Most people know Shrimp Pho as the less famous sibling of the ubiquitous Beef Pho. But given the large amounts of shrimp stock lurking in local deep freezes and the ready availability of fresh shrimp it seems like it’s now time to let the star anise shine over a great soup!
For a city with traditionally scant offerings of Asian food the arrival of Vietnamese immigrants in the 1970s was a culinary godsend. After the fall of Saigon in 1975 Catholic Charities and the New Orleans diocese spearheaded a resettlement effort that concentrated this new immigrant group in the suburb called New Orleans East, originally in the Versailles Arms apartment complex. From there it grew to include a community that branched out into all the professions and small businesses but with a concentration in food and fishing. After all, those doctors, lawyers and sys admins had to eat somewhere and places like the Dong Phuong Restaurant and Bakery were there to cater to their needs. That, along with the Vietnamese Farmer’s Market where all the ingredients can be found, and you have no excuse for denying yourself the pleasures to be found in this complexly flavored cuisine.
Pho Hai San, or Shrimp Pho, is just one of the many varieties of fish soup that were developed back in the old country. Like our Louisiana shrimp stock, Canh Chua Ca, or Sour Fish Soup, is made with fat and collagen rich fish heads. Both taste great but the shrimp stock has that unmistakable brilliant orange color (as you can see below) and a flavor to match.
Making a pho has its parallels to making a gumbo. You start with a core prep method and then riff on the veg and spices. You might use local bird’s eye peppers, dried pepper flakes, Thai peppers or habaneros. If you can’t source bean sprouts try sunflower seed sprouts.
Bok Choy or Savoy cabbage? It’s your choice but do get a feel for how you like your pho to be seasoned. Go easy on the cinnamon and cloves if you haven’t made it before and taste along the way to make sure it’s not too bland or too intense. Although it’s not listed as part of this recipe I’ve often used lemongrass and if you like that flavor it complements the shrimp.
Last but not least I have to say that the two most important elements in this soup are homemade stock and roasted spices. The spices only take a few minutes to heat and as I’ve said elsewhere the stock is easy if it’s made ahead and defrosted.
As you can see from the close up below it’s a soup and salad bowl all in one so bon appetit and dig in!
- For the Pho:
- 6 cups shrimp stock
- ½ cup sliced carrot
- 5 star anise
- 1 stick cinnamon (or ½ tsp ground)
- 2 to 3 inch piece of ginger, sliced thinly
- 5 cloves
- ¼ tsp. cardamom seeds
- ½ of a medium onion
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 small sliced birdseye pepper (or red pepper flakes to taste)
- 1 lb shrimp
- Rice noodles
- For the add ins:
- bean sprouts
- sliced green onions
- shredded bok choy
- basil or cilantro
- quartered limes
- For the Pho:
- Roast the anise, cinnamon sticks, ginger, cloves and cardamon seeds in a warm (almost hot) cast iron skillet until they start to release their flavor about 5 minutes at most and you should shake the pan periodically so none of the spices burn.
- Cut the onion crosswise, spear it with a fork and hold it over a burner until very brown.
- Put all into the shrimp broth along with the red pepper (sliced or flakes) and simmer for about an hour.
- Add the soy sauce and fish sauce and taste. Add shrimp and let simmer for about 5 minutes.
- Remove shrimps, strain broth and serve.
- For the noodles:
- Boil in salted water until just done.
- Strain and set aside
- For the add ins:
- Slice finely the green part of the green onions
- Shred the bok choy and basil
- Slice very thinly the hot pepper
- cut up the limes
- To Serve:
- Place noodles in the center of the soup bowl.
- Surround by the various vegetables
- Carefully ladle the broth over the noodles and serve.