I obviously had to do a whole lot of research before diving into the world of Pho and although I've never tried the dish (I've been a pescetarian my whole life until less than a year ago), I was nevertheless completely surprised to find out about the spices that go into it - namely cinnamon, clove and star anise! I read in one of Epicurious.com's recipes for Pho by Mai Pham that, "The Vietnamese believe that a meat dish should taste like a meat dish" and that, "Cooking the meat with vegetables would distort its flavor, so all veggies (except for aromatics like ginger and onion) are added after cooking." Although I respect this point of view, it is not my cooking philosophy. Needless to say, I added a few carrots and celery to the broth which, although it may have made my Pho inauthentic, made it more appealing to my own taste buds. My view of food and cooking is not (and hopefully will never be) meat-centric and I can't imagine a meaty broth without a few vegetables added to it.
Originally I planned on making vegetarian Pho, but Lucas easily convinced me to take a shot at a beef broth so we went to Chelsea Market yesterday and picked up a nice 2 pound beef knuckle bone. Mai Pham's recipe on Epicurious made a lot of sense to me, and I recommend working from this one.
Every recipe I came across made it clear that one should boil the bones for 5-10 minutes and then discard the liquid to help get rid of any blood or impurities. This step is especially important because the broth is meant to be clear, and any impurities can cloud it. Next, I charred the ginger and onions and added those to the new pot of water along with the bone, a few carrots, a few stalks of celery, star anise, cinnamon, and fish sauce. I skipped the sugar in the recipe because I knew the carrots would probably be enough to add that extra sweetness. I didn't have any clove so I omitted that. After about 3 hours, I discarded the bones, spices and vegetables, and let the broth cool off so I could remove some of the solidified excess fat. There ended up being a ton of it! Finally, I sautéed some shitake mushrooms and some bok choy. I put a bit of both in a bowl, along with some rice noodles and topped it off the the broth. I sprinkled on some mint and basil (wish I had cilantro!), and squeezed on half of a lime.