Now that spring has finally dawned on us, the frigid nights are temporarily a thing of the past. However, the mild weather reminds me of a family trip to Baguio City; not to mention an occasional rain and thunderstorm in the morning or early evening. I remember taking some hot soup then with vegetables and some La Union seafood thrown in good measure. This experience was very much similar to enjoying fish tinola at a small restaurant in the cooler hinterlands of rain-fed Bukidnon. Yes, despite the higher price (no pun intended) I had to pay, the experience of sipping good seafood soup is possible even in a mountain resort city or a landlocked province. With these experiences in mind, I thought of taking an extra mile by cooking seafood pho despite the limitation of being in an ocean-less city!
Pho (pronounced as fa, not fo) is a Vietnamese clear soup, which is a combination of soup stock (usually beef or chicken boiled with coriander, ginger, onions, anise, nutmeg, salt, rock sugar), meat, rice noodles, fresh vegetables (bean sprouts), hoisin sauce, Sriracha sauce (hot sauce) and herbs (mint leaves) served in a bowl. It’s a complete meal in itself; where anyone can add more ingredients (e.g. beef balls, fish balls) to it and is best eaten when it’s piping hot (a term I attribute to my mother’s description of her soup recipes)! I have cooked beef pho on several occasions so I knew that it would be challenging to switch to seafood pho. Given the fact that fresh seafood in our city is close to none, the next best thing is to buy the cultured ones; for example, fish grown in fishponds. But because I was on a tight budget, I bought some frozen seafood (shrimps), ‘hybrid’ seafood (fishballs) and cultured seafood (salmon’s head). It turned out that this was a wise move! 😀
However, the next hurdle was preparing the pho. I knew that even if I would use the ever-reliable Crockpot and switch on the exhaust fan to high gear, steam from the broth will still fill our kitchen with a powerful fishy stench. My family almost disowned and abandoned me the day I prepared the fish stock! Lemon scented air fresheners hardly worked. It was only when I added the Pho herb bag, star anise, ginger and all the other herbs did the stench slowly disappeared like magic! Lesson learned: herbs can be added even when boiling the fish and not just peppercorns, salt and water alone! It occurred to me that salt and fish head in boiling water recreates a humid summer day in our kitchen, complete with ‘seashore scent!’ Harharhar… 😀
At the end of this seemingly arduous preparation, everyone was rewarded with delicious seafood pho. My family’s patience and fishy gripes were rewarded with hot, tasty and delicious pho that they enjoyed to the last drop! Talk about the power of food!
For the initial fish stock:
1 salmon head, cleaned, gills removed
2 cloves of garlic, grated
3 pcs star anise
1.5 litres of water
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. cracked peppercorn
For the Crockpot:
1 medium-sized onion, charred/grilled in oil
1 thumb-sized ginger, charred/grrilled in oil and grated
2 cloves of garlic, grated
1 Pho herb bag (usually available in Asian or Vietnamese groceries)
1 pc fish or shrimp bouillon for additional flavouring
1 tbsp. pepper
½ inch of yellow rock sugar
1.5 litres of water
For the soup bowl:
1 cup of bean sprouts, washed
1 pack of Vietnamese rice noodles
200 gms. of fish balls, sliced and fried in olive oil
500 gms. of shrimps, deveined and de-shelled and fried in olive oil
¼ cup scallions, chopped
Sriracha sauce (optional)
1. Place all the following ingredients in a pot: salmon head, water, salt, some of the grated garlic (2 cloves), cracked peppercorns and star anise. Bring it to a gentle simmer then boil for ten minutes. Throw away the scum that rises to the surface and make sure that you have your exhaust fan on to high gear to lessen your kitchen’s fishy smell!
2. Once the salmon head is cooked (you can tell by checking the flesh if it’s soft), drain and discard water, transfer the fish to the Crockpot and pour fresh warm water. Add the slightly burnt ginger, 2 cloves of grated garlic, charred onion, pepper, yellow rock sugar, and fish bouillon and the pho herb bag.
3. Cook for 4 hours in HIGH heat or 8 hours in LOW heat.
4. Once the stock is cooked, remove the pho bag. Check for taste and adjust seasoning. Jaden Hair emphasized that this is important. In addition, ensure that Crockpot is in a warm mode to keep the broth hot.
5. Meanwhile, pour boiling water over the noodles and leave for 5 minutes then drain.
6. Divide noodles in bowls and add the following ingredients: fried fishballs, scallions, fried shrimps, bean sprouts, mint leaves, hoisin sauce, and sriracha sauce if desired.
7. Ladle the hot soup stock, squeeze a wedge of lemon or lime, serve and enjoy!
*The Dads give credit to Merrilees Parker’s Seafood Pho recipe which was featured in Lifestyle Food: http://www.lifestylefood.com.au/recipes/6459/seafood-pho and Jaden Hair’s Beef Pho featured in her Steamy Kitchen website from which this pho recipe was adapted from.