Pho bo (Hanoi beef noodle soup)

Serves 4-6
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Indy Lifestyle Online

For years I thought this Vietnamese workman's soup was pronounced as it reads, ie "fo". When I did get round to actually tackling Heui, my local Vietnamese restaurateur at Cay Tre, in Shoreditch, east London, he said it as "fff", as if he were about to tell me to go away.

So pho is rather like a sort of noodly French pot au feu - which is handy as feu sounds almost the same in French as pho does in Vietnamese. It's a soup of the moment where almost anything can go in the pot. But the stock base is essential. I've eaten watery phos where they haven't got this right, so it's worth taking the trouble to make a proper stock.

The best and most authentic versions of pho I've eaten contain beef tendons and tripe as well as brisket and thin slivers of raw beef, just added at the last moment. If you can't find these in your local butchers then the flavour of the braising beef will make a good stock for your pot au pho.

For the stock

2 onions, peeled and roughly chopped
A small piece of galangal, or ginger, scraped and roughly chopped
500g braising beef (cheek, brisket or shin)
150g beef tendon (optional)
2 kaffir lime leaves
1 stick of lemon grass
1 star anise
2-3cm cinnamon
3 cardamom pods
1tsp black peppercorns

For the soup

150g beef sirloin, or fillet

60g cooked beef tripe, thinly sliced (optional)
150-200g bahn pho dried rice sticks, or flat rice noodles
4-6 spring onions. trimmed and shredded on the angle
1 small red chilli, thinly sliced
2tbsp fish sauce (nam pla or nuoc mam)
50g beansprouts
A few sprigs of coriander
A few sprigs of Asian sweet basil

First make the stock: spread the onions and ginger on silver foil and put them under the grill for 6-7 minutes until browned (be careful not to let them burn) then put them in a large pot with all the other ingredients and a couple of litres of water, bring to the boil, skim and simmer for 2 hours, or until the beef is tender.

Strain through a fine-meshed sieve and remove and put aside the beef and tendons (if you're using them). Season the stock to taste and return to a clean pan and bring to a simmer. Cut the cooked beef into chunks and divide into large Chinese-style soup bowls with the tendons (if you're using them).

Cut the raw beef into paper-thin slices. This may be easier if you freeze it for 30 minutes to 1 hour first then slice it. Cut each slice into rough 3cm squares and distribute between the soup bowls. If you're being really authentic and using tripe, add this now.

Meanwhile soak the rice sticks in cold water for 30 minutes then drain and cook for 1 minute in lightly salted, boiling water and drain, then briefly run under cold water, drain and divide into the soup bowls. Simmer the spring onions, chilli, fish sauce, beansprouts, coriander and basil in the broth for a couple more minutes then pour into the soup bowls.

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