One of the main themes of this blog is food, and making absolutely fantastic food on a minimal budget.
I love making the kind of food most people would never consider making at home, and doing it for far less. What I’ve found over the years, is that no compromises are needed to save money AND eat ridiculously well!
Today we’re going to make one of my favorite “restaurant foods” that’s extremely popular here in the Pacific Northwest: A Vietnamese noodle soup called Pho (pronounced ‘fuh’).
Pho-get About It!
Unless you’re Vietnamese, you’ve probably never tried making Pho at home. If you’ve never tried Pho before…well, then you’re in for a treat!
But most people just head to the nearest noodle shop instead of making it themselves. Why?
When most people think about Pho, they think of that gigantic stock pot simmering for hours in the kitchen of a favorite Vietnamese restaurant.
It never seems to cross people’s mind that you can make Pho at home for half the cost of what restaurants charge.
Most people take one look at that gigantic stock pot and think “There’s no way I can make that. Pho-get about it!” Then they regularly pony-up the $8 – $10 for a steaming hot bowl of Vietnamese Pho.
But I’ve got good news: You can make it at home for half the cost (about $4 per serving), and it only takes one hour.
Does it end up tasting as good as “authentic” Pho? I think it tastes better than anything at a restaurant — Primarily because I can alter the mix of spices, saltiness, and sweetness to fit my personal taste. How could this possibly be true? Well, read on skeptical internet reader!
Today we’re going to make some fantastic Pho, and save ourselves some money! I will reveal my secrets, and inundate you with delectable photos…
Mr. Tako’s Chicken and Shrimp Pho
So this recipe originally started out as a personal challenge for myself.
Mrs. Tako loves Pho, but we hardly ever eat-out. I didn’t want her to feel deprived, so I challenged myself to make Pho at home that rivaled our local Vietnamese noodle shops.
I think I succeeded. We make this recipe once or twice a month now! Pho-real!
In most cases, the flavor of Pho starts with the soup. Pho is based on beef or chicken broth, and then spices are added to give the soup its wonderful flavor. The soup is subsequently paired with matching beef or chicken as a topping.
If you recall from my previous posts, we avoid eating beef at home. This recipe uses chicken broth as a base, but you can easily substitute beef broth and beef toppings if you like.
The soup starts with the chicken broth. If you make your own broth, fantastic! Then use that! We’ll need 8 cups:
- 8 cups of chicken broth (low sodium)
Easy Pho Secret #1: For those of us that don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen making broth, premade broth is more than adequate. You don’t have to spend hours making broth to get a great flavor!
Bring the 8 cups of broth to a gentle boil.
While the broth is heating up, I get out the spice grinder for the following spices:
- 1 Tablespoon of coriander seed
- 1/4 Teaspoon of black peppercorns (pre-ground is fine if you don’t have peppercorns)
- 2 whole cloves
Why use fresh ground spices? They’re far more flavorful and aromatic than pre-ground spices. There’s only a couples spices for this recipe that I don’t grind myself:
- 1 Teaspoon of ground cinnamon (feel free to grind your own if you have it).
- 1 Tablespoon of sugar.
Once prepared, add all the dry spices to the broth.
Next, its time for the wet ingredients. Add the following ‘wet’ ingredients to the soup:
- 1 Tablespoon of sesame oil
- 2 Tablespoons of lime juice
- 1 Tablespoon of soy sauce
- 2 Tablespoons of Hoisin Sauce
- 2 Tablespoons of fish sauce
- 2 Tablespoons of minced ginger
- 1 Tablespoon of minced garlic
Some people like a spicier soup. If that’s the way you roll, add your favorite chili-garlic sauce to taste:
Most of these ingredients are available at a standard grocery store. If they don’t stock it, then I suggest hitting up your local asian grocery store. Amazon is another good option if you don’t have a local asian market.
By now, that soup should be starting to smell pretty fantastic. Turn down the heat to a simmer.
Time to prep the toppings!
The protein toppings for this Pho recipe are chicken and shrimp. For the chicken, I toss two chicken breasts on the grill and then thinly slice it with my 8″ Shun Chef knife. (It’s the best knife ever!)
The shrimp will be cooked later. For now, peel the shrimp and set aside.
Easy Pho Secret #2: One of the secrets to fantastic Pho soup is the super fresh flavors of the herb toppings. Use fresh herbs!
We finely slice cilantro, onions, green onions, and jalapeno pepper. Toppings like bean sprouts and Thai basil need no preparation. Just wash and add them to the Pho.
I like to setup the toppings buffet-style, so everyone can add them to their own preference.
If the broth is the heart of Vietnamese Pho noodle soup, then the noodles are the road that takes it to your mouth!
Now some people might fuss about having exactly the right rice noodles, or having fresh-made rice noodles…
This leads me to Easy Pho Secret #3: I don’t have access to fresh rice noodles, so I just used dried rice noodles. They work fine. I use very thin dried rice noodles found at my local asian grocery store.
For this recipe, I use half the package of rice noodles. This will serve about 4 adults.
I hydrate and cook the noodles all in one go. Place the noodles into a bath of water and then microwave for about 8-10 minutes.
After microwaving, check for correct doneness….aka eat a few.
If not fully cooked, just microwave a little longer. They should look a lot like this:
When done, rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process.
Making The Magic Happen
OK at this point, we’ve prepped the toppings, made the soup, and cooked the noodles. What’s left to be done?
Well, first the shrimp need to be put in their broth ‘spa’ to cook.
Add the shrimp to the broth and turn off the heat. The residual heat will cook them in just a couple minutes.
Once cooked, remove the shrimp and start plating. When ready, pour on the broth with a ladle. Mmmm….
The end result should be some delicious Pho (that only took about 1 hour to make), and costs half as much as what you might pay at a noodle restaurant. Oh, and don’t forget to feed the kids….they love it too!
Inspired To Try?
I really dislike that Pho is sometimes considered “restaurant-only” food. It really isn’t that hard to make, and you can make it far cheaper than what a restaurant charges.
As long as you aren’t spending hours making broth, it doesn’t take long to make either! Most of the herbs and spices are cheap, and fairly common!
I hope this post inspires you to give making Pho at home a try. You might be surprised by the results!