Instagram has been great for me once again. Seems like the more you put in, the more you get out. Last week, I had posted a photo of some sad-looking nachos from Browns Social House where I voiced my displeasure:
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Anybody like #shitty #nachos? 💩 Not enough cheese, way too much green onion… At least the #guacamole was ok…cuz how can you screw up guac? You can't! Now I know why this place is called Browns. 💩 #brownssocialhouse . (This was a family thing. The other food was tolerable. Service was good.)
“The Koerner’s trademark, patent pending signature dish. Braised beef brisket, bean sprouts, mozzarella, lime, cilantro, Hoisin and Sriracha.”
I thought, can I make my own version without actually seeing or tasting their version?
So, just going by a menu description, off I went:
$15 of brisket, cut into big chunks. I bought it from my local Asian supermarket (Chong Lee Market), where they have cut-up brisket parts that they call “Short Plate”. It’s not the primo brisket part that’s used for barbecue, but I believe it’s further down towards the flank, and is a cut that’s usually used to make pastrami. If you’ve eaten curry beef brisket or beef stew in a Hong Kong cafe-type place, you might’ve eaten this luscious cut.
I’m not sure what Koerner’s Pub does to their brisket, but I wanted to infuse actual pho flavours into the meat, so I braised it in pho soup. But laziness won out this time, so I just bought those pho soup teabags, which contain all the aromatics you need for a somewhat ok approximation of pho soup that you can make at home. Real pho soup is quite labour-intensive if you try to make it from scratch. (BUT Serious Eats has a 1-hour cheater version that is supposed to be quite good.)
Searing the brisket for extra Maillard flavours. I then covered it with water, added the pho soup teabag, and let it simmer for about 3 hours. In addition to the teabag, I added a bit of Korean sea salt and a touch of sugar.
Partway through, I decided to make a drop lid (aka parchment cartouche). I’ve seen it on TV before, so I tried it and it seemed to work. My centre hole is probably a bit too big though.
The finished brisket! Pull-apart tender! I couldn’t help but eat a few chunks of the soft fat 😀 I could’ve made myself a beef fat sandwich right there… There’s actually quite a bit of fat, so I trimmed it off leaving just the succulent meat 😀
This was almost an afterthought but I had a big pot of pho broth braising liquid, so I just reduced it and added a cornstarch slurry at the end to thicken it, and BINGO umami-rich pho-infused gravy.
Poking around Serious Eats, I saw that some nacho recipes used both cheese sauce AND grated cheese. I bought the cheapest mozzarella I could find just in case it didn’t turn out. Following their recipe (but substituting mozzarella for cheddar), I made a cheese sauce:
If you do this recipe, you really have to let it boil and bubble a bit so that you cook out the cornstarch or else it’ll taste grainy and powdery. But eventually it comes together.
The cheese sauce does get firm and pasty as it cools down, so if you want cheese that’s runny at room temperature, you might have to resort to adding Cheez Whiz or some molecular gastronomy type stuff.
Going with the pho theme, I bought some cilantro but all of the cilantro at the store was sad and wilty 🙁 So, if you have 24 hours, you can revive wilty herbs by cutting the bottoms off and sticking it into cold water.
One thing that Koerner’s Pub doesn’t include (I think) is Thai basil. For me, it’s a MUST if you want to evoke that essence of pho. This is my mom’s batch of Thai basil being happily polinated by bees. The plants were so amazingly aromatic. For maximum aroma, wait until the last moment before chopping or (preferrably) hand-tearing the leaves.
I saw these lime & habanero tortilla chips at Superstore. Pho always has a wedge of lime, so I got these in addition to actual lime to punch up the lime flavours. And also (the easiest part), I had old bottles of hoisin sauce and sriracha to complete these pho-inspired nachos.
So with my brisket, cheese sauce, and all my toppings prepped, it’s time to (finally) build the nachos. This was my attempt at drizzling cheese sauce on the chips. Not too much cuz I was afraid it’d make the chips soggy.
Building layers of chips, cheese sauce, shredded mozzarella, and brisket.
Bake at 350°F until the cheese is gooey, then it’s ready for toppings!
I let people add gravy to their own portions. It was oh-so good, and really helped punch up the meaty, pho-like favours.
- mozzarella cheese sauce
- shredded mozzarella
- braised brisket (roughly chopped & hand-torn)
- Thai basil (freshly torn)
- bean sprouts
- hoisin sauce
- lime wedges (I let people squeeze their own as they ate, to keep the chips crispy)
- pho gravy (I also let people add to taste)
The bulk of the time and work is just prepping all the ingredients. Once you have your mise en place all set, it’s like cooking a Chinese stir-fry — it all happens quickly at the end.
DELICIOUS! All the meaty and fresh-herb quality of pho, combined with the cheesy and crunchy chip goodness of nachos! Limes tie it all together cuz they’re common to both pho and tex-mex. Whoever thought up pho nachos was a genius!
The cheese only remains gooey for a precious few minutes. The cheese sauce tastes quite nice but does make the chips a bit soggy, so next time I’ll serve it on the side. Freshness is key! Crispy chips, oozey cheese, crisp juicy bean sprouts (surprisingly my favourite part, which helped balance out the rich flavours), fresh herbs, lime…it’s like getting a face full of pho-like aromas. And braising the brisket in pho broth really helped evoke an aromatic sense of pho too.
Slammin’ beer pairing! Driftwood Gose-uh was just slightly tart, but citrusy and dry. Perfect bubbly match for the pho nachos, and would work great with an actual bowl of pho too!
We actually opened up some Brassneck People Person dry-hopped sour, and while that beer is absolutely fantastic, it wasn’t as good of a match with the nachos as the gose. Gose — my new favourite food pairing beer? Might it replace saisons in my food-pairing repertoire?
The tray of nachos probably cost around $20 to make, and a restaurant would have to charge $30-40 to make it profitable, but that’s the advantage of doing it at home. You can make it as kick-ass as you want! But thank god I went with the cheapest supermarket shit cheese I could find, or else this could’ve easily cost $60+! Even the cheapest supermarket cheese is fucking expensive! Canada sucks in that way…