The most quintessential Vietnamese dish is pho. I wake up most mornings craving it in Vietnam. Before I show you the Saigon version of pho I would like to show you how I saw it made in Hanoi.
- 2 kg oxtail (ask your butcher to chop it into 3 cm pieces)
- 4 tbsp salt
- 1 unpeeled garlic bulb
- 4 large unpeeled red Asian shallots
- 150 g unpeeled ginger
- 2 kg beef brisket
- 185 ml (¾ cup) fish sauce
- 80 g rock sugar
- 1.6 kg fresh rice noodles (you will need about 200 g per person)
- 400 g trimmed sirloin, thinly sliced
- 4 spring onions, sliced
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Coriander sprigs
- 2 bird's eye chillies, sliced
- 1 lime, cut into wedges
- 8 cloves
- 5 star anise
- 2 cassia bark, about 10 cm in length
- 1 tbsp whole black peppercorns
- 40 cm square piece muslin cloth
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Soaking time: 1 hour
Place the oxtail in a large saucepan of cold water. Add 3 tablespoons of the salt and soak for 1 hour, then drain.
To make the spice pouch, dry roast each spice separately in a frying pan over medium heat until fragrant. Cool, then coarsely grind using a mortar and pestle or small spice grinder. Add the ground spices to the muslin square and tie up tightly in a knot. Set aside.
Heat a barbecue grill or chargrill pan over medium-high heat and grill the unpeeled garlic, shallots and ginger for 15 minutes in total until all sides are blackened. Peel off and discard the blackened skins, then roughly chop. (By doing this, the garlic, onion and ginger become sweet and fragrant, releasing more flavour into the stock.)
Put the oxtail, brisket and 6 litres cold water into a large stockpot and bring to the boil over high heat. While the stock is boiling, constantly skim any impurities off the surface for 15 minutes (this will ensure a clean, clear broth), then reduce the heat to a low simmer.
Add the fish sauce, remaining tablespoon of salt, rock sugar, garlic, onion, ginger and spice pouch. Cover and simmer for 3 hours or until the stock has reduced to almost half.
Strain the stock through a muslin cloth. Remove the brisket, set aside to cool, then thinly slice.
Blanch each portion of the noodles in boiling water for 20 seconds. Drain, then transfer to individual serving bowls.
Place 3-4 slices of brisket on top of the noodles, followed by 3-4 pieces of raw sirloin. Pour over the hot stock to cover the noodles and beef. Garnish each bowl with spring onion, a pinch of black pepper and a coriander sprig.
At the table, add chilli and a squeeze of lime.
Photography by Alan Benson. Styling by Lynsey Fryers. Food preparation by Tammi Kwok.