There are a few simple things that are just so easy and glorious, I wonder why I don’t make them more often. Scrambled eggs made properly with a big knob of butter, green beans quickly blistered in a pan with toasted almonds, almond butter dipping sauce, plain boiled beets with sour cream and dill, cold smoked salmon sprinkled with lemon juice and capers…preparations that require a few ingredients but just have that taste you can’t forget.
There is one thing that is simple and easy, but now I make it all the time. Pour-over soups are quick, hearty, filling, and so easy if you can keep a few things on hand. It does require fresh ingredients, so it’s not something that you can pull out of the pantry, but it’s doesn’t take too much. There are many variations that follow a similar pattern, and it can always be adjusted to what you have at the time. You don’t have to get stuck in an only-Asian rut either: great South American versions, mimicking soups like “Pozole” follow this same method.
First of all, what is a pour-over soup? There might be fancier culinary word to describe this, but hey, I call it pour-over soup because that is pretty much what you do. It’s a starchy noodle arranged in a bowl with shredded meat, raw thinly sliced beef, or seafood, with flavourful hot broth poured over it and some fresh, crunchy flavourful things arranged on the top. The most well known variant of this preparation is probably the Vietnamese “Pho” soup. If you have broth and some leftover shredded meat on hand, this dish comes together in the length of time it takes to get the broth hot.
This meal is very satisfying and nourishing too- it’s compatible with gluten free eating (if you check the ingredients of optional sauces) and The Perfect Health diet, which is a great set of recommendations for avoiding potentially problematic foods and meeting nutrient requirements. The broth has loads of nutrients, as I’ve mentioned before, and all these simple, fresh, homemade ingredients are easy on the taste buds as well as your body.
There are a few main components that contribute to a balanced pour-over soup:
Broth. Pour-over soups are broth based, so the one place where you don’t want to skimp is using a flavourful broth. I generally use my chicken foot bone broth combined with some soaking liquid from dried mushrooms. Beef broth, which I tend not to always have on hand, is my favourite for this kind of soup. Again, if you absolutely don’t have any broth, some mushroom soaking liquid is suitable. You can flavor it with some miso stirred in at the end.
Broth Flavoring Agents. Some chunks of ginger, bashed lemongrass, star anise, cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, toasted cumin seeds…. I put plain broth that I always have in the freezer or fridge, and then flavor it on the stovetop with some whole spices. This is your chance to impart your family’s favourite ingredients. Sometimes I go simple with just star anise and black pepper, other times it’s fun to layer flavours and try different combinations out. You can also finish with various sauces based on your preference- oyster, hoisin, fish, and soy sauce often find their way into our bowls, as well as some garlic chili hot sauce. Experiment to see what preferences you have.
Noodles. I always go the gluten-free and more traditional route of rice noodles or sweet potato noodles. Sweet potato noodles are lovely and slurpy, they can be found in most Chinese grocery stores and are made only of sweet potato starch. Rice noodles are super quick, taking only minutes to prepare, and can be found at almost every grocery and corner store.
Protein. Shredded beef, pork or chicken. Thinly sliced raw beef, cooked sliced chicken or pork, some cooked seafood. A scrambled egg, or whole egg yolk, stirred in. Whatevah you and your fridge want.
Fresh, Crunchy Ingredients. This is where this soup stops being a pantry soup- big fresh bean sprouts, thinly slices radishes, perhaps jicama, raw cabbage- these fresh ingredients will bring texture to the soup and bring it right up to everyone’s par. Taking a julienne peeler to some zucchini and carrot will bring some nice bright colour.
Finishing Flavoring Agents. Fresh mint, Thai basil, cilantro, lime wedges, green onion- the perfect final touches. Something acidic, like lime, I find is key for this soup- you really miss it if it’s not there. If you like some spice, thinly cut chilies are one of my favourite parts. If you tolerate soy, some nice fermented miso adds a salty finish. Otherwise, salt generously with your favourite salt.
That’s about it- there is no particular special equipment or technique, just some really great tasting ingredients coming together in a bowl. You really can’t go too wrong.
First of all you need to make sure you have your broth together. If I know I want this soup later with shredded meat, and don’t have any broth on hand, I often throw a tough cut of beef, preferably with a bone in it, in the slow cooker with a handful of dried mushrooms. Just letting that slowly cook all day will mean some nice shredded meat and a flavourful liquid you can drain off and use as broth (if I have a few chicken feet on hand, I’ll throw them in there too). If you have some broth, just throw that in a pot to heat up when you get home. If it’s plain broth, a few pieces of ginger and a star anise segment are usually what I add to infuse with flavor as it slowly heats.
While that’s heating, wash and prepare your fresh ingredients. You can arrange them in a bowl or on a plate so your guests or family can add whatever they want. I usually like bean sprouts, a bit of shredded green cabbage, and thinly sliced radishes. The lime wedges, fresh herbs, and chilies are should be arranged alongside so they can all be added as wanted.
The noodles only take a few minutes to cook, and can be cooked in the broth or separately, with the broth poured over. Rice noodles I find are a bit gummy when they cook, so I like to cook them separately and rinse them, then arrange them in the bottom of the bowl. If you have rice noodles already cooked in your fridge that makes this even quicker to make. Sweet potato noodles get really lush when they are cooked in flavourful liquid, so I really like to cook them in the broth. If you are looking for a lower carb option and eating bean sprouts, sometimes I just arrange bean sprouts on the bottom in place of noodles- still flavourful and crunchy, though you probably want larger portions for satiety.
If you are planning on using seafood as your protein, you are going to want to add that to the broth and cook it in the broth to make sure it’s cooked through. Prepare according to the recommended time based on what kind of seafood you are using. For high quality beef, such as a steak cut, you can thinly slice the beef and arrange it in the bowl raw, to be cooked when the broth is poured over. For this method, make sure the broth is boiling so it will cook enough. For shredded meat, you can arrange it in the bottom of the bowl- this is what we have more frequently as they tend to be tougher, cheaper cuts, and I also have shredded meat in my fridge quite often. For chicken, it will need to be cooked first, then added to the bottom. This is a great opportunity to use leftovers- slice up a pork chop, chicken thigh/breast, or anything else left in the fridge.
It’s time to salt the broth- with miso, sauces (like mentioned above), or sea salt. I prefer to arrange hoisin, soy, and chili sauce on the table so people can add their own. Now that you have a plate of fresh ingredients, some noodles and protein in the bowl, and some piping hot liquid, you do what the name says- pour the broth over. That’s it, time to serve.
Pour-Over Pho Inspired Soup
1 L of stock will serve dinner sized portions of about 500 mL per person, or side portions of 250 mL for 4 people. There are very few exact amounts- it’s meant to be looked at logically for how many people you have and about how much they are going to eat. It’s great to have leftovers for lunch the next day, so don’t worry if you make too much, just store the fresh and liquid/noodles/meat separately.
1 L of stock or flavoured cooking liquid
1 star anise, whole
1 Tbsp peppercorns, whole
1 inch piece of ginger, sliced
Leftover shredded beef
Rice Noodles, cooked
Handful of bean sprouts
4 sliced radishes
Cilantro, Thai Basil, and Mint, thoroughly washed and plucked from stems
Raw green cabbage, thinly sliced
½ lime per person, cut into 2 wedges
Green onions, sliced
1-3 Tbsp miso, to taste
2 tsp fish sauce
Chili sauce (like Sriracha)
Follow the directions above.