What the Pho?!
I’ve been working hard perfecting the techniques and recipe for Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup, or Pho, just for you. It’s taken years of kitchen experiments, eating out and scouring for good recipes. Of all the cookbooks that I own, the best recipe that I’ve found for Pho is from:
Andrea Nguyen’s Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, which is one of the most comprehensive books on the cuisine of Vietnam. The book also won nominations for a James Beard Foundation award and two International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP). Definitely a must-have book for Asian food lovers.
So, let’s get right to the Vietnamese Beef Pho Recipe!
The dish is pronounced “fuh” and not “foo” or “foe” or “puh”
Yeah, Pho is cheap eat out…but to be able to make a home made version? Pretty Pho-king amazing, if you ask me.
It’s best if you can get each spice separately, but I do find that the spice packets are pretty convenient. They cost less than $2.00 and even come with a mesh bag to put all the spices in. Spices include cinnamon sticks, cloves, coriander pods, star anise and cardamom. Whatever you do, don’t use the Pho spice paste that comes in a jar or can. Nasty stuff, that’s Pho-sho’.
Best Bones for Pho
Knuckle bones are the best to make the stock. The knobby knuckle bones, about the size of your fist, is full of gelatin – which gives body and richness to your broth. The knuckle bones make the biggest difference in your broth! You can find knuckle bones at Asian markets, but at regular supermarkets – you might have to ask your butcher.
Leg bones are also great for the pho broth. Take a look at the photo below. The bone that’s at 12-o’clock position is a leg bone that contains marrow. The marrow is good, but it’s extremely fatty. If I have a lot of marrow bones, I’ll scoop out the marrow with a small spoon or knife and discard after the par-boiling (see below). Having too much marrow will give you a greasy film on your pho broth.
But let’s say that you can’t find leg/knuckle bones. Go ahead and use whatever beef bones your supermarket has and just supplement with some oxtail bones or a pound of beef meat (rump, chuck, brisket, etc.) for extra flavor. Alternatively, you can buy knuckle bones online – Blue Valley Meats offers 100% grass fed knuckle bones for $9 per bag.
Bones are parboiled first for a good 10 minutes in rapidly boiling water – this gets rid of the yucky impurities like blood particles and extra fat. You’ll see gray foam float up to the surface as you boil. After 10 minutes, dump out all of the water, rinse out your pot, rinse the bones, and refill with clean, cool water. I know it’s an extra step, but this will give you the pure, clean-tasting broth.
If you have a lot of marrow bones, use a spoon or knife to scoop out and discard some of the marrow. Do this after the parboil, while the bones are still hot. The marrow can only be scooped out when the bones are hot, otherwise, it solidifies.
Charring Onions and Ginger
Charring or roasting the onions and ginger gives you a wonderfully mellow and naturally sweet flavor. I used to char over an open flame on my stovetop with a pair of tongs, but that got pretty tiring. Plus, metal tongs + long time over flame = very hothothot hands. So now, I just raise my oven rack to the highest position and turn my broiler on. See how golden the ginger gets?
So here is my broth boilin’ away with the mesh bag of spices, charred ginger, charred onions and beef bones. You can see floating bits of fat and the damn scumbag.
Fat & marrow bits = good eats. Try to keep that in the broth!
But gotta get rid of the scum! I use a very, very fine mesh strainer designed just for scum. heh. A scumbag strainer. Can you imagine if I had a line of cookware and tools – “Steamy Kitchen Scumbag Strainer.” Straining the scum keeps your broth pure and clean. The lower the simmer, the less scum you have.
A note on broth simmering time – I simmer the broth for 3 hours. According to both Andrea Nguyen and Corinne Trang (author of Authentic Vietnamese Cooking and former editor and director of Saveur’s test kitchen) – all of the flavors in the bone have been extracted after 3 hours.
Thin Sliced Meat
You can use a thinly sliced flank steak, london broil, sirloin, eye of round or tri-tip. Instead of beef slices, you could use beef balls (Bo Vien) found in the freezer section of your Asian market. The secret to cutting meat is to cut across the grain. You want your beef slices as thin as possible, and I always throw the whole chunk of meat in the freezer for 15 minutes to make it easier to slice thinly.
Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup typically uses rice noodles. You can buy them dried or fresh. I love the slippery softness of fresh noodles (look in the refrigerator or freezer section.) Most restaurants will use dried, flat rice noodles. Look for ones that are medium thickness and flat like these.
Pho-tastic condiments! On the tables of every Pho restaurant, you’ll see these two condiments, Cock Sauce (Sriracha hot chili sauce) and Hoisin Sauce. You can squirt and slather as much of these two condiments as you want…but I’m a purist.If I’m going to spend a couple of hours carefully crafting a rich, flavor-packed, clean soup – I better taste every damn drop. Condiment sauces just get in the way. Sometimes, I’ll squirt a bit of each sauce in a little dish and dip my meat in the sauce as I take a bite. You ask….why do we call it Cock sauce? See that rooster on the bottle?
Pho Vegetables and Herbs
Fresh mint, cilantro, basil, bean sprouts, limees, sliced chili peppers are just some of my favorite accompaniments. Set a plate at the table and your guests can pick and choose what they like. Here’s a great Pho-tograph of fresh vegetables and herbs.
These are tools that I recommend and use in my kitchen.
More Pho Recipes
Crock Pot/Slow Cooker Pho Recipe
Don’t have time to man a stove? Use your crock pot or slow cooker!
Vietnamese Chicken Pho (Pho Ga) Recipe
Vietnamese Pho: Beef Noodle Soup Recipe
Adapted from my favorite Vietnamese cookbook
Into the Vietnamese Kitchen
Sometimes, I omit the 1 pound of beef meat in the broth (you'll see I've made it optional) - as I've found that as long as I have good bones, the broth will have enough flavor to not need the extra beef meat.
2 onions, halved
4" nub of ginger, halved lengthwise
5-6 pounds of good beef bones, preferably leg and knuckle
1 pound of beef meat - chuck, brisket, rump, cut into large slices [optional]
6 quarts of water
1 package of Pho Spices [1 cinnamon stick, 1 tbl coriander seeds, 1 tbl fennel seeds, 5 whole star anise, 1 cardamom pod, 6 whole cloves - in mesh bag]
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt (halve if using regular table salt)
1/4 cup fish sauce
1 inch chunk of yellow rock sugar (about 1 oz) - or 1oz of regular sugar
2 pounds rice noodles (dried or fresh)
Cooked beef from the broth (shredded or thinly sliced)
1/2 pound flank, london broil, sirloin or eye of round, sliced as thinly as possible.
big handful of each: mint, cilantro, basil
2 limes, cut into wedges
2-3 chili peppers, sliced
2 big handfuls of fresh bean sprouts
Sriracha hot sauce
Char: Turn your broiler on high and move rack to the highest spot. Place ginger and onions on baking sheet. Brush just a bit of cooking oil on the cut side of each. Broil on high until ginger and onions begin to char. Turn over and continue to char. This should take a total of 10-15 minutes.
Parboil the bones: Fill large pot (12-qt capacity) with cool water. Boil water, and then add the bones, keeping the heat on high. Boil vigorously for 10 minutes. Drain, rinse the bones and rinse out the pot. If you have a lot of marrow in the bones, use a small spoon to scoop out and discard some of the marrow. Refill pot with bones and 6 qts of cool water. Bring to boil over high heat and lower to simmer. Using a ladle or a fine mesh strainer, remove any scum that rises to the top.
Boil broth: Add ginger, onion, spice packet, beef, sugar, fish sauce, salt and simmer uncovered for 1 1/2 hours. Remove the beef meat and set aside (you'll be eating this meat later in the bowls) Continue simmering for another 1 1/2 hours. Strain broth and return the broth to the pot. Taste broth and adjust seasoning - this is a crucial step. If the broth's flavor doesn't quite shine yet, add 2 teaspoons more of fish sauce, large pinch of salt and a small nugget of rock sugar (or 1 teaspoon of regular sugar). Keep doing this until the broth tastes perfect.
Prepare noodles & meat: Slice your flank/london broil/sirloin as thin as possible - try freezing for 15 minutes prior to slicing to make it easier. Remember the cooked beef meat that was part of your broth? Cut or shred the meat and set aside. Arrange all other ingredients on a platter for the table. Your guests will "assemble" their own bowls. Follow the directions on your package of noodles - there are many different sizes and widths of rice noodles, so make sure you read the directions. For some fresh rice noodles, just a quick 5 second blanch in hot water is all that's needed. The package that I purchased (above) - needed about 45 seconds in boiling water.
Ladling: Bring your broth back to a boil. Line up your soup bowls next to the stove. Fill each bowl with rice noodles, shredded cooked beef and raw meat slices. As soon as the broth comes back to a boil, ladle into each bowl. the hot broth will cook your raw beef slices. Serve immediately. Guests can garnish their own bowls as they wish.