A couple of weeks ago, Denise and I went out for Chinese food at one of the local joints and had a super-friendly server. That’s not unusual, I’m fortunate in that I have had plenty of friendly servers in my days. What made this one different is that for some reason we got to talking about pho with the server and he said that his daughter makes her own at home using a powdered broth mix that she got somewhere (he also told us how they make their sauce for their lettuce wrap!). That got me to thinking that I should do something like that. I’ve been using Campbell’s Low Sodium beef broth as my go-to soup base, but it’s not quite right, even when I add Chinese Five Spice to it (for the star anise and cinnamon in it). To that end, this weekend Denise and I located a Vietnamese market in Vancouver to see what we could find. Oh, so much good stuff… In the end, we bought 4 different types of pho broth mix.
The first one I tried (Sunday) was the Instant Paste for Beef Soup (the first picture in the line). The directions were a bit vague, so I just added a heaping tablespoon into my trusty pot of water. Turned out to be just about right.
The broth turned out to be a nice color and quite flavourful. I wish I would have tried a bit more of it on its own before I added all of my extra goodies. I tried to make it as close as possible to a bowl of pho that I would buy in the restaurant and what I add to it there. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any cilantro or fresh basil for this bowl, so I’m not sure how much that affected the overall taste. Once I’d added my lime juice, chili oil, red Thai chili, sriracha and hoisin sauce, it was nice and spicy, but was missing a little something. Haven’t quite figured out what it was yet. Maybe it was the missing cilantro and basil. Hard to say. What I can say is that this was a very convenient way to make a pot of soup. I only got a small jar, but there’s enough in there to make a good 10 pots of soup.
My next pot of soup (Monday) was with the condensed broth in a can. Like other condensed soups, you add a can of water to it and voila, you have a tasty broth. In order to get enough broth to actually fill my bowl, I needed to use both cans that we bought. Yes, I have a very big bowl for my soup.
The broth was a much lighter color initially and didn’t have a very pronounced beef flavor, despite having brought it to a boil with both my shaved roast beef and sliced beef balls. What it did have was a very pronounced aftertaste from the star anise. I liked it.
I actually hit up a couple of the local grocery stores before I made this bowl and picked up a few things I was missing, namely cilantro and fresh Thai basil. I also picked up a whole tray of the red Thai chili peppers and a few more green ones. Any that aren’t sacrificed to Project Pho will be added to my salads during the week. So much bite for such a little veggie.
After I added my extras (the same as before: lime juice, sriracha, etc.), this was one super tasty bowl of soup. With my very first spoonful of the altered broth, I found that the taste of the 4 sprigs of cilantro I cut up to be coming through rather strongly. This eventually evened out and added to the depth of flavors in the bowl.
At a $1.10 a can and the fact that I needed 2 cans, it was significantly more expensive than the instant broth from the first bowl. That being said, I’m likely going to buy this again to see if it’s as good the second time. I should also make some for Denise.
This is all I’ll be able to make this weekend. I’m out of the noodles I like to use and my work week is going to be starting up again. –sigh- Why can’t I be independently wealthy and stay at home cooking all day? Hey… I should be a housewife in the 50s!
I’m expecting the second jar of Instant Beef Flavor Paste to be very similar to the first. They smell and look almost identical even though they have a few differing ingredients. With any luck, I’ll be pleasantly surprised. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the 4th option though. That stubby plastic container holds not only a big glob of a light-colored seasoning, but also a bouquet garni with, what I’m assuming, the star anise, cinnamon, and whatever else makes up the flavor profile of the basic pho broth. Here’s the kicker: You have to use the entire container all at once in 2 gallons of water. You boil the broth with beef bones and brisket and pull the bouquet garni after 15 minutes or so. The whole process takes something like 3-4 hour hours. Granted, it’s a lot quicker than the normal 6-8 hours that a 2 gallon pot of pho broth normally takes, but hardly “instant”, which was the goal of all this. The whole thing is moot though. I don’t have a stock pot that’ll handle that much liquid. Not yet.