Wednesday 11 January 2012

Recipe: Herefordshire Beef Pho w/ Brandy de Jerez Digestif

First day's rest for the festive season! Wake up in the morning, slowly, don't have anything to do today. I love that feeling - holiday! - without a care in the world, no responsibilities to deal with and a bit of cash to spend on a good time! Yeay! What to do? Potter about, make a coffee and call friend, "you fancy hanging out?", "yip : )", "cool, I'll come get you, we can do a little shopping for dinner". "You had breakfast yet?" "No? OK we can grab that too". Quick look in the fridge and larder, what have we got? Some oxtail, onions, lemons, ginger, lemon grass, chillies, bottle of Prosecco : ) hmmm and idea begins to form involving slow cooking oxtail. A little piece of fillet steak, some noodles and some coriander will be all I need.

Unbeknown to me, there were secret elements that had been bought for our consumption, so we picked up a poppy and sesame seed baguette from Des Lys Boulangerie which is a cracking spot by the way, and a few other little bits for our dinner and Champagne brunch!

By this point we were starving. Luckily, almost before I'd managed to start browning the oxtail, a rather lovely combo dip of truffle oil and 25 year old balsamic reserve found its way onto the table with a very enticing, seeded French stick. After a little toning down of the truffle flavour to make it a little subtler the combo was a cracking start that went very well with a glass of Prosecco. Aperitif darling? Why I don't mind if I doo!

Bits on the griddle done, oxtail for the pho on the bubble, I got on with brunch but I found myself being distracted by another festive treat: a little brandy de Jerez!!!!

How could I not indeed!! "Rude not to!! Would you like one?" I inquire, to be greeted by a charming smile and a decisive "I think I'm going to have to try some, quality control you understand." A few giggles later and breakfast was on the table, sorry, err . . brunch was on the table and our oriental dinner was bubbling away nicely on the stove, as we settled in for a movie!

I have to say that a strong coffee with a touch of Jerez brandy makes for a fabulous digestif.

The pho that we had later was close to the original but the response it got: "surprising fusion of flavours and freshness it all went together so well!!" and the fact that it had disappeared are good enough signs to me that it's a keeper!!

note for the purists: I put this post up because folks complained they couldn't get half the ingredients where they lived! This recipe is basically as close as you can get to a Pho with plain old supermarket ingredients. If you can make it in Hereford you can make it anywhere!!! It's missing a few of the light fragrant notes from the specialist leaves namely the Thai basil, but the fine Herefordshire steak more than makes up for that!!

Here's how I made it . . . .

ingredients (serves 4)
for the pho
1 oxtail (cut into slices)
1L chicken stock
300g finest Hereford fillet steak
1 red onion / 4 shallots (finely chopped)
2 birdseye chillies (deseeded)
3 star anise
1 lemon (halved)
1 large piece ginger (3 thumbs - halved)
2 onions (halved)
200g pak choi
30g rock sugar (optional)
600g noodles (I like the flat rice vermicelli (ribbon noodles) - but you can use what ever you want)

for the garnish / accompaniment
10g fresh coriander (torn)
2 bird's eye chillies (sliced rounds)
dash of fish sauce
2 spring onions (julienne)
1 lime (quartered)
2 handfuls of bean sprouts
fish sauce

griddle pan
4 large soup bowls

In the broth pot, add a little oil and brown the finely chopped red onions / shallots, and star anise. Whenever you want particular spice flavours to come through more in a dish they should be added first: the roasting will bring  the flavours out more prominently 'Thanks Atul Kochhar for that tip', it's made a great difference to a lot of my food over the years!
Next, put the lemon, ginger, onions, and lemon grass on a griddle pan and char them until they have dark lines running across them, this will give you extra depth of flavour.
They need to be browner than this much browner!!
Brown the oxtails in a pan to get that Maillard reaction going. Once brown all over add them to the broth pot, deglaze the pan with a little chicken stock and add it to the broth pot. Add the griddle contents to the broth pot and deglaze that too, adding to sauce to the pot -  loads of flavour.

Add enough chicken stock to the pot to cover the meat by at least an inch (2.5cm), and at least a tablespoon of fish sauce, then bring it to the boil and allow it to simmer for 3-4 hours, keeping it topped up with stock. If you'd like a lighter, more traditional broth add water and sugar to loosen the broth; if you'd like a more wintery broth simply add stock.

thinking ahead
The broth can be made in the morning and reheated for dinner when you need it, the veg, beansprouts, pak chi, coriander etc are always added at the last minute so they don't spoil.

what could go wrong?
My broth isn't clear!! Well that depends on your point of view. I like my oxtail browned before it goes in so it has more flavour, if you're a clear broth only sort, then you can boil the meats that are to be braised for 15min, then rinse them under cold water and continue with the recipe.

to serve
Bring the broth to a simmer.
Cook the fillet steak to the doneness you like (I like mine closer to rare than medium), rest it for about 4mins and then cut it into fine slices. Add the pak choi to the broth, let it warm through while the steak rests.

Warm the bowls and share out the noodles, fill generously with oxtail and broth and dress with slices of fillet steak. Serve with a side plate of the garnishes and accompaniments so that people can season to their taste.

Pho varies from place to place and the ingredients certainly aren't restricted to oxtail for the slow braising. Cuts such as flank, brisket, and rib (cooked bone-in and sliced later) can all be used, and for the rare beef, sirloin, hanger (onglet), and rump can all be used hanger is my personal favourite it's so tasty! You can also make Pho with chicken - happy days for those who don't eat red meat! I garnish mine with crispy chicken skins - nice!



  1. Lovely post Simon! And a sweet little story about a meal! My ex-boyfriend was obsessed with pho for a while and cooked it every day before the start of his shift at a restaurant in downtown Seattle. He obsessively skimmed his whilst it was boiling and got it clear that way. I adore oxtail and have been fantasising about cooking it ever since your delicious oxtail with onions at ferdie's food lab.

  2. Thanks, it was a pretty sweet day nice to know it came through!! :) Happy new year, see you soon!

    Hugs Sx


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