HOMEMADE INSTANT NOODLE MIX SERIES: INSTANT PHO BO MIX
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WHAT: Instant pho bo noodle soup mix, the answer to the prayers of all the geographically misplaced and physically unable foodies who make the regrettable mistake of watching a Vietnam street-food video on Youtube pass 10 PM. We know who we are.
WHY: Widely known as a labor-intensive and time-consuming dish, yet cruelly happens to be the most desired slurp from Southeast Asia in North America, pho bo has been tormenting addicts who are kept apart from a proper fix due to cold hard geography, or, something no less ruthless, a human condition called sloth. But this barrier is no more, my friends. Because what is mankind if not the extraordinary will to cheat its way through shortcomings?
HOW: Every single aromatics and spices that are used in the traditional preparation of pho bo undergoes the exact same treatment in this recipe, the charring of the onion and ginger, the roasting of shrimp paste, the calculated balance of spices. The only difference is that the mixture is blended together with an ultra-reduction of store-bought beef broth and fish sauce, into a smooth, saucy seasoning. When the craving hits, the complete obliteration of the ingredients allows their full and speedy release of flavors and aroma where they dissipate into more beef broth (don’t worry, still store-bought), creating a marvelously close-tasting broth to the ones that take hours, all in just 2 minutes. From this point on, all it needs is a mandatory fine-tuning of lemon juice, sliced onion and fresh herbs to bring it quintessentially Vietnamese. Then, a couple squirts of Sriracha and hoisin sauce to make it non again.
Here you ask, is this the same as the pho bo you tasted in Saigon where you lost a tender piece of your soul behind and was left to wonder this earth forever incomplete? Pffff, of course not! A cheat is a cheat. Anyone who’s tried liposuction will tell you they don’t look like Gisele Bündchen quite yet. But I will say this, that in between all the sad Vietnamese restaurants provided by the cities where I’ve stayed in the past almost two decades – New York, Taipei, Hong Kong, Beijing – or the alternative of plowing through 12 hours of labor whenever the craving hits, honestly, I prefer this instant mix over any of the above. And if you know me at all, that’s saying a lot.
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FOR ALL THE GEOGRAPHICALLY MISPLACED AND PHYSICALLY UNABLE FOODIES, WHO MAKE THE REGRETTABLE MISTAKE OF WATCHING A VIETNAM STREET-FOOD VIDEO ON YOUTUBE PASS 10 PM
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- 4 cups (950 grams) store-bought premium low sodium beef broth (see note *)
- 1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
- 1" (20 grams) peeled ginger, sliced
- 1 tsp Lee Kum Kee shrimp paste
- 2 star anise
- 8 whole cloves
- 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
- 2 tsp ground fennel
- 2 tsp ground coriander
- 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground white pepper
- 1 lemongrass, roughly cut
- 1/4 cup +2 tbsp (90 grams) fish sauce
- 1 1/2 tsp light brown sugar
- 2 tsp MSG, optional (see note **)
- 2 cups store-bought premium low sodium beef broth (see note *)
- 3 1/2 tbsp instant pho bo mix (see note ***)
- Fish sauce to season
- Rice vermicelli, blanched before using
- Thinly sliced beef, beef balls, and any other topping of your choice to serve
- Thinly sliced onions, scallion, bean sprouts, fresh mints, fresh Thai basil, lemon wedges to serve
- Sriracha and hoisin sauce to serve.
- In a wide and deep skillet, bring 4 cups of beef broth to a boil over high heat, and continue to cook until it is reduced down to 1 cup, about 15 to 20 minutes. The reason why we want to use a skillet instead of a pot is because the wide surface area will help the evaporation go much faster.
- Meanwhile, place a baking rack directly on top of the stove and turn the flame to high. Toast the quartered onion and ginger until they are thoroughly charred on the surfaces and edges. Remove the ginger first, then smear the shrimp paste on the surfaces of the onion, and toast again for the paste is blistered and dry, about 30 seconds. Transfer all of it into a blender and set aside.
- In a small skillet, dry-toast star anise, whole cloves and peppercorns over medium-low heat, until it starts to smoke and the peppercorns start to pop. Remove the skillet from the heat, and add ground fennel, ground coriander, ground cinnamon and ground white pepper, and return to the heat. Stirring diligently, and dry-toast just for a few seconds more until fragrant. Transfer immediately into the same blender.
- Add lemongrass, fish sauce, light brown sugar and MSG into the same blender. Then add the reduced beef broth. Blend on high for 2 full minutes until smoothly pureed. Transfer into an air-tight jar and keep in the fridge until needed. Can be kept for up to 1 month in the fridge. Mix before using.
- You can also divide the mix into ice-cube moulds then freeze them.
- TO ASSEMBLE (for one serving): In a small pot, simmer beef broth and instant pho bo mix together for 2 minutes, then strain the broth through a fine sieve (the finer the sieve the cleaner the broth). Press on the solids to extract as much broth as you can, then discard the solids. Taste the broth and re-season with more fish sauce if needed. Now you cook whatever toppings in this broth, let it be sliced beef, beef balls or etc. Pour the broth over the rice vermicelli, then top of thinly sliced onion, scallions, mint and basils, then serve immediately with a wedge of lime or lemon. Dip in Sriracha and hoisin sauce if desired.
* For low sodium beef broth, I'm using Imagine Organic Beef Broth, but you could also use 365 Everyday Value Organic Beef Broth or Pacific Foods Organic Beef Broth. The reason why I want to use slightly more "premium" brands of broth is because it's such a crucial component in this recipe, the quality of which will significantly affect the final result. So as a general rule of thumb, I will stay away from brands like SWANSON, CAMPBELL'S, or any other broth that contains tomaotes.
** Every bowl of pho bo in Vietnam has MSG. It's practically regarded as a crucial ingredient. I'm not going to argue with that.
*** The instant pho bo mix is what gives the final broth its aroma and spice intensity. This ratio between beef broth and instant pho bo mix (2 cups of broth with 3 1/2 tbsp of the mix) is determined according to my own taste, which provides quite a intense broth. But you can certainly adjust it based on your own liking. If you like a lighter broth, add less mix, and re-season with more fish sauce to make up for the saltiness.
JanisMay 29, 2018 at 7:47 PM
I wonder if you could do the same for Pho ga. What do you think?
mandy@ladyandpupsMay 29, 2018 at 8:09 PM
Janis, haven’t made pho ga before but I’d say switch beef broth to chicken broth, triple the lemongrass, and reduce the spices to 80 to 70%?
Stephanie BurnsMay 30, 2018 at 12:04 AM
Hi Mandy! Great post. How long do you think the shelf life is?
KimMay 30, 2018 at 12:21 AM
Mandy, where is your cilantro?! But seriously, swap the mint for cilantro and it looks like you have a solid recipe here, probably way more flavorful than the canned broths I grew up with when my parents were poor immigrants missing Vietnam and their families.
The shrimp paste and lemongrass are a little untraditional and sort of take it into bò kho territory. But until I try the recipe myself, I won’t discount it.
Also, your guess at phở gà above is spot on. It was my favorite when I was little and I’ve had versions that ranged from “basically just chicken broth” to mildly spiced.
* definitely use lime if you can help it, lemons were very difficult to find in VN up until a few decades ago and so are also less traditional. I’ve only ever had lemon with phở in Australia and found that it missed the special complementary brightness of lime.
** try leaving the Thai basil on the side as a later garnish. I put my sliced onions, scallions, and cilantro into the bowl and pour the hot broth over. Only when I’m halfway done with my bowl do I add the basil/sliced chili/squeeze of lime. It changes the flavor profile and keeps things interesting! Like a second bowl!
*** sriracha and hoisin side-by-side in a little dish to dip your beef meatballs and/or meat in. Keeps the hard earned broth more clean!
Sorry, I didn’t mean to make my comment so long. But phở bò is my “death row meal” and I’m so happy that my favorite blogger loves it, too. :)
mandy@ladyandpupsMay 30, 2018 at 1:54 PM
Kim, haha personally cilantro is not my thing, and I prefer mint much more. This recipe definitely lands on the “heavily spiced” side, which is how I prefer it. Thanks for all the other tips!
KimJune 16, 2018 at 5:00 PM
Ah, I’m totally with you on the more heavily spiced side. All the pho I had during visits to VN was good, but not quite as fragrant as I’d like it.
I don’t blame you on the cilantro issue. My sister is a fantastic cook like you and she too has difficulties with cilantro sometimes (she still eats it because she’s stubborn. . . but still).
Thanks for all the great recipes as usual, Mandy. The Shin Ramyun instant mix is probably happening tomorrow if I have the time/willpower.
I can’t wait until the cookbook comes out!
Ben SwanMay 30, 2018 at 3:50 AM
Mandy, any ideas for a shrimp paste substitute? My GF is allergic!
mandy@ladyandpupsMay 30, 2018 at 1:57 PM
Ben, if that’s the case just omit it. It just gives the broth a bit more character.
TinaMay 30, 2018 at 8:25 AM
Hey Mandy, great recipe and read – as per usual. I am also wondering what the shelf life is for this! Thanks!
mandy@ladyandpupsMay 30, 2018 at 1:58 PM
Tina, I’m completely estimating it here, but because it’s quite salty I’d say “up to 1 month in the fridge”, but it all depends on the climates and etc.
OlieMay 30, 2018 at 12:27 PM
I think Mandy already put the shelf life—instruction #4 reads, “Can be kept for up to 1 month in the fridge.”
I will most likely not put MSG as it is not at all healthy (and even toxic) for the body. I love making Pho Bo, but sometimes hates the long work that comes with it before my fam and I get to eat it. Thank you Mandy!
mandy@ladyandpupsMay 30, 2018 at 1:57 PM
CamJune 1, 2018 at 6:58 PM
For anyone interested, here is some interesting reading (more can be found in other online resources), about the racist aspect to the bad reputation of MSG.
Not saying anyone should or shouldn’t eat it but a little extra knowledge is never bad!
DaveJune 4, 2018 at 4:59 PM
Hi Mandy, My blender is not very powerful hence worry it may not blend a very smooth result. Would you recommend to strain the blended mixture to avoid gritty texture? Thanks!
mandy@ladyandpupsJune 4, 2018 at 5:16 PM
Dave, I wouldn’t worry about it too much because you’ll have to strain the broth anyways :)
betty leeJune 9, 2018 at 4:13 PM
I don’t have a blender, do you think it would work with a food processor?
EricaJune 4, 2018 at 9:16 PM
I shake my head at how brilliant this idea is. How many times have I craved a hot bowl of pho but my body refused to travel in excess of the square footage of my apartment and delivery was non-existent??!
If I can make batches of this, I would no longer go into panic mode when coming across items that are not easily accessible to me (ie. pho) and double down when I do take out =)
Merci Mandy!! Please kiss the pups for me! I’m actually looking at some Rottweiler mix pups that are up for adoption..
mandy@ladyandpupsJune 4, 2018 at 9:26 PM
Erica, oh how lovely!! Rotty puppies are the cutest :)
CobyJune 5, 2018 at 12:26 AM
Do you think this would freeze well to make it last longer come than 1 month?
mandy@ladyandpupsJune 5, 2018 at 12:24 PM
Coby, of course you can freeze it. You can divide it into 1 tbsp cubes and simply add the ice cubes to beef broth when you need them :)
NadiaJune 5, 2018 at 7:41 AM
Hi Mandy, long time fan here! I love the idea and would really like to make this, but storebought beef broth isn’t a thing where I’m from, any chance I’ll be able to achieve a similar enough result by making my own? I’ve never had storebought, so not sure what type of flavor/intensity I should be looking to achieve. The type of beef bones I have the easiest access to is oxtails, which I suspect could work fine, but I’m not sure about the proportions/time/anything else I might want to add in.
Also, love your recipes! I’ve made a few of them and they always turn out beautiful. The mala peanut brittle is on my cooking list every Christmas, people here either can’t take it or get instantly addicted, haha – thanks for turning me into a crack-ly brittle dealer!
mandy@ladyandpupsJune 5, 2018 at 12:22 PM
Nadia, you can certainly use homemade beef stock! I would add onion and a maybe some root vegetables to the stock, but no tomatoes, celery, thyme, rosemary or any other herbs :) Make the stock like however you would normally make it, stain it, then proceed with the recipe.
RZoolanderJune 8, 2018 at 7:13 PM
Made this yesterday – amazingly good. It tasted better than some pho soup places. i am going to make a beef bone broth this weekend and use this mix. Thank you very much, Mandy!
AlbertoJuly 7, 2018 at 1:08 AM
I made it yesterday, best thing about this method is flexibility: if it’s not tasty enough, just add another spoon of mix. Thank you! from Italy.
LysDecember 8, 2021 at 9:32 AM
Would you recommend straining the mix after blending it for ease of cooking later on? Or would that affect the taste in some way? Please let me know!
mandy@ladyandpupsDecember 8, 2021 at 1:08 PM
lys, I didn’t strain it cuz it didn’t make the soup thick, and I think straining will result in very little sauce left. So wouldn’t recommend it :)