Asian Soups Rising
Asian-inspired soups are having a moment, and they’ve come a long way since the cups and packets of instant ramen we lived on in college. Ramen restaurants rivaling those in Tokyo are cropping up in cities everywhere, and Vietnamese pho (pronounced “fuh”) has its loyal followers too. What is it about these soups that make them so special?
First and foremost, the broth. In both cuisines, chefs spend a lot of time focusing on making ramen and pho broth as rich and flavorful as possible. Broth for classic ramen often starts with chicken or pork bones, lots of aromatic veggies (think onions, carrot, celery, garlic cloves, a knob of ginger…) and, classically, water. But when we make ramen broth, we give ours a head start by using Swanson® broth instead, adding the bones and aromatic veggies to bolster up that foundation of flavor even more. From there, the liquid and veggies are boiled together for several hours—yes, boil. It extracts proteins and minerals from the bones that will turn the broth cloudy and develop a rich taste.
Classic pho broth, on the other hand, is simmered slowly so it doesn’t turn cloudy. Beef bones are used to make pho bo—beef pho; the broth for pho ga uses chicken bones. Unlike traditional ramen broth, the bones, onion and ginger (leave their skins on for flavor) are roasted, broiled or charred over an open flame on your stove to give the vegetables a little color and sweeter flavor. Other flavor enhancers to pho broth include cinnamon sticks, star anise, coriander seeds and whole cloves, which are first toasted in a skillet until fragrant to bring out the spices’ essential oils. Everything goes into a pot, gets covered with water (again, we use Swanson® Beef or Chicken broth instead of water to ramp up flavor) and is slowly simmer for several hours.
The second step to delicious ramen and pho broth is good seasoning—shoyu ramen is flavored with soy sauce; miso ramen is flavored with the umami-packed soybean paste, miso. Pho broth is often flavored with fish sauce and sugar. If any of these authentic ingredients are unfamiliar to you, you can usually find them in well-stocked supermarkets, health food stores or Asian markets.
With well-seasoned ramen and pho broth on hand, the only thing left to do is add deliciousness with noodles and toppings. Ramen often has a slice or two of tender roasted pork belly, a scattering of sliced scallions, slivers of toasted nori (sheets of dried seaweed usually used to make sushi) and a softly boiled egg floating on top. A drizzle of spicy sesame or garlic oil on top is the soup’s tasty finishing touch. With pho, it’s traditional to ladle steaming hot broth into bowls filled with soft rice noodles and paper-thin slices of raw beef. The heat from the broth cooks the meat, which in turn adds its own flavor to the soup. Before serving, diners tear leaves of fresh herbs (Thai basil, mint, cilantro) into the bowl, then pile on crunchy bean sprouts and sliced jalapeños, and finish by squeezing a wedge of lime over the top.
Hungry yet? Let these ramen and pho recipes inspire you to create your own special bowl tonight. And don’t worry—the rich flavor of Swanson® Beef and Chicken broth means you can sit down to a delicious dinner in about an hour! These recipes take it a step further too—they’re made with zucchini noodles instead of traditional noodles!