What the Pho?!
First things first. Let’s clear up the pronunciation. Pho is pronounced fuh, NOT foe. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, Beef Pho is to Vietnam what pizza is to Italy, or what fish and chips are to England. It can be hard to call something a national dish, but Vietnamese beef pho probably is the number one dish associated with Vietnamese cuisine.
There are many different types of Pho, including chicken and seafood, but beef is the most common. And the number of different beef cuts and options on menus at a Pho restaurant can be dizzying. Everything from raw beef, to tendon, to tripe is available. Without getting too crazy, my Vietnamese Beef Pho brings all that vibrant flavor straight to your table by selecting a couple of contrasting beef cuts, creating a great stock, and highlighting a couple key points.
Pho is a customizable soup, with endless garnishes offered for you to tweak your own bowl. There’s hot sauce for the hotheads, bottles of fish sauce for the funkheads, and lots of other tasty little bits of herbs and goodies like shallots, limes, and sprouts that are passed around to add freshness, flavor and crunch. No two bowls will be alike and that’s all part of the fun.
No matter what type of broth or protein, no pho would be complete without the slippery, chewy deliciousness of pho noodles. Known as báhn pho, these rice noodles are also sometimes called rice sticks. Look for the ones that are thicker than vermicelli, but thinner than the really wide rice noodles used for stir fries. It is best to use the fresh or frozen noodles for this dish, instead of dried noodles. I find the taste of fresh noodles so much better than dried in Pho.
Star anise is the dominant spice flavor in a true pho broth. Star anise gives it that characteristic sweet aroma. Toasting the star anise, cinnamon stick, and cloves will help to release and deepen their flavor. Since we want to toast them to bring out the flavor, it’s efficient to do it on the same pan as the aromatics. Toasting the spices will just take a couple minutes. Be careful though not to burn them though as that will add a bitterness we don’t want. As soon as you can smell them, they’re ready.
A Great Broth Takes Time
Pho is based on a rich bone broth, usually beef, although there are some regional variations. One of the more common requests we get at our restaurant in South Miami is for Pho. But once you see the process in making the broth, you will see while it is not difficult, it does require lengthy simmering to achieve a rich bone broth. It takes time and stove space to get flavor and richness out of those bones. Since we are in short supply of both, we keep Pho as an anticipated special rather than a regular menu item.
Making the Broth
Typically, bones are combined with vegetables which are charred over an open fire, before simmering for hours. However, my recipe streamlines the process for you, without sacrificing one drop of authentic flavor. First, we’ll start out by using the broiler to get a nice, fast char on the onions and ginger. This will help mimic some of pho’s characteristic smokiness without the hassle of lighting a grill. And toasting the spices on the same tray also keeps washing dishes to a minimum.
Choose the Right Bones
Now it’s time for the beef bones. I always use neck bones. Ask your butcher for meaty bones- they have more flavor. You’ll do a quick boil to rid them of impurities (the initial scum that may rise from them). Then rinse them in fresh water, and simmer with the spices, onions, and other flavorings, giving a stir every 30 minutes or so, and skimming the surface to remove scum/oil. We continue to skim off any scum residue that rises so that the final broth is clean and clear.
Finally, you’ll add the braising meat in the last two hours, simmering until it becomes fork tender. I have brisket in the recipe but you could use chuck as well. Then you are going to strain the broth into a container, and slice the meat. Although we like a clear broth, a little bit of fat is nice as it gives the broth some body and richness.
See those impurities in the first picture? Remove them to keep your broth nice and clear.
Do It In Stages
The broth can be made ahead, and both the meat and broth refrigerated separately, until you are ready to make the noodles and serve. Sometimes on a weekend when I have more time, I’ll make the broth. Then, on a Tuesday night, I can surprise everyone with pho, because once the broth is done, the rest comes together quickly, since it’s mostly just a matter of cooking your noodles, reheating the broth, and prepping your garnishes.
You should put together a garnish plate before you start on the noodles. The garnish plate is where everyone gets creative, using it to customize their own bowls. Mound the fresh herbs, crisp bean sprouts, slices of jalapeño, and wedges of lime attractively on a plate and set it in the middle of the table where friends can help themselves. Also common and appreciated are little sauce dishes where you can squeeze hoisin sauce and sriracha to flavor the meat. Once you have placed all of these items on the table, it’s time to get your bowls of Pho out to your hungry family.
Ready To Serve
Start by prepping your noodles and topping with the meat. Above all, it’s important to bring the broth back to a rolling boil before you pour it over your noodles. You need it at a scorching temperature in order to not only finish softening the noodles but also keep the dish hot since you have raw meat and cold garnishes.
And then it’s time to gather everyone around the table! Let them add spicy funk, squirts of citrus, herbal goodness, and raw veggie crunch to their heart’s content.
Pho is such a fun and delicious meal, I know your family is going to love it. If you make our Vietnamese Beef Pho, we want to know! Leave a comment, rate it, and tag us in your photos, @funkyasiankitchen. Show us the goods!Print
Classic Vietnamese Beef Pho, with a rich and savory broth, and of course delicious noodles.
For the broth:
- 5 pounds beef neck bones (you need meaty bones, do not use bones that have no meat or your soup will be watery and flavorless)
- 1 pound brisket or chuck roast
- 3 2-inch pieces of ginger, washed and slightly smashed with the side of a knife
- 2 large yellow onions washed and halved
- 8 whole star anise
- 3 cinnamon stick
- 5 whole cloves
- 1 cup fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons sea salt
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 2 lb frozen/fresh pho noodles defrosted
- 1 pound of shaved top round, sirloin, or rib eye
- 4 scallions, chopped
- 2 shallots or ¼ yellow onion, thinly sliced
- ½ lb fresh bean sprouts
- 1 bunch of thai/holy basil
- 1 small bunch cilantro or culantro leaves
- jalapeno or Serrano chile, thinly sliced
- 2 limes quartered
- Hoisin sauce
- sriracha chile sauce
- fish sauce
Make the broth:
- Turn the broiler on high and move the oven rack to the top. Put the onions (cut side up) and ginger on a baking tray and broil for 10-12 mins. Don’t be scared. Make sure they are well browned/blackened.
- Flip the onions and ginger and broil for another 6-8 mins. In the last couple of minutes, add the star anise, cinnamon sticks, and cloves to the pan to toast. Place the spices, the onions, and ginger in a bowl and set aside.
- In a large stockpot, place the bones in 6 quarts of water and bring the water to a rolling boil over high heat. Let the bones boil for 5 mins to rid the bones of impurities. Drain the bones in a large colander and rinse with water to wash off any lingering bone fragments.
- Rinse out the pot and then place the bones back in the stockpot along with the onion and ginger. Fill with 8 quarts of filtered water (using filtered water is recommended any time you make a soup).
- Bring the broth to a simmer over high heat then lower heat to medium, cover partially with a lid, and simmer for 4-5 hours, skimming the surface of impurities a couple of times for the first hour.
- Fish out the ginger and onion from the pot. Then add the spices, brisket, fish sauce, sugar, and salt and simmer for about an hour and a half until the meat is fork tender.
Strain the Broth:
- Pour the soup through a colander into a clean container and skim the surface fat if there is a lot. A little bit of fat remaining on the surface is fine and will give the soup body and richness.
- If you are making the pho in stages, which is a great idea, chilling the stock in the fridge overnight will simplify de-fatting as the fat will congeal at the top and make removing it very easy.
- You should have about 6 quarts of broth. Add a little water if you’re short or reduce the liquid for a couple mins over high heat if you have a lot more. Taste the broth. It should be more salty than you would normally drink since the noodles and vegetables will dilute the broth. Adjust with some salt if needed.
- Slice the brisket into thin slices against the grain. If your meat is too soft to slice, chill it along with the stock and cut it when it is cold, which will be much easier. Put all of the meat into a storage container and refrigerate if not using right away.
For the Noodles and Garnishes:
- If you need to make your own shaved beef, put the top round or sirloin into the freezer for about 1 hour until slightly frozen. Using a sharp knife, slice the meat as thinly as possible across the grain. When all the meat is sliced, gather it onto a plate and refrigerate until ready to make the noodles.
- Wash the bean sprouts, cilantro, and basil and mound onto a large platter. Add the cut limes to the plate and refrigerate until ready to serve the noodles.
- Bring the stock to a simmer before preparing the noodles. If you need to reheat the brisket, take a little of the stock and put it into a separate pan with the brisket. Put a lid over the pan and let the meat reheat gently over medium heat.
- Put the noodles into a large bowl. Bring 2 quarts of water to boil and pour the water over the noodles. Use tongs or chopsticks to stir the noodles for 1 minute and then drain the noodles into a colander and rinse with cool water. Do not let the noodles sit in the hot water for longer than 1 minute-you want your noodles springy and chewy, not mushy.
- Divide the noodles into 8 deep soup bowls and top with the hot brisket slices, the cold raw meat, some sliced onion, and a sprinkling of scallions. (I also used some of the braised meat off of the neck bones in the photos).
- Bring your broth to a rolling boil. Then ladle 2-3 cups of the broth over the noodles, trying to avoid the raw meat so it doesn’t discolor from the heat. But if you prefer your meat cooked well, go ahead and pour the hot broth over the raw meat. Serve immediately. Guests can add their favorite garnishes and adjust the flavor of the pho with the condiments at the table.
I hate to throw away the bones with all of that meat and would encourage you to remove the meat from the bones and save it for another use. You can use the meat in the pho itself, in stir-fries, as a filling for tacos or hot sandwiches, or even in other soups. Here is a link for a quick recipe using the leftover meat.
Keywords: pho, soup, vietnamese, beef, noodles