Skimming the Scum

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Skimming the scum.
Skimming the scum.

What is scum?  Scum is the foam that floats to the top of your pot and collects in an unappetizing brown mass.  Ignoring scum can be devastating when simmering meat to create a broth.  Failure to skim the scum will turn your broth into a murky mess if left to its own devices. Who wants to eat a murky pho?

Skimming the scum seems easy enough – just skim the scum off the top of the broth, right?  In actuality, anyone who’s tried to wing it has probably learned the hard way that there’s a real art to skimming the scum.  If done improperly, skimming the scum could also mean skimming off the good oils, spices, or other flavorful items from that broth you’re working so hard to perfect, or it could mean that you’re pouring a third of your broth down the drain.

Here’s how to efficiently skim the scum:

  1. Find a wide, flat spoon.  Inexpensive versions like the one in the photo above can easily be found at most Vietnamese or Chinese markets.
  2. Grab something for a “trash bowl” to conveniently keep by the stove.  A medium bowl works, or if you want to minimize those dreaded dishes to wash later, use the styrofoam base that the meat you’re simmering was originally packaged in – don’t accidentally melt the styrofoam!
  3. Grab your spoon, and use it to gently push the scum to one side of the pot.
  4. Once the scum is collected on one side, use your spoon to gently skim the top of the broth with the spoon, thereby removing the powdery scum.  Discard the scum in your trash bowl.  Skim slowly so you don’t stir the scum back into the broth, and also to keep from skimming off the flavorful ingredients.
  5. Check your broth regularly for scum throughout the entire cooking process.

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