(Editor’s note: Here’s the Beef Pho recipe that accompanies this step-by-step guide.)
I came across some frozen beef bones at Whole Foods the other day, and decided to try to make some beef broth. When I got home, I grabbed James Peterson’s book Splendid Soups. Peterson is a master of classic French technique, and his beef broth recipe was included as the first step in making consommé.
The image of a really clear broth instantly brought the Vietnamese soup pho to mind, so I decided to make beef broth, then turn the broth into a consommé, then turn the consommé into pho.
It all started with beef bones and vegetables. I chopped a rib of celery, a carrot and an onion and roasted them with a few pounds of beef shank in a 400F oven until they were browned, about 45 minutes.
I put the vegetables and bones in a large pot and added enough water to cover them, along with 1 star anise, 1 cinnamon stick, a small bunch of cilantro and a sprinkling of salt. I simmered the broth uncovered for 4 hours, adding a little water every now and then to keep the bones covered.
When the broth was done, I strained it and discarded the bones and vegetables. I put the broth in a bowl, covered it with plastic wrap and refrigerated it so the fat would congeal. After a couple of hours I removed and discarded the fat with a spoon.
To turn the broth into consommé, I mixed together a half pound of lean ground beef and three egg whites with my hands. (Peterson called for adding the chopped vegetables from the broth too, but — oops — I had thrown them away.) The mixture looked and felt less than appetizing.
I whisked the de-fatted broth into the beef and egg white mixture until it was well-blended. I felt like I was ruining my long-cooked broth, but I had faith in Peterson’s technique.
I brought the mixture to a bare simmer and scraped the bottom of the pan to keep any of the mixture from browning on the bottom of the pan. I gently simmered the mixture for 45 minutes, moving the pot to different edges of the burner every ten minutes so it would bubble in a different spot each time.
Miraculously, a thick layer of coagulated foam formed on top of the broth, and I could see the broth clarifying underneath.
When it was done, I moved the top layer of foam to the side and ladled the clear consommé into a fine sieve.
The finished consommé was nice and clear.
Now for the pho. I put a small filet steak in the freezer so it would be easy to thinly slice. Dozens of visits to my favorite pho restaurant had taught me that thin raw beef cooks nicely when added just before serving the hot broth.
Meanwhile, I prepped most of the traditional pho garnishes — mung bean sprouts, sliced jalapeño and mint leaves. I could have added basil leaves and lime wedges, too.
I seasoned the consommé with a tablespoon of soy sauce and a teaspoon of fish sauce and brought it to a simmer.
I didn’t have rice vermicelli on hand, so I used thin Japanese wheat noodles instead. I added them to the simmering broth and cooked them until they were tender, just a couple of minutes.
I ladled the boiling broth into a bowl and added the raw slices of beef. They cooked within a couple of minutes but kept a pinkish hue.
I stirred in a handful of sprouts, some torn basil leaves, a few slices of jalapeños and a little bit of sambal oelek — and went to town.