Pho is a traditional Vietnamese dish of rice noodles, marrowbone stock, beef and vegetables. So why have I called it Taoist fast food? Well, once the broth is made it is certainly fast. If you have a supply of broth, it only takes 10 minutes to prepare and cook this dish!
For the Taoist background information I defer to my husband, an acupuncturist who also practices Taoist Tai Chi. Here is what he has to say about pho.
Pho tonifies the three treasures: Jing, Qi, and Shen. The marrowbones in the stock nourish the Jing, which in Chinese Medicine terms is the constitutional strength, or essence, stored in the kidneys and bones. Also in the stock is cinnamon, which in Chinese Medicine is a Yang tonic and has a similar action to that of ginseng. Ginger appears in this dish at two stages, cooked in different ways for each stage. The ginger in the stock has been roasted and then simmered slowly in the stock for a long time, which has the effect of concentrating its essence. The very fact of roasting it effects a transformation, which is consolidated by the simmering. On the other hand, the ginger used in the later stage is freshly grated and only cooked very briefly but at a high temperature. Yin and Yang. Ginger should be ranked among the so-called miracle foods or super foods as it is good for your digestion. In Ayurvedic medicine toasted sesame oil has a similar status. Energy, in oriental philosophy, is called Qi. The long cooking time of the stock translates into a slow release of food energy, whereas the rice noodles, which are pure rice starch, provide a quick release of energy. Also, the character for Qi is the same as the character for steam rising from rice. You will see lots of steam in the photos below. Garlic is a blood cleansing tonic and helps to boost the immune system. Red peppers are full of vitamins and antioxidants, which are responsible for cleaning up free radicals, associated with the symptoms of aging. Green vegetables are also packed with vitamins and as we all know, are good for us. Shen, in Taoist philosophy, refers to the mind or consciousness. This is a hot dish: not as hot as a vindaloo curry, but hot enough that you know you are eating it … it concentrates the mind. You can find out more about Chinese medicine at http://www.dingleacupunctureclinic.com/qigong.htm.
The key to this dish is a good stock. Ask your butcher for marrow bones – they’re very good for you, and they’re free.
Ingredients: (to serve 2 people)
Broth: (this makes more than you need – the remainder can be frozen)
- 3 kg marrow bones/knuckle bones
- 4 l water
- 2 onions
- 1 piece of root ginger about 3 inches long
- 5 heads of star anise
- 1 piece of cinnamon stick, 3 inches long
- 5 dried chillies
- 6 cloves
- 4 tablespoons fish sauce
- 200 g sirloin or round steak
- chilli sauce (to taste)
- 1 generous thumb of ginger, grated
- 1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 tblsp toasted sesame oil
- 1 red pepper (bell pepper)
- 2 heads pak choi or 10 leaves of Chinese cabbage
- 200 g rice noodles
Roast the two onions (in their skins) and the ginger in the oven at 180°C for 30 minutes. While they are roasting, cover the bones with water in a large stock pot and bring the water to the boil. As soon as the water starts boiling, drain the bones and rinse them. Cover them with fresh water, bring the pot back to the boil, and skim off any scum or impurities. Reduce to a simmer. Remove any burnt skin from the onions, and peel the ginger. Add the onions and ginger to the stock, together with the star anise, cinnamon, chillies, and cloves. Cover the pot and leave it to simmer for three to four hours. At the end of the simmering time, strain the stock and leave it to cool. After chilling, the stock should have a jelly like consistency and there will be a hard layer of fat on the surface. Don’t be tempted to throw out the fat: a lot of flavour is locked up in there. It also gives a lovely golden sheen to the finished soup.
This should make about 3 litres of broth. This can be frozen in individual tubs for use later. For two people you will need 400 ml broth. I freeze it in lots of 400 ml in old ice-cream tubs.
Cut the beef on the diagonal into slices about 2 mm thick. Cutting it on the diagonal increases the surface to volume ratio. A very sharp knife should be used for slicing the beef so that there is a clean cut that seals the fibres. Make a quick marinade with the other ingredients and rub it in to the sliced beef. If you can get hold of it, I highly recommend Mic’s Chilli sauce, either 3 chilli Inferno or 4 chilli Inferno Extreme, for the marinade. Set the beef aside.
Cut the red pepper into squares about 1.5 cm wide, and cut the pak choi leaves width-ways into sections about 2 cm wide.
Put the rice noodles into boiling water and simmer for about 6-8 minutes or until soft. Drain.
Warm 400 ml stock in a sauce pan. In a very hot wok, fry the beef in sunflower oil. As soon the beef starts turning brown, add the sliced red peppers and then the pak choi, making sure it doesn’t burn. To cook the greens add a splash of stock or water to create steam, which will cook the greens. The wok needs to be hot enough that the liquid turns to steam instantly, so that the beef and vegetables are not boiling in water.
Place the noodles in individual bowls, then top with the fried beef and vegetables and cover with broth. When we had this recently at a Vietnamese restaurant in Paris, it was served with chopped fresh chillies and a wedge of lemon on the side.