Beef Pho with Slow-Cooked Brisket

The last two weeks have been a rollercoaster of various bugs in my house. Stomach bugs, chest infections, colds, earaches. Pho has been on my list of things I want to make for quite some time now and I thought that devoting my downtime at home to a slow-cooked meal would be a positive outcome from a negative situation. Also, I have been reading a lot about how nutritious and mineral-rich bone broth is. What could be better when you’re poorly?!

Let me start by saying I love pho. I especially love pho when I’ve been unwell as I find its deep fragrances so healing, familiar and comforting. Just knowing the time that goes into cooking it instils a heartiness just like good old fashioned chicken soup. As anyone who loves pho can attest to, the bone broth is everything. Luckily I’m used to demonstrating patience with cooking as I spend a lot of time baking, and I settled on a minimum of 7 hours to make the bone broth.

A bit of online research offered some good explanations as to the differences between a stock and a broth. Several sources reasoned that seasoning is added to the broth to make it into a viable dish on its own, whereas stock relies fully on the flavourings derived from the bones and vegetable base. Also, apparently traditionally a broth would be made from mostly meat (or the leftover liquid from cooking meat), whereas stock would be made from mostly bone. Although one of my favourites in Vietnamese restaurants is bun bo hue (a spicier broth-based noodle dish), I wanted to start my pho-making adventures with a genuine broth base and settled on primarily using bones.

Beef bones for the broth. Appetising eh?
Beef bones for the broth. Appetising eh?

I am very lucky to live about a minute’s walk away from a wonderful, locally sourced butcher called Drings. I left my sick bed to go and get 1.5kg worth of beef bones to make the broth. I did request bones with a bit of meat and fat left on them to add to the meaty flavour.

I used Rick Stein’s pho bo recipe to get me started.

Getting started with the broth

Firstly, find the biggest and deepest pan you can. Mine was suitable for the bones, vegetables and about 5 litres of liquid and this yielded 4 generous bowls of pho. The initial stages focus on releasing fragrances and aromas from the spices and softening the broth base of onions and ginger. Then, similarly to making stock, the bones are added to a vegetable base of celery, carrot, onions, peppercorns and the spices and submerged in cold water. You have to watch the broth for the first half an hour or so to bring it up to simmering level and to skim off any scum. Once the broth stops producing scum, you’re good to turn the heat right down, cover the pan, and leave it for as long as you possibly can, with the occasional stir once an hour or so.

Resist tasting the broth as you go along if you can, I had a few tastes after 4 hours and I was worried because I found it bland. Be patient! Give it time, the flavours develop and they develop deeply. The late additions to the broth, including a pinch of palm sugar and fish sauce also add different dimensions to the broth that you won’t get tasting as you go along.

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Serving the dish

Strain the broth through a very fine sieve or cheesecloth so that you’re left with a clear and pure broth. I strained the broth twice to make sure. Discard the leftovers apart from the slow cooked brisket and leave this to get even more tender for a few minutes. Cover, add the palm sugar and fish sauce, and leave over a very low heat to keep warm while you assemble the bowls.

3 minutes to soak the rice noodles in boiling water, arrange the brisket, sprinkle some spring onion, ladle the broth over the top, and serve. Let your guests help themselves to bean sprouts, herbs, chilli and lime.

Ingredients 

For the beef broth:

  • 40g ginger, roughly chopped and bruised

  • 350g shallots, sliced

  • 4 star anise

  • 2 cinnamon sticks

  • ½ tsp fennel seeds

  • 20 ounces beef brisket

  • 1.5k beef bones

  • 2 sticks celery, sliced

  • 2 carrots, sliced

  • 2 onions, sliced

  • 8 cloves

  • 1 tsp black peppercorns

  • 5 litres cold water

  • 1 tbsp salt

  • Pinch of palm sugar

For the rest of the dish:

  • 300g rice noodles

  • Bunch of mint

  • Bunch of coriander

  • Red chillies, deseeded and finely sliced

  • 2 limes, wedged

  • Bunch of spring onions, finely sliced diagonally

  • 4 tbsp nam pla, fish sauce

  • 100g bean sprouts

  1. Add the star anise, cinnamon sticks and fennel seeds to a hot and dry frying pan. Keep the pan moving until the spices become fragrant.
  2. Return the pan to the heat and add the bruised ginger and shallots and fry for 8-10 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally, until the ginger and shallots are golden-brown. Transfer to the plate with the toasted spices.
  3. Place the bones, celery, carrots, onions, cloves, black peppercorns, roasted spices, ginger and shallots into a large, deep pan and pour over the water. Bring to the boil, skimming off any scum as necessary.
  4. Lower the heat, then add the salt and allow the broth to simmer for as long as possible (I simmered it for 7 hours).
  5. Slice the beef brisket roughly and add it to the broth approximately two hours to an hour and a half before you wish to serve the pho.
  6. Cook the rice noodles as per the packet instructions and add to four pho or noodle bowls.
  7. Add the mint, coriander, red chillies and lime wedges into a separate dish to add to your pho as per your tastes.
  8. Add the white part of the spring onions and the fish sauce to the broth.
  9. Sprinkle the green part of the spring onions and the bean sprouts over the noodles and beef. Ladle over the hot stock and serve with fresh herbs and chilli, just as you like it.

Note: I found leftover broth really hard to keep. I would recommend eating it all fresh! I didn’t try freezing it, but I have frozen homemade stocks before.

Learning how to cook pho at home from scratch has illustrated clearly to me that this is not a difficult dish to make. It’s a time-consuming one, but the hardest thing is getting the broth right, and given that I was so pleased with this broth, I feel that it can only get better with practice. If you have a rainy day at home, give it a try! I get such satisfaction from slow food and pho is a real crowd-pleaser. I’m going to try my favourite bun bo hue next. Get practicing in time for winter!

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FindTheGirlsOnTheNegatives / East London Snapshots / Diamine Bilberry Review

 

Has anybody seen Meagan Abell’s Facebook campaign to find the original photographer of some fantastic quality negatives she found in a charity shop? They are ridiculously beautiful, evocative, dreamy, wistful, summery. Here is one of the photos:

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The internet is full of stories about viral reunions. I really hope this one finds its way back to the photographer and subjects. Who knows what other great shots they’ve taken in their life.

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On my wanders this week I’ve found some great pieces of public art. Some obvious…

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Some not so obvious!

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Back to business. I’m a big fan of Diamine inks because they are so affordable and there is such a great range of colours and shades available in relatively small 30ml bottles. This means I get to try out lots of the Diamine range compared to other more expensive ranges, as I go through ink like water.

 

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There’s a slickness and professionalism about the colour, almost a masculinity. I don’t find this ink a novelty shade in any way, it’s attractive for long stretches of writing and I love the contrast against the light shades of paper that I generally use.

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I’m going to get a picture and update this post with a daytime shot of this ink to demonstrate what it looks like against a blander coloured paper. There’s something really natural about its shade that evokes autumn; the colour of blackberries and sloes. Bilberry is so deeply saturated that the colour is very consistent, although as I’ve mentioned above I sway between thinking this is a blue and purple ink depending on any kind of external circumstance! Something I love about using Bilberry is that it’s exciting for me because I appreciate the different tones and saturation, but this isn’t immediately obvious to others, it isn’t for showing off or attracting attention.

If you’re a fan of using deep, inconspicuous and almost surreptitious shades in your writing, give Bilberry a go.

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An Evening at Wimbledon

Wimbledon is underway. I hail from south-west London about 15 minutes away from Wimbledon, so I’ve always been relatively close to the action for such a major sporting event. I do appreciate sport, and living with a boy has made me enjoy different types of sport much more than I would of my own accord. There’s something about tennis though which I feel has broad appeal; it is a civilised game with headline names and celebrated venues. Wimbledon is particularly full of tradition across the spectrum of wealth, whether it’s Lanson champagne and Debenture annual tickets, or the queue at 5am and a bag full of sausage rolls. Unsurprisingly I fall into the latter category.

I’ve been to Wimbledon every year since 2010. The usual routine is a 4.45am taxi to the Queue, haul ourselves to the end, marvel that people camping are already packing up their tents, and buy the Guardian and use the associated blanket to spread out on the grass and possibly catch 40 winks. This assumes that the weather is splendid, and to be fair, every year apart from one has been sunny, clear, and a little cold. Getting your queue card and seeing that you’ve made the first 5000 is relieving and allows for a more relaxed queuing experience.

However, this year I’ve chosen to dedicate my annual leave to various international jaunts so instead I’m using my evenings to catch some of the action.

As I mentioned in my last post, the weather is blissful at the moment. I picked up a bag of goodies from Whole Foods in Fulham (sorry bank account), including some fresh lemonade, baguette, cheeses, plump cherries and ice cold watermelon slices. Worth it!

It’s £18 for a ground pass after 5pm for the first few days. If you’re going under a ground pass ticket, the first couple of days are the best to go because this entry gives you access to courts 3-18, and as a knockout tournament, this is when the majority of matches on these courts are played. The price of a ground pass decreases as the Championships progress to reflect that you’re less likely to see as much the longer the tournament continues. We gained entry at about 6pm and proceeded straight to the famous Order of Play board to strategise. The majority of matches were underway, and the big names had played earlier in the afternoon. We caught Richard Gasquet on Court 18 in a close match against the Australian Luke Saville, a highly charged match between Maria Erakovic and Yulia Putintseva on Court 19, and Marsel Ilhan versus the towering Jerzy Janowicz on Court 5. I have to say, when you have access to the Hill (the Mound now?), a picnic and good company, the fact that you’re not watching the headliners doesn’t matter. Every court has world class tennis and an excitement around it. Every court we approached was full to the brim.

Oh watermelon. How I adore thee. Ice cold, crunchy, juicy and pink. I’m convinced everyone was looking at me enviously. It may have just been the slurping.

If you’re planning on joining the Queue of an evening during this year’s Wimbledon Championships, I would advise getting there no later than 5pm, and earlier if you can on a day where big names like Mr Murray are playing. Bring a picnic full of your favourite food and drink to save pennies on the familiar food-van type meals on offer inside the grounds, and make sure you’re stocked up with cash. Although you’ll spend much of the day sweltering, don’t forget a jumper as it can get cool in the shade. Don’t waste any time in the shop – get to those courts. I think even if you’re not a fan of the sport, it’s difficult not to get carried way with the jovial atmosphere. I’ll be visiting again this week and then keeping up with it on the television box and at the various live sites around central London. I’m aware that Murray is looking on good form, but personally I’d love it if Federer had it in him for a win!

Clerkenwell, Sunshine and Stationery

What a day. Every so often the sun throws her English expectations out of the window and comes out in full force. Today was one of those days: blue skies, no clouds, warm breeze, people everywhere. It’s impossible not to be enamoured by a day like this in London. I spent the opportunity being outside as much as possible. Unfortunately a good part of this outdoor pursuit involved visiting a site I’m working on in Hammersmith, right on the Broadway. Heat and exhaust fumes don’t make for the most charming summer memories. But this afternoon when I skipped out of work I took a long walk to Clerkenwell.

One of life’s great pleasures for me is stumbling upon a new place. Luckily there are endless possibilities for this to happen in London. I found a green space called Spa Fields, just south of the wonderful Exmouth Market. It’s not the largest park in the world, and probably took me about 5 minutes to stroll through in its entirety. I thought it was incredibly characterful though, with some interesting landscape architecture elements including a rolling set of mounds comparable to a mini BMX track, a lavender plantation, vine covered arches and a pyramidal centre building. The yellow grass shows quite how warm it’s been recently.

 

What was noticeable about this park was the range of people using and enjoying it. There were locals and young people, office workers with their trousers rolled up and families. There are many playful elements wrapped up in this green space that make it seem a bit quirky.

Coming out of the park I headed towards Arlington Way, just past Sadlers Wells theatre on the way to Angel. I was intentionally heading here to visit the fabulous Present & Correct shop. Clerkenwell is so full of fantastic architecture. The street layout, other than the trunk-like Farringdon Road, is fine, organic and dense lending itself to a range of functions; churches and old school buildings are found in the centre of small neighbourhoods that are definable because of their common architectural features. One standout building for me was this residential complex on Rosebery Avenue called The Laboratory Building. Predictably it was an old laboratory. I loved the art deco features on this building, the curvature of the frontage and its floor-to-ceiling windows. If you look around the building these windows delineate the height of three floors, and all the floors have their own window type.

Arlington Way itself is a typical Islington street in many ways. On one side there is a 60s style fabricated estate development, with traditional two-up two-down town houses opposite. A number of these town houses have ground-level retail functions with beautifully decorated frontages. There are also some vintage features that have remained such as a traditional painted wall advertising funeral services.

Present & Correct was really the highlight of my day. It’s a beautiful and tiny shop devoted to stationery and products associated with everyday artistry. It’s full of unique designs with a quality and bespoke feel. The shop is also immaculately presented. I would like to devote a whole post to this shop soon. If you are a fan of the genuinely written word as I am, check this shop out for yourself. It’s probably my favourite shop in London at the moment.

My purchases. Detail is everything. My shopping bag from Present & Correct comes complete with a record card a la 1950s library. And yes I continued to Angel and stopped off at the Hummingbird Bakery for my favourite pick, the black bottom cupcake.

Here is today’s haul. It consists of a Palomino Blackwing 602 graphite pencil, a “from the desk of” stamp and Lion ink pad and a vintage telegram. I’m going to save the telegram to write a letter to someone that I know will appreciate this as much as I would! Honestly, if I received a letter like this from a friend, it would be in a frame and up on the wall. I’m intending to do a review of the Blackwing soon.

I hope you are enjoying this beautiful London evening!

Oh and also, while I was loitering in Spa Fields, I read an interesting Guardian article which is essentially a dummy’s guide to building a city. I’ll probably write a response to this article in more depth but as an urbanist I think there are some good points here, but also some critical considerations missing. Disaster-proofing for example. Thoughts welcome.

 

 

Kaweco Sport

I’ve been coveting the Kaweco Sport fountain pen for some time. It seems to be a bit of a cult classic and given that this is a sub-£20 pen, I thought I would finally give it a try.

I chose a fine nib as I have italicised handwriting which is best suited to fine lines, and chose a mint green finish. There are a number of other, darker colours, but something about this pen made me choose something less solemn. The Kaweco Sport arrived in an unremarkable, simply branded black box. My first impression was: small! Altogether the pen comes in at just over 10cm long when capped and about 13cm with the cap on the end.

 

There’s no doubt about it that this pen is fun to use. It is eye-catching and unusual, the octagonal chubby lid is nostalgic and has an almost 70s era quality about it which is further emphasised by the plastic finish on the pen. This whole air of playfulness is topped off by its short stature. I couldn’t wait to get writing. I’ve given it a couple of days of break-in time, as the first times I used it I had quite a few gaps in the ink flow, which does seem to be improving with use.

 

 

The pen has two cute silver accents. Firstly, the logo which is very clean and elegant and secondly at the top of the cap.

Here’s a sample of writing for you to check out for yourself. I’d like to keep this pen in my arsenal for using informally, in my notebooks. Although the nib is fine (they also do an extra-fine), the pen would need to write slightly more smoothly to bring it into more formal territory for me. If you’re looking for a lifetime companion kind of fountain pen, I’m not sure this is it, but I would certainly recommend it as an investment if you’re looking for a fountain pen which is adaptable, reliable and something different from the norm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well hi.

Here I am!

I can’t tell you how long I have been procrastinating about getting this website going. If you want to know a little about me check out the About page. I’ve spent a few days navigating the world of hosting and platforms and page upon page of mysterious technological jargon. It has left me convinced that someone somewhere doesn’t want any more websites in the world because they don’t make it easy! However I somehow seem to have emerged on the other side with a reasonably functional site. I’m lucky to have a few friends with insight into this world of creative design and technology so I’ll be petitioning them for tips very soon.

On my part though I have been collecting many projects and snippets of my days to share with you over the last couple of months. I have always been an avid scribbler of thoughts, sketches, ideas and lists which I draw on day-to-day whether it’s to draw on something uplifting or to focus my intentions, both in the long and short-term. I’ve fretted somewhat that starting a personal website is a self-indulgent thing to do, but I’ve come to the conclusion that The London Parchment is going to be an opportunity to be creative with my own expression.

So please join me along the way, feel free to start up a dialogue in any way you wish. I’m looking forward to it!