The Power of Pho


March is a great month for pho, a traditional Vietnamese rice noodle soup often made with beef or chicken, because winter is still hanging on a little; having a steaming bowl of pho can take the chill off. The way to correctly pronounce "pho" is as in "do re mi FA so..." I learned this during a kitchen session with Chef Di Wang, owner of Relish Café.

Alliance Group RealtyDID YOU KNOW?
Salt and pepper shakers are not fixtures on any restaurant tables in China because the chef is supposed to have known how to salt the dish. A Chinese chef will be harshly judged by his knowledge of how to use salt.

He invited me into his kitchen for a tutorial on the making of pho. He says that the stock is the most important part of the entire dish, with its key ingredients of beef bones, oxtail bones, chicken bones, onions, cinnamon and star anise. A vegetarian pho can be made with vegetable broth. After about nine hours of cooking the stock, he strains it and then refrigerates it. It becomes thick, but not too gelatinous, when chilled.

“Everybody's a cook in China because both grandparents and parents cooked when we grew up, so everybody cooks,” Wang says. “It's very, very hard to become a chef in China. There are very intense exams and it's taken very seriously there.”

Salt and pepper shakers are not fixtures on any restaurant tables in China because the chef is supposed to have known how to salt the dish. A Chinese chef will be harshly judged by his knowledge of how to use salt.



The noodles can be boiled a day in advance and kept refrigerated.


½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 clove of star anise
5 cups high-quality beef broth
¼ pound raw sirloin or round eye
4 ounces dried rice noodles
Salt to taste


Bean sprouts, chopped green onion, chopped cilantro, fresh basil leaves, lime wedges, hoisin sauce and sriracha

Heat cinnamon and star anise in a medium pot and dry roast until aromas are released, stirring constantly, about 1 minute. Add beef stock, bring to a simmer over medium heat for 15 minutes. Wrap the steak in plastic wrap and place in freezer for 10 minutes. Remove from freezer and cut into 1/8” slices across the grain, then cover and refrigerate. In a second medium pot, cook the rice noodles in boiling water for 1 to 4 minutes, or follow package directions. Remove immediately using a strainer, then run under cool water as noodles may begin to stick together. Arrange cooked rice noodles in two deep serving bowls – if noodles are very sticky, toss in a few drops of vegetable oil. Top cooked noodles with a small handful of fresh bean sprouts and chopped green onion, then divide the slices of raw beef into bowls. Salt to taste. Remove and discard star anise, and, using a ladle to avoid spillage, place piping hot broth into the bowls — it will cook the raw beef immediately. Squeeze in juice from a wedge of lime, then top with additional toppings of chopped green onion and cilantro, and basil leaves. Serve immediately with a side dish of sriracha and hoisin sauce. Using chopsticks, dip the beef into the sauces. Avoid adding the sauces into the pho, as it will alter the flavors.


Chef Tip: Chef Di Wang, Relish Café

CHEF DI WANG"The most important component when making pho is the defatted stock, which consist of beef, oxtail and chicken bones and spices. Two key ingredients are also cinnamon and dried star anise. My stock takes about nine hours to prepare. I worked with a Vietnamese chef who became a master at making pho after 25 years and he shared some secrets with me. This is traditionally a Vietnamese soup and I have been making it now for 10 years. My customers really enjoy it. Because rice noodles are used in pho, those who are following a gluten-free diet can enjoy it."