Most people know pho as a brothy noodle soup, but it can be more than that. Once you become hooked on making and eating the soup, you may wonder what else you can do to create a pho imprint and pho experience. Vietnamese chicken pho shops often use the broth for cooking a special rice dish. That idea led me to ponder the possibility of a pho fried rice. Sure, the name is fun to say, but could I make the rice pho-ish?
Creating Pho Fried Rice with Pho Fat and Pho Spices
I initially fried the rice with pho fat, the flavorful fat skimmed from a pot of broth. Vietnamese cooking embraces a no-waste approach, so I wanted to practice that in the realm of pho. The fat coated the grains with terrific pho flavor. The fried rice was good, but needed more pho oomph.
The aroma of pho is among the ways we identify something as being pho-like. When you hold your head over a pot of broth or a steaming bowl of pho soup, its perfume triggers your initial reactions.
Since spices play a pivotal role in defining pho and this distinctive aroma, I formulated a pho spice blend (see the recipe below). It worked wonders to convey the pho spirit throughout this fried rice, and I eventually deployed the blend in homemade hoisin sauce, meatballs, dumpling fillings, and even cocktails!
Once the pho spice blend was added to the fried rice, it turned out that the pho fat wasn't as important as I originally thought. It's a great use of a pho byproduct, but if you don't have a stash of fat skimmed from a pot of pho, it's okay to use flavorful European-style butter or even a neutral oil like canola.
The Lively Spark: Fresh Herbs & Condiments
Pho is also about fresh herbs, which enliven the bowl with their color, texture, flavor, and fragrance. Part of the ritual of eating pho soup is tearing up herb leaves and dropping them into your bowl. I followed suit by adding a flourish of herbs to the rice at the table.
Finally, it's the diner's purview to add condiments to personalize their pho. My answer was garlic vinegar, a delicately bright and pungent condiment that's present at practically every pho joint in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam and hub for the original pho back in the early 20th century. The resulting dish was fun, delicious, and full of pho spirit.
That's how I developed this recipe. Now it's time for you to try it out. Pho is more than 100 years old, and innovative cooks are the ones who have helped it evolve. Be part of the pho story.
Andrea Nyguen's Pho Fried Rice
3 cups day-old cooked rice (about 15 ounces)
2 tablespoons pho fat, European-style butter, or canola or other neutral oil, divided
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 medium red or yellow onion, cut along the grain into narrow wedges
1 large egg, beaten
2 teaspoons fish sauce or regular soy sauce, plus more as needed
1 teaspoon Maggi Seasoning sauce or Bragg Liquid Aminos
1/2 teaspoon Pho Spice Blend (below), or 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 medium scallion, white and green parts, chopped
Fine sea salt
2 or 3 sprigs fresh Thai basil or mint
Before frying the rice, stir it up to prevent lumps. Set near the stove with the fat, garlic, onion, egg, fish sauce or soy sauce, Maggi or Bragg, pepper, scallion, and salt.
Heat a large, well-seasoned wok or nonstick skillet over high heat. Swirl in 1 tablespoon of the fat, then add the garlic and onion. Stir-fry until aromatic, about 15 seconds. Add the rice and briskly stir-fry until warm and slightly revived, about 2 minutes.
Push the rice to the perimeter to create a well in the middle. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon fat to the well. Pour in the egg. Pour the fish sauce and Maggi around the rim on the rice. Quickly stir-fry to cook the egg and work it into the rice. Add the spice blend and scallion. Cook for 10 to 15 seconds longer, until just wilted. Turn off the heat, taste, and add salt if needed. Transfer to a plate or shallow bowl. Serve with the Thai basil or mint. Invite guests to pluck, tear, and mix the herb leaves into the rice.Andrea's Pho Spice Blend
2 star anise, about 3 grams total
1 medium Chinese black cardamom (optional)
2 whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon coriander seed
10 black peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Break up the star anise into points, dropping them in a small skillet or wok. If using the black cardamom, use a meat mallet to crush it and remove the seeds. Add the skillet and discard the pod. Add the cloves, fennel, coriander, and peppercorn. Toast over medium heat, stirring, about 3 minutes or until fragrant and slightly darkened. Remove from heat. Cool. Transfer to a spice grinder. Add the cinnamon and pulse until combined. Transfer to a jar and store up to 1 month.
- Protein: For extra protein, top the rice with a fried egg. Or, before adding the rice to the pan, add a handful of chopped tofu, crumbled tempeh, cooked meat, or seafood.
- Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
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.