There are of, of course, thousands of noodle dishes from all over the Far East, and not a few from elsewhere too, and I am prepared to try most of them. My recipe here is based on the wonderful pho dishes of Vietnam, though I have taken a few liberties to suit what we like, which is usually the result of making it with what we have to hand when the need for noodles arises rather than any planning on my part. The bottom line is that we love noodles in almost any form, from chow mein to laksa via pho, Singapore and pad Thai. Name a noodle and we’ll nosh it.
As ever with such pho-type dishes, success depends on a richly flavoured and spiced stock. Bravo if you make your own beef stock with bones and gelatinous meats, chicken carcasses or a market barrow full of veg, but I will happily use some of the excellent stock pots (and even at a pinch stock cubes) available for a quick fix. Just make sure that you use enough to give you a rich, dark and deep flavour, enhanced with added spices and chilli warmth. Most pho recipes don’t deploy garlic, but we like it, and you can leave it out if you don’t. Similarly, lemongrass and peanuts are my additions because I love the fragrant lift of the former and the nutty crunch of the latter, but it’s another one up to you. We’ve also occasionally added crunchy beansprouts at the very end to delicious and freshening effect. In short, this is a very flexible dish, and you can play with it without fear to come up with your own versions to suit what’s in the fridge or cupboard. Whatever you do you can almost guarantee satisfaction. Just use your noodle.
- 2 ½ litres of rich, dark beef stock (or full-flavoured brown chicken or a vegetable stock)
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 thumb-sized pieces of ginger, peeled and sliced into rounds about as thick as a 10p piece
- 6 banana shallots, peeled and very roughly chopped (or two large onions so chopped)
- 2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
- 1 stick of lemongrass
- 4 whole star anise
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 8 whole cloves
- 230g raw rump/sirloin/fillet of beef, very thinly sliced, or similar weight of shredded cooked chicken or pork, or tofu pieces
- 2 tsp palm or demerara sugar
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 3 tbsp soy sauce
- About 400g flat rice noodles
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into fine julienne strips, about an inch long
- 8 spring onions, chopped or shredded or one red onion, very thinly sliced
- 1 small red or green chilli, finely sliced
- Two bunches of basil leaves, torn, Thai if you can get it and Greek basil is also lovely
- A handful or two of coriander leaves (as much or as little as you enjoy)
- 4 tbsp chopped roasted peanuts
- 1 lime, cut into wedges
- Heat the stock in a large pan but don’t bring it to the boil.
- Fry the chopped shallots and ginger in the vegetable oil over a medium heat until the onions are caramelised, even charred at the edges (you want that scorched look and bittersweet flavour), then add the garlic and cook for a few more minutes. Remove from the heat and add the onion, ginger and garlic mixture to the stock.
- Add the lemongrass, star anise, cinnamon and cloves, and gently simmer for 45 minutes to infuse. Turn off the heat and leave for a further 15 minutes before straining the stock to remove the spices and onions.
- Return the stock/broth to the cleaned pan, and season the broth with the sugar, soy and fish sauces to your taste, stirring well. You may not feel that you need all the spices and flavourings so taste the stock as you go, then bring it back up to a low simmer.
- Cook or soften the noodles according to the packet instructions, drain and portion them out into four warmed, deep bowls. Top with the finely julienned carrot and the sliced steak (if using, or the other meats or tofu as you like).
- Bring the stock up to a boil, then ladle it over the noodles, carrots and meat. The heat of the just-boiled broth will cook the beef to delicious tenderness or warm through the other options. Of course, if you like, you can sear the beef before slicing it.
- Top with a scattering of spring onions or red onion slices, some chopped peanuts, finely sliced chillies and finally the torn basil and whole coriander leaves. Finish with a wedge of lime for squeezing over each bowl and serve. And wear napkins around your neck for uninhibited slurping.
Tip: Freeze the beef, if using, for half and hour or so before slicing it as it firms the meat and makes it easier to get very thin slices. Bring it up to room temperature just before using.
The soupy nature of this kind of noodle dish is often seen as a problem for wine matching, but I’ve never let it worry me. A fine starting place could be a chilled fino or manzanilla sherry, bracing and full of flavour to match the rich beefy stock without overpowering the veg. We’ve loved a palo cortado sherry too, deeper and nuttier but tinglingly fresh and lively. If you would prefer a red, go for lightness and juicy fruit, perhaps a lightly chilled Beaujolais, zweigelt, pinot noir, Valpolicella and other wines of that ilk. I think whites are a better bet, mostly those that are fresh and a little aromatic, even if beef is the choice with the noodles. My favourite is a fruity riesling, perhaps from Germany or New Zealand with a hint of sweetness to embrace the chilli heat. Or a trocken tongue-tingler from Germany, Alsace or the southern hemisphere. Blends like Edelzwicker such as The Society’s Vin d’Alsace are very good indeed here too. If you go down the spicy gewürztraminer route look for lighter to middle-weight styles rather than the weighty, almost oily styles, but it’s a very personal choice. Austrian grüner veltliner is a belter as well, its hint of white pepper a perfect pick up for the spice in the dish. Fruity, fresh whites that are not too lightweight are the thing; pinot grigio, inexpensive viogniers and Rhône-style blends, and perhaps a fruiter sauvignon blanc or sauvignon gris.