After a few attempts at making pho bo, I was starting to feel like my version was progressing and getting some soul...until I tasted my mom's again recently. Her bowl of pho is just PERFECT, I mean PERFECT. The alchemy of the beef broth, ropey noodles, tender flavorful meat, and garnishes is PERFECT. Even the texture of her chopped pieces of green onion and cilantro tasted PERFECT in my mouth. Evidence of PERFECT bowl of pho is below.
Compare it to my bowl of pho in my linked report, and you'll see the subtle but important differences. Don't get me wrong, my pho is pretty decent for a novice, but tasting my mom's made me realize that it takes time (maybe even decades) to get it just right.
My original pho recipe came from watching my mom and jotting down notes, but here's a perfect example of how a recipe and observation can only take you so far. There is an art and finesse that can only come from experience and culinary feel.
Unfortunately, I didn't watch my mom make this last batch of pho, but I queried her intensely when I realized hers tasted so much deeper and more soulful than mine. What was the difference?! I had to know...
So here's what I'm going to try next time (building upon my current recipe):
1. Use soup bones instead of beef neck bones.
2. Make sure to pre-marinate the chuck roast for several hours to overnight.
3. Don't add any onion in beginning. After at least an hour of simmering, saute some chopped onion in a little oil til sweet and lightly browned and add to broth.
4. Skim off any foam in beginning but don't skim off any fat til the next day, if at all.
5. Add fish sauce and salt earlier than I used to. Add after first hour or so of simmering. This helps flavors to meld and seasons the chuck roast and oxtails for eating later.
6. Simmer for at least 4 hrs. if not 5.
7. For the pickled onions, soak sliced onions in mixture of white vinegar, water, and a little sugar.
My pho will probably never taste like mom's, but I'm excited to work on mine so that it has its own signature and style that I can be proud of.