Inspired by Cassia in Santa Monica
Cassia is a celebrated Singaporean-Vietnamese spot in Santa Monica. While scrolling through their menu online I read their offering of Vietnamese Pot Au Feu. I had a series of ah-ha moments. OMG! WOW! That sounds amazing! OMG pho must derive from pot au feu, when the French invaded Vietnam! Why hasn’t anyone thought of a Vietnamese Pot Au Feu before? Has anyone but Cassia and me? I felt like Christopher Columbus stumbling upon the New World. My own discovery!
Recreating without Tasting
A simple Google search later and I found that we weren’t the first ones to ponder this relationship. It is widely accepted that pho is derived from the French family meal pot au feu. Before I started conceptualizing my own Vietnamese Pot Au Feu, I indeed wanted to try the Cassie version once. In reality, getting from Hollywood to Santa Monica is something I know I will find a million reasons to put off. Instead, I did my due diligence and scoured Yelp for a picture of the dish. Their rendition serves a long marrowbone in hot pot with short rib stew, potatoes, cabbage, and carrots. It’s accompanied by grilled bread, bird’s eye chili sauce and walnut-mustard.
The Vietnamese-French Connection
I started bushing up on the origins and techniques of pho and pot au feu individually. Quickly, I fell deep into a Google rabbit hole, with tons of interesting articles about cuisine influences… it’s just too easy to keep going further and further back. Most of my friends could tell you the basic ingredients of Pho, but many of them had never even heard about pot au feu. I found this to be a fascinating illustration of my generation today. In my parent’s day, I would imagine, pot au feu might have very well been on of the only “exotic” dishes they had ever eaten.
Pot Au Feu
Pot au feu is a classic peasant’s dish in France, which translates to pot on fire. The French use a rich broth to slow cook beef, leeks, carrots, and cabbage. Marrowbones are added in the last few hours of cooking to add collagen to the broth. Horseradish and grainy mustard are typical condiments. Traditionally, the bone marrow and broth are served with crusty bread as an appetizer. Slab the condiments and the bone marrow on the bread and dip in the rich broth. The broth can be sipped as a soup afterwards. Next, the fall-off-the-bone meat is piled high next to the vegetable and served as a main course.
Beef Pho is a noodle soup, which is eaten as a main course. It is the national dish of Vietnam and eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner. First, marrowbones are boiled until their collagen is released. Next, burnt onions, ginger, star anise, cloves, fennel, coriander and fish sauce are simmered forever to make a rich and fragrant broth. The savory broth is served with rice noodles and with raw thinly sliced beef. The steaming broth instantly cooks the meat. Tableside, pho is served with basil, cilantro, lime, bean sprouts, chili peppers, and Sriracha.
In my mash-up of these two dishes, I started by searing all four side of a pot roast before simmering with carrots plus all of the makings for a goof pho broth. Five hours in, I boiled the bone marrow for 30 minutes and scrubbed clean, before adding to the pot. At this point, I was starting to worry. Every spoonful tasted overwhelmingly of cinnamon. I added more fish sauce and threw in some garlic and thyme, which alongside the gelatin released from the bones, eventually left me with a perfectly balanced and complex broth. Eight hours later, the meat was perfectly stringy and tender.
A Harmonious Vietnamese Pot Au Feu
Throughout the cooking process, there were many moments of doubt. I was unsure if these flavors would come together in harmony. For instance, I was nervous that mustard and horseradish wouldn’t pair with the warm spices in the broth. Would cilantro and lime make sense with some of the French elements? In the end, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that generous scoops of all the accompaniments played in perfect harmony.
I’ve never had bone marrow with a home cooked meal and it felt decidedly fancy, so I just had to use the French serving method. Crusty bread was served with a bowl with the bones and broth. While the tender meat, surrounded by caramelized veggies, was drizzled with leftover broth. Sides of horseradish mustard and Sriracha brought heat from two angels. Lastly, chives, cilantro, torn basil and lime brightened the dish.
- 4 marrowbones, boiled, scrubbed then packed with salt
- 1 pound chuck roast
- 2 tbs vegetable oil
- 4 quarts water
- 2 onions, sliced in half
- 1 4 inch piece of ginger
- 4 thyme sprigs
- 4 cloves garlic
- 3 whole star anise pods
- ⅓ cup fish sauce
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 6 whole cloves
- ½ tbs whole peppercorn
- 1 cup carrot, chopped
- 1 head bok choy
- 3 carrots, sliced in large segments
- 1 leek, top removed, sliced in quarters
- 2 onions, sliced in half
- 3 tbs olive oil
- kosher salt
- 1 cup cilantro, chopped
- 4 limes, cut into wedges
- ½ cup chive, finely chopped
- 1 cup basil, torn
- 1 tbs horseradish
- 2 tbs grainy mustard
- 1 french baguette, toasted
- Heat onions and ginger over flame on gas stove or broil in over until outside is burnt
- Liberally season roast with salt and pepper
- In large pot, on high heat, heat vegetable oil and sear roast
- Add water, thyme, garlic, star anise, fish sauce, cinnamon, cloves, peppercorn, carrots, burnt onion and ginger, then bring to simmer
- Five hours into cooking, add marrowbones to pot
- Six hours into cooking, toss bok choy, carrots, leeks, and onion with olive oil, salt and pepper, roast for 40 min in 450° oven, set aside
- Once veggies are done, remove roast and bones from broth, set aside
- Strain broth, so only liquid remains
- Return broth to stove
- Add roasted vegetables, roast, and marrow bones to pot and simmer for twenty minutes
- Shred roast and serve alongside roasted vegetables, pour 3 ladles of broth over meat
- Serve marrow bones in bowl with remaining broth
- On the side, offer horseradish mixed with mustard, Sriracha, herbs, lime and baguette
- Spread Sriracha, mustard, and bone marrow on bread, then dip in broth. Sip the remaining broth like a soup. Herbs, sauces, and lime are yummy in both the broth and atop the meat and veggies.