I have wanted to learn to make Pho (pronounced fuh) ever since I read about it several years ago. But time flew by. You know how it is. So one day I was driving near my house and, lo and behold, I saw a restaurant called Pho’ Hana that I had never noticed before. I didn’t have any plans that day, so on a whim I decided this was the day I would eat Pho for the first time. This little restaurant is in a strip mall and has about 10 tables. I sat in the back corner so my inexperience would be less likely to be noticed and I could watch what the other diners were doing.
There was a rack on the table which held paper wrapped chopsticks and a stack of Asian soup spoons. As I watched the other diners I realized every one had a different way of tackling their Pho. Everyone looked like they had been eating with chopsticks since they were two years old, so some twirled their noodles around the chopsticks in their spoon Italian style followed by a spoon of broth. Some grabbed the noodles with chopsticks and stuffed the whole bite in their mouth. And some took a bite of the noodles, severing the excess with teeth, and letting the remainder fall back in the bowl. Some held the chopsticks in the right hand and the soup spoon in the left, alternating back and forth. Some set down the chopsticks after a bite of noodles and picked up the spoon with the same hand for the swallow of broth.
There were two big squeeze bottles on the table, one of Hoisin, and one of Sriracha. Some people squeezed them into their soup, and some people squeezed them onto the side plate of veggies. For the chopsticks, when not in use, some rested them on a napkin, some against the veggie plate, and some bridged the side of the bowl.
Actually, no one was paying any attention to me, but still I didn’t want to look like a rube, so I did my best. My biggest challenge was the chopsticks, but I persevered and finished my whole bowl of noodles. It was soooo good. And I was soooo stuffed.
When I got home, I really wanted to find out what Pho Etiquette was so the next time I ventured to a Pho restaurant I would know what to do. There are a number of on-line sites that are very helpful. And it turns out, as far as actually eating the Pho, there are no rules. This is street food and you can eat it any way you want, including noisy slurping. Usually chopsticks are in the right hand and spoon in the left, but do what ever floats your boat. Put whatever veggies you desire in the soup, or not. It is not bad manners to leave some of the broth in the bowl, as you get a lot and its job is to keep everything warm and flavor the other components in the bowl.
Since this is a Vietnamese soup, there are some other tenets to be observed. First, the eldest member of your group gets to sit at the head of the table, be served first and have first choice of all dishes. And that will usually be me. I’m old. Lol.
Another concerns the broth, which is the pride of the chef and what the reputation of the restaurant is built upon. My advisers politely asked that you not put the Hoisin and Sriracha in the broth. After all, the chef spent hours making that broth as succulent as possible, and muddying it up with those sauces would not be nice. Instead, squeeze your Hoisin and Sriracha onto a side plate and dip your meat into it before putting in mouth, assuring a sweet and spicy bite. However, it is acceptable to put a squeeze of lime in the broth. If the broth is particularly amazing, when you finish eating, drink the rest of the broth, leaving none in the bowl. And hope the chef sees you pay him this compliment.
And finally, those chopsticks. While you are eating, if you need to lay them down, prop them against the dish of veggies or a napkin. NEVER bridge the chopsticks across the side of the bowl while eating. Bridging the chopsticks is only done when the meal is completely finished. My advisers made this sound like it was a rule. So pay attention.
I decided to make Turkey Pho because, if you remember, I had a 26 pound turkey that yielded 12 pounds of turkey meat that I needed to use up. It turned out so delicious, I am planning to make this my new Thanksgiving tradition. By this I mean making Pho, not having a 26 pound turkey to deal with. I have several more recipes featuring turkey coming up, so stay tuned.
Makes 2-4 large bowls of soup
8 cups home-made turkey stock, chicken stock, or canned low-sodium chicken broth
5 star anise
6 whole cloves
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick, broken
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 cardamom pod
1 small onion, ends trimmed and cut in half crosswise
1 (3-inch) piece peeled fresh ginger, halved length-wise
2 teaspoons palm sugar or brown sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
4-8 ounces uncooked flat rice stick noodles (I used Pad Thai noodles)
3-4 cups cooked turkey meat, torn into bite size pieces
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
½ cup chopped fresh mint
½ cup sliced green onion
½ small onion, thinly sliced
2 cup fresh bean sprouts
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and thinly sliced into rings
4 sprigs fresh Thai basil leaves
1 lime cut into wedges
Sriracha chili-garlic sauce
1. Place turkey stock in a large Dutch oven or stockpot and bring to a simmer.
2. In a small skillet over medium low heat, toast the star anise, cloves, cinnamon stick, coriander seeds and fennel seeds until fragrant, about 4 to 6 minutes. Stir and shake several times. Turn the star anise over. Immediately add to simmering stock and stir in.
3. Lightly spray the same skillet with cooking spray. Place the onion halves cut-side down and the ginger flat-side down. Cook about 5 minutes until the onion is charred on both sides and the ginger is browned. Make shallow slashes on ginger and smash with side of large knife. Slice onion thinly. Add ginger and onion slices to stock.
4. Add palm sugar and fish sauce to stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Test for saltiness and add enough water to bring back to acceptable salt level. Turn off heat.
5. Pour though a fine strainer into container, if refrigerating, or into sauce pan to keep hot.
Note: Pho stock can be made 1 day ahead and refrigerated, covered. Reheat on day of service.
6. Prepare cilantro, mint, green onions and slice white onion. Place in bowls covered with plastic wrap.
7. Cook the rice noodles according to package directions and drain in colander in sink.
8. On a separate small plate, one for each serving, place bean sprouts, jalapeno slices, lime wedges and a sprig of Thai basil.
9. On a small flat bowl, one for each serving, place a dollop of hoisin and Sriracha, to dip meat into.
10. Return stock to a boil, reduce heat and add turkey. Simmer about 2 minutes until turkey is thoroughly heated through.
11. Cover bottom of large wide soup bowl with noodles. Scoop turkey from stock onto noodles. Ladle 1-2 cups stock over each serving. Scatter garnishes of choice over soup. Tear basil leaves in small pieces and add to soup. Squeeze lime juice over all, if desired. Serve with chopsticks and Asian soup spoons.