Who doesn’t likes Vietnamese pho? In the Vietnamese culinary repertoire, pho is the quintessential food. Actually, it’s the national dish of Vietnam.
So what is pho? Pho is one of the modern elements of Vietnamese cuisine with relatively short history. It is an amalgamation of local Vietnamese ingredients and French culinary techniques resulting from French colonization during the years of the French Protectorate in the nineteenth century. The derivation of the word pho is up for debate, but most sources agree that the word pho is derived from the French word for fire- feu.
Over the years, I have eaten Vietnamese pho in many places. It’s clear that there’s no definitive way to prepare it. However, there are a few basic things that a good pho must have: the rich and crystal clear Vietnamese pho broth, the immensely beefy flavor, the aroma of the spices, and the cloud of steamy hot vapor rising from the bowl when served.
Ever since I became a ‘pho-coholic’, I wished that one day I could replicate the Vietnamese pho recipe at home. In the process of unraveling the mysteries of how to cook my homemade pho, I have stumbled many times, before perfecting the pho making technique.
Here is the recipe for how to prepare a bowl of incredible Vietnamese pho. Before you begin cooking, please read the notes that follow the recipe. There is much more valuable information there. You can also get more information at a website call Loving Pho.
- 600g of onions (about 3 to 4 medium sized onions), split in half
- 200g of ginger (about 12 cm long ginger), split in half lengthwise
- 2.5kg of beef (shin + leg bone), cut into 2 cm thick slices
- ½ kg of beef brisket, cut into 10cm pieces (weighted after trimming)
- 2 star anise pods (20 star points in total)
- 10 cloves
- 10 cm long cinnamon stick
- 2 teaspoon of fennel seeds
- 2 teaspoon of coriander seeds
- 35 g of salt (about 5 teaspoons)
- 60 g of Vietnamese fish sauce (about 4 tablespoons)
- 30g of rock sugar
- 800g of dried or fresh pho noodles (divided into 8 bowls)
- 500g of sirloin, cut thinly against the grain
- 1 medium onion, sliced paper thin
- 3 stalks of scallions, cut into thin rings
- 3 sprigs of chopped coriander leafs
- Ground black pepper
- 1 sprig of spearmint
- 1 sprig of Thai basil
- 1 sprig of cilantro
- 200g of bean sprouts
- Thai's bird's eye chili cut into thin rings
- A few lime wedges
- 200g of fish sauce, plus more to taste
- 2 limes, each cut into 4 wedges
- Hoisin sauce and Sriracha
- Place a wire cooling rack over the flame of a burner, set to high heat. Place ginger and onions on the rack and turn it occasionally until the skin becomes slightly blackened on all sides. It will take about 10 to 15 minutes.
- Place the bones in a stockpot and immerse in cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Boil vigorously for 5 minutes to allow impurities to release from the bone. Tip the bones into a sink. When cool enough to handle, rinse the bones under running water and carefully remove any debris from them. Clean the stockpot, return the bones to the pot.
- Add just enough cold water to immerse the bones. Bring to boil over high heat, While the broth is boiling, skim off any impurities on the surface for 15 minutes to ensure a clean, clear broth, then reduce the heat to a low simmer. Add brisket, charred onions, ginger, star, anise, cinnamon, fennel, cloves, coriander, fish sauce, sugar, and salt.
- Gently simmer uncovered for 1½ hours. When the brisket is tender, remove it from the broth and place it in cold water to cool. Drain and keep in the refrigerator for use later.
- Continue simmering for 3½ hours, top up the water as necessary to just immerse the bones.
- Strain the broth through a fine strainer. Discard the bones and the spices. Adjust the final volume of the broth to 4 liters. Skim off the oil on the surface as much as possible. Season the broth with additional salt, fish sauce and rock sugar if desired.
- Blanch the rice noodles in boiling water for 20 seconds. Drain, then transfer back to the bowl. Place a few pieces of beef brisket and raw sirloin on top of the noodles. Bring the broth to rolling boil. Ladle the broth evenly over the raw meat and other ingredients.
- Garnish with spring onion and coriander to each bowl.
- Serve hot with some bean sprouts, basil, and lime.
The fine points in preparing the Vietnamese pho
1. Start with the right blend of bones
Top-notch Vietnamese pho broth is made by simmering a blend of beef bone for five to six hours until all the flavor is released. I use the combination of leg bones, shin and brisket.
– Leg bones contain bone marrow. Bone marrow is packed with rich flavor that is undeniable for pho broth.
– Beef shin has a large amount of collagen. Collagen will break down to gelatine as it cooks. Gelatine will give the pho broth its rich body and mouth-coating texture.
– Beef brisket is also packed with flavor. Remove it after simmering for 1 1/2 hour and serve on top of the noodles.
This component of preparing Vietnamese pho is inevitable to yield superior broth.
2. Aim for a clear pho broth
Superior pho broth should be crystal clear, much like the French consomme.
– Blanch the bone for five minutes and rinse it in cold water. Blanching greatly reduces the amount of residue in the broth. The bone will lose flavor. The bones exude their essence during the five hours of gentle simmering.
– Simmering over low heat also helps to produce clear broth.
– Remove the scum and detritus risen to the water level during the first 15 to 20 minutes of simmering. It is this scum that is largely responsible for cloudy murky pho broths.
3. Char the onion and ginger
Charring gives an amazing brown color and deepens the pho flavors. It is the result of caramelization of sugar of the onion and ginger. It produces a more complex flavor of the pho broth.
Char the ginger and onion by putting it on a wire cooling rack set directly over the gas burner. You can use a pair of tongs to hold and move them slowly over the flames.
Char until the edges are slightly blackened and fragrant. Remove the charred skin under running water. Trim and discard the blackened parts of the root and stem ends. Use a sharp paring knife to remove the skin of the ginger under running water to wash off the blackened bits. Set them aside.
4. Use yellow rock sugar
Rock sugar are irregular lumps of crystallized, refined sugar. It has a clean taste without caramel tones. It is not as sweet as regular white sugar. It is used to sweeten the Vietnamese pho.
The Chinese like to use rock sugar to make desserts and sweeten tea as it is not overwhelmingly sweet.
5. Toast the spices (star anise, clove, cinnamon)
Some cooks like to toast the spices before adding them to the broth. I do not think that it makes a huge difference to the final taste of the Vietnamese pho.
If you want to toast the spices, put them in a flat pan or a skillet over a medium-low flame. Once the spices become fragrant, remove them from the heat. Lightly crush the spices, encase them in cheesecloth and add them to the broth.
6. Use fresh spices
The key to getting the great aroma is using fresh spices. Spices will lose the aroma over time. If you can’t get fresh spices, you can use ground spices and be sure they are within the period before expiry date. Most Vietnamese pho recipes use fresh spices.
7. Simmer (Be patient)
There is no short cut to making a Vietnamese pho broth. What it needs is to simmer, simmer and simmer!
Since it takes some time to extract the flavor of the bone marrow, some cooks prefer to simmer more than five hours to fully extract the flavor. I found that there is no difference to going beyond five hours so I remove it from heat after five hours of simmering.
Keep the heat very low so the broth is barely boiling. It takes time for the marrow in the bones to dissolve into the water. The flavor cannot be forced out by increasing the heat.
8. Always serve Vietnamese pho hot
Pour the boiling broth over the raw beef. The heat of the boiling broth is enough to cook the raw beef cut into thin slices. It also warms the cooked beef, noodles and other ingredients in the bowl. Do not let the noodles sit in the bowl. The noodles will absorb too much broth and become soggy.
Serve it with plenty of bean sprouts, fresh basil and lime along with the bowl of pho.
9. Use rice noodles for Vietnamese pho
Use only rice noodles for Vietnamese pho. Egg noodles are for Chinese soup noodles, not pho noodles.
– Soak the pho noodles in cold water for about 30 minutes and drain them. (Alternatively, boil the noddles in water for 5 minutes).
– Place the noodles into a sieve and lower them into a pot of boiling water.
– Loosen the noodles with a pair of chopsticks or a spatula. It only takes about ten to twenty seconds. Do not overcook.
– Cook just before serving to preserve their chewiness.
10. Freeze the pho broth and cooked meat
If you follow this beef Vietnamese pho recipe, you may end up with some leftover of the Vietnamese pho broth.
Even if you want to cook only a bowl or two, it is worthwhile to make a large batch of pho broth because the cooking process is long. Keep the extra pho broth and meat for your next pho meal.
– Use plastic containers that are suitable for freezing. Fill them up to about 90%.
– Leave some space for the pho broth to expand after turning to ice. Close and keep the containers in the freezer.
– Portion the leftover cooked meat and keep each portion in a plastic containers.
– When you want to use the frozen stock, transfer it from the freezer to the chiller the night before, and leave it at room temperature the next morning until partially defrosted. Put it into a pot and heat it up until it is boiling.
– Thaw the beef at room temperature (or in the microwave if you are running out of time). Put it in the boiled pho broth to regain the freshness. Remove it and serve as mentioned in the recipe.
The flavor of the pho broth and cooked meat will gradually vanish over time in the freezer. Freezing the pho broth is the next best thing to the freshly prepared broth. I suggest that you use it within a month because the flavor will become flat fast.
This is definitely not the easiest Vietnamese pho recipe, but it worth all the effort and time spent when you enjoy the best ever Vietnamese pho.