Seafood Pho

John Lee

“I hope you don’t make seafood pho for the book. It’s not true pho,” my mom said. Why not? I’d tried lobster and fish pho at Vietnamese restaurants in the United States and was surprised (and somewhat aghast) that they simply cooked the seafood in beef pho broth. The lesson learned from those experiences was this: seafood pairs well with pho spices. 

To create a piscine pho noodle soup that isn’t overly fishy, I opt for a vegetable broth seasoned with spices, dried and fresh shrimp, and bottled clam juice (the filtered liquid from steamed clams; the Bar Harbor brand is excellent). Ginger and seafood are great friends, so the aromatic root replaces black pepper for zingy heat. The finished pho is elegant, attractive, and delicious. Before making this recipe in a pressure cooker (see Notes), review the main recipe to get the gist of things. 

Ingredients

For broth

  • Chubby 2-inch (5 cm) section ginger, unpeeled 
  • 1 medium-large (9 oz | 270 g) yellow onion, unpeeled 
  • 3 ounces (90 g) Fuji apple, peeled, cored, and cut into thumbnail-size chunks 
  • 2 medium celery stalks (4 oz | 115 g total), coarsely chopped 
  • 1 large (6 oz | 180 g) carrot, cut into thick rounds (scrub and use unpeeled, if you like) 
  • 1 pound (450 g) napa cabbage leaves, halved lengthwise then cut crosswise into large pieces 
  • 2 star anise (16 robust points total) 
  • 1 inch (2.5 cm) cinnamon stick 
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds 
  • Heaping 1 teaspoon coriander seeds 
  • 9 cups (2.25 l) water 
  • 1 cup (240 ml) bottled clam juice 
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt, plus more as needed 
  • 3 tablespoons dried shrimp 
  • 10 ounces (300 g) big shrimp, shells intact (select large, extra-large, or jumbo size) 
  • 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons fish sauce 
  • About 1 teaspoon organic sugar, or 2 teaspoons maple syrup (optional) 

For bowls

  • 10 ounces (300 g) dried narrow flat rice noodles, or 1 pound (450 g) fresh pho noodles 
  • Cooked shrimp from the broth 
  • 10 ounces (300 g) fish fillet, such as rockfish, snapper, sea bass, tilapia, paiche, or salmon 
  • 1/2 small (2 oz | 60 g) yellow or red onion, thinly sliced against the grain and soaked in water for 10 minutes 
  • 2 thinly sliced green onions, green parts only 
  • 1/4 cup (.2 oz | 5 g) chopped fresh cilantro, leafy tops only1 teaspoon finely chopped peeled ginger 
  • Optional extras: Pho Garnish Plate for 4, Chile Sauce

The Pho CookbookThe Pho Cookbook by Andrea Nguyen

Directions

Make the broth: Char, peel, and prep the ginger and onion: Use medium heat on a gas or electric coil burner, medium-hot heat on an outdoor grill or barbecue, or the broil setting in an oven (have the rack in the top or second position). Regardless, let the skin get a little splotchy with black; use tongs to occasionally rotate the ginger and onion (or shallot) and to grab and discard any flyaway skin. When working indoors, turn on the exhaust fan and open a window. To steady the aromatics on the stove, use a small grilling rack, heavy-duty broiling rack, or oven-safe cooling rack. 

Monitor the aromatics because they char at different rates due to their uneven size and shape. After 10 to 15 minutes, they’ll have softened slightly and become sweetly fragrant. Bubbling at the root or stem ends may happen. You do not have to blacken the entire surface. Remove from the heat and let cool for about 10 minutes. 

Remove the charred skin from the cooled onions or shallots, and as needed, rinse under running water to dislodge stubborn dark bits. Trim off and discard the blackened root and stem ends; halve or quarter each and set aside. 

Use a vegetable peeler or the edge of a teaspoon to remove the ginger skin. Rinse under warm water to remove blackened bits. Halve the ginger lengthwise, cut into chunks, then bruise lightly (use the broad side of a knife or a meat mallet). Set aside to add to the stockpot. 

When shopping, select firm, solid onions or shallots. If using shallots, big ones endure the charring best. Choose ginger that’s relatively straight; side knobs and little branches make it harder to char and peel. To avoid feeling rushed, char and peel the aromatics a day in advance and refrigerate; cut and bruise before using. Set aside with the apple, celery, carrot, and cabbage. 

Put the star anise, cinnamon, fennel, and coriander in a small stockpot, about 8-quart (8 l) capacity. Over medium heat, toast the spices for several minutes, shaking or stirring, until fragrant. Add 4 cups (1 l) of the water to arrest the cooking process. Add the ginger and onion along with the apple and vegetables, salt, and dried shrimp. Pour in the remaining 5 cups (1.25 l) water and the clam juice. 

Partially cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, peel and devein the shrimp. Toss the shrimp shells into the stockpot. Cover and refrigerate the shrimp for later use. 

When the broth reaches a boil, uncover and lower the heat to gently simmer for 1 hour. (There’s usually no scum to skim.) At the 50-minute mark, add the reserved shrimp to the pot; use a noodle strainer or mesh sieve and work in batches to retrieve them easily. Cook until just curled into a C shape, then transfer to a bowl to cool. If not serving soon, cover and refrigerate. 

When the broth is done, let rest for 5 to 10 minutes, uncovered, before straining through a muslin-lined mesh strainer positioned over a medium pot. Press and squeeze on the solids to expel extra broth. Discard the solids. There should be about 8 cups (2 l). 

If using the broth right away, season with fish sauce and, if desired, with extra salt and sugar (or maple syrup). When cooking in advance, partially cover the unseasoned broth, let cool, then refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months; season before using.

Quick Chicken Pho
Seafood Pho (Photo: John Lee)

Prep and assemble the bowls: While the broth cooks, or about 30 minutes before serving, ready ingredients for the bowls. Soak the dried noodles in hot water until pliable and opaque. Drain, rinse, and drain well. If using fresh noodles, untangle or separate them and snip as needed. Divide the noodles among 4 soup bowls. 

If the shrimp are extra-large or jumbo size, cut each into manageable pieces: lay it flat on your work surface, steady it with one hand while cutting it from the back to the belly. You’ll get 2 thin, nearly identical pieces. Otherwise, keep the shrimp whole. 

If the fish fillet has skin attached, remove it first (see Notes for tips). Cut the fish flesh into broad, thin pieces; hold your knife at an angle as if you’re cutting sushi. Set aside. 

Set the onion, green onion, cilantro, and ginger alongside the noodles, shrimp, and fish to form a pho assembly line. Bring the broth to a simmer over medium heat. At the same time, fill a pot with water and bring to a rolling boil for the noodles. 

For each bowl, place a portion of the noodles in the strainer or sieve and dunk in the boiling water. When the noodles are soft, 5 to 60 seconds, pull the strainer from the pot, shaking it to release excess water. Empty the noodles into a bowl. Arrange the shrimp and the fish on top. Add the onion, green onion, cilantro, and ginger. 

Check the broth flavor, raise the heat, and bring it to a boil. Ladle about 2 cups (480 ml) broth into each bowl, then serve immediately with any extras. 

Notes: To make the broth with a pressure cooker, use a 6- to 8-quart (6 to 8 l) cooker. Peel the ginger, cut into thick slices, and smack; halve and cut the onion into thick slices. Over medium heat, toast the spices in the cooker. Add the ginger and onion; stir until aromatic. Add 4 cups (1 l) water. Then add the vegetables, apple, salt, dried shrimp, shrimp shells, 3 cups water (720 ml l), and clam juice. Lock the lid in place. Bring to high pressure (15 psi), adjust the heat, then cook for 15 minutes. Depressurize naturally. Remove the lid and reheat the cooker to poach the shrimp. Cool the broth for 5 minutes, then strain, season, and follow the rest of the recipe. 

To remove the skin from a fish fillet, lay it skin side down on your work surface. Run your finger along one of the edges to separate the flesh from the skin and form a gap. Slide a boning or fillet knife in the gap, then saw and push the knife all the way through from one end (or side) to the other. Discard the skin. 

* * *

Reprinted with permission from The Pho Cookbook: Easy to Adventurous Recipes for Vietnam’s Favorite Soup and Noodles by Andrea Nguyen, copyright © 2017. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Photography credit: John Lee © 2017

 

Cook time: 
Yield: 
Serves 4
 
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