I can barely eat a plate of Chinese food without chopsticks, as if eating it with a fork is committing a cardinal sin in culinary heaven. I abhor bastardizing recipes to the point of Americanization. People assume because of my upbringing that I prefer Americanized versions of everything. Or that we have a mixed culture household that we default to the typical white American one.
I want tripe. Give me deep fried pork intestine. Let’s nibble on dim-sum style chicken feet. I want smelly tofu.
I haven’t always been open to these foods, growing up in a fairly homogeneous part of the country (translation: white) where Americanized “ethnic” (not my choice of word) restaurants are the norm. I have the fortune of growing up in a family who was fairly adventurous, in the kitchen and in travels. Although my parents may have not always known what to order in the restaurant in some small town in Italy or a seafood shack in Thailand, they were open to trying new things. I admit, I was a rebellious teenager, poo-pooing the idea of certain foods, but that stage has fortuitously passed. It was my Taiwanese classmate in graduate school, now husband, who took my tastebuds to another level. I tried real food. Still, we revel in the taste of a good phở, a perfectly seasoned sticky rice, and the post-Thanksgiving turkey bā (rice porridge), a tradition in his family. One cannot judge a book by its cover. Also do not judge the appetites and culinary interest of those around you. You could be missing out on something grand.
This is as authentic as I can find for a good phở with offal bits. You may not be crazy about the offal if you haven’t tried it before. If you have access, try a good phở in a restaurant first, then try your hand at cooking tendon and tripe. Some restaurants serve the tendon a bit on the crunchy side, some more soft. I prefer the softer bite, buttery and rich. The tripe is cooked to a noodle consistency. Many Latin and Asian markets have precut tendon and tripe frozen into blocks. This preparation is much more convenient than trying to obtain a laser to cut through the rubber band like consistency of both. Also make sure there is no odor: if the tendon or tripe stinks, it’s not fresh enough.
I changed this recipe ever so slightly for the sake of broth, that foundation of a good phở. I recommend using chicken feet and beef bones for the broth. If you have access to an Asian market, buy pre-prepared (meaning: skinned) chicken feet to make a nourishing, rich broth that you’ll swear by in the future. If you are not a broth-drinker, you might just become one.
Eating phở is not a new idea. YOU eating phở might be. It has been around for at least 100 years, relatively unchanged in its gestalt preparation save for the embellishment of more meats, condiments, and the size of the bowl to accommodate American tastes (see, still some Americanization). Additionally, when Vietnam was split into two in the 1950s, there was a deliberate demarcation of phở presentation, some people still adamant today on what is “authentic.”
Today in the U.S., we typically see phở made of many textures and flavors: white rice noodles in clear beef broth, graced with a combination of fatty flank, lean flank, brisket, or eye of round, meatballs sometimes added, garnished with Thai basil, culantro, bean sprouts, chiles, and a good squeeze of fresh lime. And then there is my favorite, beef tendon and tripe, giving distinct flavor and texture that is unparalleled in any other soup I have eaten.
It is comfort food at its best, withstanding the test of time and across borders. If you’re going to eat it, make it the good stuff. Don’t dial it down to appease the picky and less adventurous eaters. Make it REAL.
One year ago: one-eyed chihuahua cocktail
Two years ago: apricot compote
- 2 medium yellow onions, halved
- 5-inch knob of ginger, halved lengthwise
- 5 pounds of good beef bones, like leg, knuckle, and oxtail (particularly good). Jaden from Steamy Kitchen explains that too many marrow bones will make the broth greasy, so try to diversify. If you don't mind the prolific marrow, just skim off the fat in the end. This is what I do.
- 1 pound of beef meat for the broth (optional -- I don't do this step usually, but it does help round out the broth's flavor. After long cooking, it is pretty flavorless so I do not serve with the soup. Save it, shred it, and dip cold into a soy sauce, hot pepper, sesame oil mix for another meal. I like to add separate raw sliced meat to the finished broth when serving. More on this later.)
- 1 pound chicken feet, rinsed in cool water (not optional - This ingredient provides a rich, deep flavor from the gelatin. This ingredient may cloud the broth slightly -- just FYI.)
- about 6 quarts of water in an 8- or 12-quart pot -- I use an 8-quart, but 12 is better
- 1 pound book tripe (I sometimes use honeycomb tripe if I can't find the book tripe. Buy it cleaned/bleached.)
- 1 pound beef tendon (my favorite!)
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
- 5 whole star anise
- 2 cardamom pods
- 6 whole cloves
- a few black peppercorns
- 1½ tablespoons kosher salt, less if using table salt
- ¼ cup fish sauce
- 1 ounce of regular sugar (about 2 tablespoons) or yellow rock sugar
- 2 pounds rice noodles (bahn pho noodles are the best)
- ½ pound flank, sirloin or eye of round, sliced as thinly as possible. I obviate the need for my slicing by buying pre-sliced beef slices for Chinese hot pot.
- a large handful of basil, culantro (different than cilantro), cilantro, and/or mint.
- 2 limes, cut into wedges
- 2 hot chili peppers or jalepenos, sliced
- 2 big handfuls of fresh bean sprouts
- extra fish sauce, for serving
- Sriracha hot sauce, for serving
- Sliced red onion, for serving
- Special equipment: muslin spice/tea bag or cheesecloth to house the spices while cooking
- FIRST, GET RID OF THE SCUM: Fill large pot (12-quart capacity is best, but 8-quart works but is very full) with water and bring to boil. Add the beef bones and boil vigorously for 10 minutes. Drain, rinse the bones and rinse out the pot. Refill pot with bones and about 6 quarts of cool water. Add the rinsed chicken feet. Bring to boil over high heat and lower to simmer. Using a ladle or a fine mesh strainer, remove any scum that rises to the top.
- MEANWHILE, CHAR THE ONIONS AND GINGER: There are two options to do this: broiler or gas stove burners. For broiler option: Turn broiler on high and move rack to the highest level. Place ginger and onions on baking sheet. Brush a thin layer of oil on the cut side of each. Broil on high until ginger and onions begin to char. Turn over and continue to char. This will take about 10 minutes. If on a gas stove top (like me): Turn the burner on high, brush oil on ginger and onion as directed above, and place directly on flame to char.
- TOAST SPICES: In a dry pan, toast the spices to release their aroma. Cool slightly and add to muslin spice bag or cheesecloth bag and tie up to secure.
- COOK BROTH: Add ginger, onion, spices placed in muslin spice bag (cinnamon may wander outside, as it is too big to fit in the bag and easy to fish out later), beef chunk (if using to shred at end; if using the sliced, WAIT - do not add yet), sugar, fish sauce, salt and simmer uncovered for 1½ hours. No boiling at this point! This will cloud the broth. After 1½ hours, remove the beef meat and set aside. Continue the gently simmer for another 1½ hours. Why a total of three hours? Most of the flavor is extracted from the bones at that point. Some people prefer to cook the broth overnight to create a bone broth. I find 3 to 5 hours works best for me (and I don't like leaving my gas stove on all night, nor do I have a large enough slow cooker to attempt overnight pho).
- COOK THE TENDON: Simultaneously cook the tendon when cooking the bones. Read important notes below before starting!*** Cook the tendon in a separate pot filled with boiling water ,just as you did with the stock bones. Boil for 5 minutes, dump water, rinse tendon, refill pot, bring to boil, and gently simmer. I separate the tendon from the main broth pot because I don't want to tediously fish out tendon pieces from the stock bones later. Depending on their size, I cook about 5 HOURS total. After you have strained the main broth (see later steps), THEN ADD the tendon to the broth to finish cooking. You want the tendon to be a bit soft but not mushy. Some people like a little crunch, but Eat and I feel that consistency is too chewy.
- SEASONING THE BROTH: When cooking time is up with the broth, strain it, discard bones, vegetables, and spices, and return the broth to the pot. Taste broth and adjust seasoning. This is an important step to get the broth tasting exactly how you want it. If it seems lacking, add 2 teaspoons more of fish sauce and a pinch of salt and sugar. Taste again: still needs something? Keep adjusting with the fish sauce, salt, and sugar until you like the taste. I tend to add more fish sauce to bring in the umami flavor. This is also the step where you can add the tendon to finish cooking, keeping the broth at a gentle simmer. If the broth seems too salty, add some of the tendon broth water to dilute.
- COOK NOODLES: There are many types of rice noodles, some wide, some thin, some dry, some fresh. Try to choose the banh phở noodles. Whatever you use, follow the instructions on cooking, and undercooking them just a tad (as they will soak up some broth once in the soup bowl). Prepare them just before serving the pho. For fresh noodles, rinse under cool water for about 30 seconds before cooking. They cook fast, especially when purposely undercooked. If using dry noodles, they cook more evenly if you soak them in hot water for 30 minutes before cooking. Add to boiling water and cook for about 20 seconds -- that's it.
- ASSEMBLY (AND BRIEF TRIPE COOKING): Add in the cut tripe and bring the broth/tendon/tripe mix back almost a boil. You basically just need to briefly cook the tripe. Arrange the condiments on a plate on the table: the basil, mint, cilantro, bean sprouts, sliced onion, and lime wedges. Set Sriracha and extra fish sauce on the table. Create an assembly line of bowls at your workspace in the kitchen. Shred the cooked beef, if using, and put some in each bowl. Add in cooked tripe and tendon. Slice the uncooked beef as thin as possible and add some to each bowl. Or, skip this step and just use the hot pot beef, like me. Fill each bowl with cooked rice noodles. As soon as the broth comes back to a boil, ladle some into each bowl; the hot broth will cook the raw beef slices. Serve immediately. Guests can garnish their bowls with the condiments and plate of greens. I like adding a bit of bean sprouts, a couple hot chili slices, mint, basil, and a squirt of lime juice.
- STORAGE: Phở does not keep well after assembly, as the noodles get mushy. The broth and meat keep well in the fridge for a few days, but best frozen and used within a month. Make extra! It is a quick meal once the broth is completed.
** Don't mess with the pot contents while cooking! Leave them alone! Don't cloud up the broth. You want to keep it clear and light. Keeping the broth at a bare simmer helps with this too. If the onion or beef seem to be disintegrating while cooking, gently take them out. UPDATE: The chicken feet will the cloud the broth slightly, but that's a sacrifice I don't mind making.
*** I love tripe and tendon in my pho. I can't eat it without including these two ingredients. If using, let the butcher pre-cut them into bite-sized pieces before cooking. They are like cutting rubber bands, so let someone else do the work. Many Asian markets sell tendon and tripe frozen and pre-cut in cubes, which are the perfect size for eating in pho. If not cooked enough, tripe and tendon are like eating rubber. If cooked perfectly, tendon is buttery and rich, the tripe with a bit of crunch without being too chewy. They add great texture. Tripe should be pre-cooked when you purchase it, so a rinse and quick boil and simmer should be okay before adding to bowls to serve. The tendon requires more work; see the recipe steps for details.