Pho is a lush Vietnamese noodle soup, most traditionally beef-based, and flavored with aromatics.
And it's, well, awesome.
I can hear your suppositive sighs, already; pho, by definition, is a time consuming and laborious process. When I took to Google on the hunt for a shortcut recipe, I found a "Faux Pho" recommending canned beef broth and ramen noodles courtesy of Bon Appetit that goes from zero to dissatisfying in 30 minutes flat, at which point I snapped my laptop closed and went rogue, here. In my quest for more instant gratification, I've developed a pho technique that's easier to prepare, and cuts calories and quite a bit of fat, without sacrificing absolute deliciousness and authenticity. This, loves, is what I've come up with: not "faux pho", but a damn good pho (prepared with a few cheater techniques).
Step 1: What You'll Need:
Assemble your ingredients. For your broth you'll need:
5 quarts of Water
3 tsp Chicken Base*
6 tsp Beef Base**
1 Onion, charred
1 hefty 5-6" Ginger root, charred
1 Cinnamon Stick
1/2 tsp Anise Seed or 3-4 Anise Pods
1 tsp Black Peppercorns
2 Garlic Cloves, peeled and whole
1 heaping tbs minced Lemongrass (or 2 tbs dried)
4 tbs Fish Sauce
the juice of 1 lime
*This recipe is for a beef pho, but a Vietnamese cook told me her secret of dropping in a whole chicken along with her beef bones while she makes her pho broth, making for an even richer, more multi-layered end product. Since then, I've never gone without. The chicken base makes a good substitute in this application.
**Traditionally, pho is prepared with around 10 lbs of beef bones (knuckles, oxtail, marrow bones), but schlepping 10 lbs of bones back to your apartment, then simmering them for a day can really kill the pho-making mood. Instead, use any chicken and beef base you like--I generally have Organic Better than Bouillon on hand--or substitute very good stock if you've got it hanging out in the freezer, so long as it isn't made in a traditional French style, laden with mirepoix, bay leaves, parsley, thyme, and more western aromatics that muddle the broth.
On another, hardly-related note, if taking home a couple of pounds of bones with your typical groceries doesn't bother you none, and you can source them, try home roasting marrow bones for a tasty treat: ask your butcher to kindly slice them lengthwise (don't fret, trust me, they have far more impressive power tools than most of you back there) for easy access. Lay them out on a baking sheet, sprinkle with coarse salt, and roast them at 400-450F for 20 minutes. Spread on crusty baguette and sprinkle with a bit of minced parsley. That's a recipe inside a recipe!
Back on track. For your meatballs (bo vien) you'll need:
1 lb Lean Ground Turkey*
2 tbs Fish Sauce
2 tbs Soy Sauce
1 tbs Ginger
1 tsp Corn Starch or Potato Starch
*If you insist on beef, you can substitute ground turkey for ground beef. Alternatively, process semi-frozen beef shank until very smooth.
For your noodle and condiment assemblage you'll need:
2 packages Rice Noodles (around 2oz of noodles a bowl)
3 or so cups of Mung Bean Sprouts (around 1/2c a bowl)
1 Lime, sliced into wedges
Sweet Chili Sauce*
Thai Chilies, sliced into thin rounds
(optional) 1/2 lb Beef Sirloin, partly frozen, sliced paper thin against the grain**
*Sweet Chili sauce isn't a very traditional pho condiment, but I generally leave out hoisen (it covers up the delicious pho broth you've slaved over, save it for more sub-par bowls) and prefer the subtler sweet-hot of a smidge of sweet chili. Add whichever sauces you will.
**I skipped the beef in my preparation because 1. I am a little lazy, and 2. skipping the beef skips a bit of calories and fat. If you'd like it, Slice with a very, very sharp knife, very thin, and pour your hot broth over the raw beef, which will cook it in the bowl. If you're not so confident in your knife skills, ask your butcher to slice it for you. Pho is street food, eaten by everyone, but make it luxe with a good cut of kobe or wagyu beef, just for kicks--just be careful not to overcook it too much in the bowl, or you'll destroy it's ultimate buttery-tenderness.