Daniel Larkin: to Jamey Bennett
November 25, 2014
You like that email name? I thought you would.
All stupidness aside, I’m really glad you picked Pho for the first throwdown. It seems like nowadays I can’t look at any social media forum without seeing a hundred people with raging boners for the stuff, so I think the time is right to Two Dudes it. The real reason I was excited that you picked Pho, though — and it’s time for some brutal honesty here — is that I’ve never even been in the same room as a bowl of the stuff.
This was a good primer into Pho, and to your credit, I was guided by your recipe. I just tried to adapt it on the fly with the basic ingredients I could find at the local Food City; aka, Food Shitty. This may be like a blind man describing the color red, or Albrecht Dürer’s Rhino. But whatever it was that I made, it was outstanding! It was savory, but the spices were light and festive. It was hardy, but still soft and comforting. It was vegan, but had the richness of a steak.
The obvious first hurdle was the meat. I decided that just going tofu instead of beef was a cop-out. I hate when restaurants do that, because sometimes it’s just the lazy thing to do, so I wanted to avoid that trap. What I landed on was mushrooms, but not just mushrooms, ponzu marinated portobello.
Ponzu is a citrusy soy sauce, that when made right, adds all five flavors; sweet, sour, tangy, salty, and savory. (When Kikkoman makes it, it tastes like soy sauce and 7-Up.) The spices in Pho seemed like they would be a good match for a slight lime taste, so I went with a ponzu and lime marinade. (Depending on your noodles, the small amount of wheat in Ponzu can the only thing keeping this meal from being gluten free.)
Most of the work was done in the morning, when I started my broth. I also cleaned the fans from the mushrooms, sliced them, and let them marinate all day. In cooking the mushrooms, my general rule is that the longer they cook, the more flavor they give. It just gets concentrated. So with all of that in mind, let me give you my list of ingredients. As you said in your email, it looks like a lot of ingredients, but it’s all fairly easy. And again, I found everything at the local Food Shitty, so there’s nothing weird or obscure here.
For the mushroom marinade:
- 2 large portobello caps, de-fanned and cut into 1/4-inch slices
- 1/4 cup Ponzu
- 1/4 cup Tamari (soy sauce as it should be, no wheat or sugar)
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 shallot diced
- 3 cloves of garlic diced
- 4 quarter sized slices of fresh ginger
- Juice of one lime
Mix in a gallon Ziplock bag, and stash the fridge, turning every now and then to ensure equal contact time.
For the Broth: aka, the star of the show.
- 1 32oz box of veggie stock. I always recommend Imagine No Chicken Broth
- 1/2 onion rough cut — save the other half for the soup
- 6 cloves of garlic whole
- 6 slices of ginger
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 6 oz package of shittake mushrooms (This is the key to that savory bump)
- 2 pods of clove (Optional. The flavor boils off, leaving good aroma – if you like clove)
- Half bunch of cilantro chopped
- 3 tbs Tamari
- 2 tbs honey — or agave syrup if you don’t consider honey vegan.
- 1 TBS rice vinegar
- Half bunch of cilantro whole
Combine all of these into a stock pot, bring to a simmer, and let it go low and slow all day. Strain all the solids off when it’s time to assemble the soup. It’s really that easy.
Other miscellaneous ingredients:
- The other half of that onion sliced
- 3 carrots sliced thin
- 1 head broccoli, cut into small stems
- Jalapeño (Optional, but recommended)
- 5 Spice Powder (Optional)
- Noodles of your choice (I used brown rice Pad Thai noodles)
- Cilantro, basil and lime wedges for garnish
With all of the prep work done, assembly is pretty easy when the time comes.
- Remove the mushrooms from the marinade and sear on high heat in your preferred oil. Once they are seared and have that light brown color on the outside, turn down the heat and go low and slow for at least 20 minutes, or unit they are half sized and easily chewed.
- Remove the mushrooms from the heat and set aside.
- Deglaze the pan with a splash of broth, then add the other half onion for a two minutes.
- Add the broccoli and carrots and top off with the rest of the broth. Simmer until the broccoli and carrots are tender but not mush. (Hence the thin slice on the carrots)
- Taste and see if you need any five spice powder. I added a little, but probably could have gotten away without it.
- Then you just stack it all, with noodles on the bottom, broth, a teepee of mushrooms, and the garnish herbs and jalapeño.
I’m serious, man, this is one of the most flavorful soups I have ever made. And it’s one of the few soups that is as good the first day as it is the second. The key is the broth, which is just a vault of scents and tastes that are neither timid or overpowering. One of these days I’ll actually get to try some real Pho, and then I can see how close I actually came.
Faux-Pho, Fo’ Real, Yo.