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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Fe Fie PHO Yum

It has been a glorious summer of beach days, road trips, mountain vistas, pristine lakes, and mosquito  bites.  In the haze of sunscreen and citronella, Glenn, the girls and I lived an organic life: we ate when we were hungry, often times from our little garden.  We packed the Delica and took off on a whim to see the flora and fauna of BC.  Having called this sweeping place home for 30 years, its forlorn forests and verdant foliage still leave me breathless.  
The summer started with a camping trip to Birkenhead Lake, just a little north of Whistler.  It's one of our favourite spots in the province - close enough to home for a quick dash but far enough off the beaten track to avoid those who drink Budweiser and rock to Nikelback.  We also spent a weekend in Victoria, exploring the inner harbour and the Provincial Museum.  We really did have a good time despite the fact that there were moments when hunger turned us into head-biting monsters.  Our friends, Mike and Leigh-Anne, invited us to join them at their family cabin on Salt Spring Island for four days of solid eating and beach-combing.  Mike's cinnamon scented lamb burgers made you forget for a while that you were biting into a cute lil' baby. 
And the big finale  was a spur of the moment road trip to Bella Coola.  The Caribou Chilcotin's vast landscape is dotted with rolling ranchlands, rainbow ranges, sand dunes, and azure rivers. It doesn't get more epic than 10 000 year old petroglyphs, grizzlies, alpine lakes and the sculpted beauty of hoodoos.
This is the first year of my teaching career (it only took 13 years) that I did not head into school for at least a couple of days to prepare for the beginning of the new school year.  I work hard, really hard, during the year and I like working hard.  No matter how much time I spend preparing in August, I always hit the ground panting in September anyhow.  I figured I might as well enjoy every moment of the summer and head into school on September 7, refreshed and rejunvenated.  As I pulled out from the driveway on the first day of school, it was with no regrets.  The summer had been full and I was ready for the year to be full too.  
It never fails that with the return to school also comes the crisp cool days of autumn.  When the weather turns, I want hot, steaming soup, and rich, deep flavours,  I want food that warms me from inside out and wards off the chill of the rain. 
You know my love affair with farmers.  That love was reignited once more when  I found a bag of soup bones in my freezer.  I can't help but feel a deep regret for all the glorious bones that are dismissed and disposed off as worthless.  If an animal's life is going to be taken, we have a responsibility to ensure it has lived a good life and to eat it nose-to-tail

Time is the most important ingredient for this Vietnamese beef noodle PHO recipe, pronounced "feur," rather than"fo." The intense dance of cinnamon, cloves, star anise and ginger turns the humble bag o' bones into gold.

Stock Ingredients
Soup bones, about 5 pounds (pre-boil for 5 minutes and rinse to remove impurities)
1 3-inch  knob of ginger, smashed and lightly charred over flame
2 yellow onion, halved and lightly charred over flame
1/4 cup fish sauce, to taste
3 tbsp sugar
20 cups of water
The following ingredients go into a bouquet garni
1 cinnamon stick
10 star anise, lightly toasted
10 whole cloves, lightly toasted
10 whole peppercorn, lightly toasted

1 package of rice vermicelli, cooked to package directions and drained

Garnishes - let guests add their own
cilantro leaves
green onions, sliced thinly on the bias
paper thin sweet onion
Thai basil leaves (must have - I went out into the garden in the pitch black and cut some basil like items)
bean sprouts (I didn't have any but you'll be more organized)
Thai chilies, sliced thinly
lime wedges
additional fish sauce
1. Add all the stock ingredients and bouquet garnet. Bring to a boil and simmer gently for a minimum of 2 hours or even overnight, add more water along the way.  
2.  Remove the bones and discard any fat.  Shred the meat and set aside.
3.  Taste and add more fish sauce if needed; the stock should be quite salty; this will be tempered once all the noodle and garnishes have been added.  Add one thinly sliced yellow onion to the stock and keep it hot.
3.  Wash and arrange garnish on a large platter, along with a small bowl of fish sauce.  
4.  Put about 1.5 cup of vermicelli into a large soup bowl:  top with some shredded beef and ladle enough stock over the noodles to just cover***
5.  Invite guests to garnish generously from the platter.  Don't forget to squeeze some fresh lime juice over top.  This adds an essential hit of fresh. 
6.  Using chopsticks or a fork, mix the whole glorious bowl together and chow down.  
7.  Wipe fogged-up glasses.
8.  Head out into the cold.  
***you can also slice a partially frozen beef tenderloin into paper thin slices and layer over the noodles.  The hot stock will cook the beef.  
Happy September!