It’s been four years, five months to the day since Son and I went on our first date. In those four years, he has widened my perspective on a lot of things – especially food. The eighteen-year-old girl who met Son in a ballroom dance club at her university wouldn’t recognize the almost-twenty-three-year-old programmer and food blogger that I’ve become – back then, I wouldn’t go near curry, sashimi, spicy foods, exotic fruits… anything that didn’t look like the Japanese- and Swedish-American foods I grew up with.
Nowadays, as you can see from the things I post about both here and on Sushi Day, my tastes have widened significantly. But oddly enough, there is one ethnic cuisine that I rarely cook in my home – Vietnamese food. Son is Vietnamese – so you’d think I’d be leaping at the opportunity to cook the food he grew up with… right? Not so much… for two main reasons.
First of all, Son lived in Vietnam until his family came to California when he was eleven years old. And, of course, his parents still cook the food they grew up with on a regular basis. So obviously, Son knows Vietnamese food pretty darn well… thus I have a certain level of insecurity when it comes to the dishes he’s eaten all his life – what if I make them terribly? What if… *gasp*… I’m deemed an unsuitable girlfriend for him, because I’m unable to make decent phở?
Secondly, we visit his parents every other weekend. And from every visit, we return with food. Lots of food. Lots of home-cooked Vietnamese food. So unfortunately, while the demand for me to cook anything at all is fairly low, the demand for me to cook Vietnamese food is even lower.
Thus when I discovered this month’s Daring Cooks challenge was phở, chosen by Jaden of Steamy Kitchen, I was excited. Very excited. But also incredibly nervous – what if it wasn’t good enough for him? I would be heartbroken if it ended up being a failed phở. But I set my fears aside, and set to work making the phở bò tái (beef pho) (click the link for the recipe).
I did make a few changes to the recipe. Since there isn’t a single decent Vietnamese restaurant near me (I’d likely have to drive all the way to the Little Saigon area of Southern California, which is easily an hour or more away), I couldn’t find the *real* bones used for the broth. You know, those really great ones filled with all the yummy marrow. So I had to make do with what I could find at the grocery store: two pounds of “soup bone” (a large-ish bone with meat attached), and about three pounds of neck bone (also with meat attached).
Because of my inefficiencies in the bone department, I decided to add some extra richness to the broth by using two quarts of beef broth in place of two of the six quarts of the water used in the broth. I also could not, for the life of me, find cardamom pods anywhere during the short amount of time I had to shop before I started the phở. So I used ground cardamom instead. Instead of regular cinnamon, I used a stick of Vietnamese cinnamon that I’ve been hoarding ever since I was lucky enough to be gifted some by Todd and Diane of White On Rice Couple.
Lastly, I upped the cooking time. By a lot. You see, Jaden’s recipe says three hours of cooking is plenty to get all the great flavor from the bones. And I would have believed her. But no. Son insisted that I cook the broth for at least twenty-four hours, because when his dad makes it, he cooks it for days and days and days. And even weeks. So instead I cooked the broth as instructed in the recipe up to the first hour and thirty minutes, then instead of cooking it for only another one and a half hours, I let it simmer for about six more hours that night. Then I refrigerated it over night, and then simmered it again all the next day – about eight more hours.
The verdict? As I mentioned (more than once) on Twitter, the broth is absolutely heavenly. I would have no problem just drinking it by itself, noodles, meat, and other accompaniments be darned. But then I tried the meat that had been attached to the bones, which had been cooking the entire time and was so wonderfully tender it just fell apart in my mouth… *swoon* As for Son, he approved greatly. Which just makes me so incredibly happy, I could burst.
Yep, I’d say this was definitely a huge success. Easily a recipe I’ll be keeping in my repertoire for many years to come.