Friday, December 14, 2012

Vietnamese Seafood Pho

The secret to making delicious pho is layering flavours to create a rich and fragrant broth. Traditionally made with beef or chicken, I prefer Seafood Pho made with fresh prawns, squid, crab and Asian fish balls, which are similar to meatballs, except that ground cuttlefish or pollock is used rather than ground beef. Rich in protein and low in fat, fish balls can be easily found at Asian markets or T&T on Cherry Street in downtown Toronto. Having been fortunate enough to have enjoyed authentic Pho while touring Vietnam a few years ago, my favourite place to indulge when I get a craving in Toornto, is Rua Vang Golden Turtle at 125 Ossington Avenue. Their Seafood Pho #17 is addictive, and especially delicious when topped with a liberal helping of bean sprouts, fresh mint, basil and a squirt of fresh lime juice. 

Vietnamese Seafood Pho
Serves 4

6 1/2 cups fish, vegetable or chicken stock

1 stick of lemongrass, cracked with the side of a knife
3 whole star anise
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 3-inch piece of ginger, squashed slightly

1 birdseye chilli, seeded and chopped
2 tsp sugar
6 scallions, trimmed and sliced diagonally
3 tbsp of nam plah (asian fish sauce)
16 large shrimp, shelled and deveined

1/2 lb squid, pre-cleaned and fins removed
1 package imitation crab meat, cut into bite size pieces
1 package fish balls, sliced in half
1 16 oz package dried rice vermicelli

2 cups bean sprouts
2 scallions, cut into matchsticks
1 bunch Thai basil leaves
1 bunch mint
1 lime, cut into wedges

Pour the stock into a large pot. Add the lemongrass, star anise, garlic, ginger, chilli, sugar and scallions, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, add the fish sauce, cover the pot and simmer for about 45 minutes. This will allow the flavours to develop.

Meanwhile, start to prep the seafood. With a sharp knife, cut each of the squid in half length-wise and make shallow diagonal slashes on the inner side of the squid's body, to create a crisscross pattern. Do the same for the fins, and set all of the squid aside. Then shell and devein the shrimp, and set aside.

Remove the lemongrass, ginger and garlic from the broth, which should now be fragrant and properly seasoned. Add the shrimp, squid, fish balls and crab meat, and simmer about 5-6 minutes, or until the seafood is just cooked through and fish balls are warm in the centre. Using a slotted spoon, remove the seafood from the pot, set aside and keep warm. Then add the dried noodles to the broth and blanch until soft, about 5 minutes for rice stick noodles or 2 minutes for rice vermicelli. 

To serve, use a slotted spoon to divide the cooked noodles between four deep bowls. Pour the soup over the noodles and divide the seafood among the bowls. Set out a bowl with bean sprouts, scallions, fresh basil, mint leaves and wedges of lime, for guests to garnish their pho as they prefer.

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