into the pho process.
1 large onion
1 hearty knob fresh ginger
1 stick cinnamon
a touch of nutmeg shavings
2 T. fennel seeds
1 T. coriander
1 T. whole cloves
1 1/2 gal. beef stock
1 T. soy sauce
Begin by charring the onion and garlic – Cut the onion and garlic in half lengthwise; you’re trying to create maximum surface area for charring. Thanks to the sad dynamics of the New Smitty’s kitchen, my method for charring is simple: Place a pan on high heat with a scosh of vegetable oil. Add onion and garlic, and wait for the smoke detector to go off.
But in all likelihood, you dear reader, have a decent ventilation system in your own kitchen. That’s cool. Instead of waiting for the wailing of the smoke detector, leave your onion and garlic undisturbed for about two minutes, or until you can see a dark brownish blackish edge forming.
Add cinnamon through cloves, and stir briefly, allowing the spices to release a shot of scent throughout the kitchen. Add beef stock and soy sauce. Taste and adjust flavors as necessary. Simmer approximately an hour. Strain the stock and keep hot; now it’s time to go crazy.
Faux Pho Continued:
2 c. cooked (Bun) rice noodles
12 oz. flash-seared flank steak, thinly sliced
Assemble a spread of the following:
mung bean sprouts
Place the noodles and flank steak in a bowl and cover with hot broth. Serve with the additions and encourage guests to rip up their own herbs and spice their broth individually, making each steaming, savory bowl a veritable snowflake of personal expression. Yum to the power of you, or something like that.
I like to eat my pho with chopsticks in my right hand and a big spoon in my left; I’ve found that it allows me to shovel in the largest amount of pho in the most graceful manner.
With each visit to Pho So 1, I’ve considered getting Bun but decided instead to wait and make it for myself. I used to get a salad very similar to Bun at a strange short-lived Chinese restaurant hidden away in Chambersburg, PA. I can remember once getting two of the salads to-go and taking them on a “date.” And occasionally, after getting off work at the Greenvillage Drive-In Family Restaurant, I would find one of these little fresh treasures leftover for me in the family fridge.
The salad is so simple in conception that to write out a formal recipe would be insulting.
Combine rice noodles with handfuls of cucumber, mung bean sprouts, carrots, cilantro, chopped peanuts, and two fried spring rolls. (I had a little stash of Crispy Duck Spring Rolls as a boon from Millie’s menu cleansing, so I used them, but this is a perfect opportunity to order some extra spring rolls the next time you get Chinese take-out and save them for this application. Or make your own; I’m not including a recipe for them here, however.)
The fish sauce vinaigrette really makes this salad. I would advise against substituting another vinaigrette. Whisk together:
1/2 c. fish sauce
1/4 c. rice wine vinegar
2 T. brown sugar
1 T. sambal
1 T. sesame oil
Listening to: Oldies 107.3
* Culantro is my new herb obsession. I was introduced to culantro as “sawtooth,” which I later discovered is only one of many of this herb’s aliases. Others include fitweed; spiritweed; duck-tongue herb; and long, wild, or Mexican coriander. The leaves look quite like dandelion leaves and the flavor, unsurprisingly, is similar to cilantro. But it’s not cilantro. It’s tougher. If cilantro is campus security, culantro is the swat team.
** Eel Sauce may very well not be a traditional condiment for pho, but with its crazy sweet umami flavor, it makes total sense. I keep it on hand because, refrigerated, it keeps forever, and it makes store-bought sushi richer and noodle bowls more exotic.