Dining date: 10/23/11
I love a bowl of soup noodles. Whether a wonton noodle soup, ramen, or pho, its one of my favorite things to eat any time of the year. I will admit, I hadn’t had a “real” bowl of pho until I was in my late teens. Not sure why, but I just never came across it in San Francisco. Now, it’s a go-to whenever something warm and comforting is needed, especially on a cold day.
I recently had oxtail pho for the first time, at Pho Lu in Garden Grove. It was delicious; both the meat and broth offered a depth of flavor I didn’t get in a more typical raw beef pho (pho tai). I was inspired to make something similar at home.
I loosely followed a recipe from Serious Eats (here). I have no idea as to how authentic it is, but it looked legitimate enough. The recipe calls for oxtails to simmer for 8 hours (from start-to-finish, the preparation would be over 24 hours)…seriously, this had better be good.
I started with about 5 pounds of oxtails from my local 99 Ranch market. They weren’t as cheap as I thought they’d be at $5 per pound. Not sure how this dish is so reasonably priced at restaurants.
I began by soaking these tails overnight, changing the water often, to remove any blood and impurities. Further, I blanched them quickly before starting my simmer.
I didn’t really measure much of anything, but I dropped in toasted spices (cinnamon and star anise), roasted onion and ginger, as well as carrots, daikon and lemon peel. Combined with the blanched oxtails, water, fish sauce and sugar, I was ready to let my broth simmer for a good 8 hours.
I’ll admit I tried the broth after the 8 hours and felt skeptical. It tasted off, really unbalanced with a strong anise flavor. Dammit. I drained the soup and let it sit in the refrigerator to cool so that I could scoop out the globs of fat settling at the top. Hopefully the flavors would mix together better after they cooled.
The next day I was ready to assemble the final product. I started by reheating some of the oxtails in the soup. While doing that, I cooked some dried pho noodle (I prefer the thicker one) and dropped them into a bowl with some thinly-sliced raw onion, scallions, cilantro and thai basil.
Finally, I placed the oxtails on top and poured in the broth.
All stirred up.
How was it? It was good. Not great, but good. I thought the soup needed better balance (thankfully, the flavors mellowed out and it wasn’t as bad as my first taste) – maybe I should’ve measured a few things out. Too much star anise. Shouldn’t have substituted lemon peel for lime. However, the oxtails were delicious, just as I expected them to be. Tender and just about falling off the bone, they had just the right amount of meat, connective tissue and fat. Overall, I was proud of this bowl, especially for a first time.
Will I make it again? Maybe, but it will be a while. I think the cost of my raw ingredients were higher than if I just ordered it at a restaurant, not even including the significant labor. Still, there was something comforting and satisfying about making something like this at home, so I suspect I will do it at some point.