Best Pho Recipe
2013 started off a little roughly for my daughter who was feeling under the weather. Pho (pronounced “fuh”) is sort of like a miracle drug. Sip some of the rich, hot broth and feel immediately better! Committed to cooking more and more lately, I decided to make some for my baby (and myself) some pho from scratch.
First I needed a legitimate recipe. And I needed to know that it was legit. After googling for a half an hour or so, I had found a post that included several popular pho recipes. I read through each of them to find common ground and settled on this Steamy Kitchen post, adapted from Andrea Nguyen’s Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, which has been nominated for a James Beard Foundation award and two International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP). Good enough for me! It includes wonderful, step by step instructions and pictures! Feel free to refer back to it as well.
(For more details on the Vietnamese beef noodle soup, check out the second half of my post that’s dedicated to it here.)
If you’d taken a guess as to the spices that deliver the rich broth, you might not have suspected the following:
- cinnamon sticks
- coriander pods
- star anise
Steamy Kitchen included this spice picture that breaks it down (mesh bag is used to put all the spices into for easy extraction later):
Richer Flavors, Worthy Ingredients
Just like the onions and mushrooms in Julie Child’s Beef Bourguignon (Savor SA provides the recipe here), one has to invest in the ingredients to maximize the return. You don’t just put in onions. You put in onions and ginger that has been broiled on high for 15 minutes on each side. I was multi-tasking the other parts of the soup and ended up broiling for longer and did no harm to the onions.
The Bones for the Broth
One could argue there is no ingredient in pho more important than the broth. Duh. And it’s not just tasty. It’s clear. I did not really appreciate it truly until I made it myself. I have made a lot of stocks from scratch never being concerned with the more murky, opaque appearance. For pho though, you want it clear. And not too fatty/greasy.
Recommended bones are leg and knuckle beef bones which you can find in the beef section of your local grocery store or even better, by asking your local farmer at the market. I didn’t have time to wait until the weekend and opted for the HEB section. Found 8 pounds for under $10. Very cheap.
TRICK: The trick to the clearer broth is to parboil the bones first. That means getting your 8 quart pot to a ROLLING boil and dunking in all the bones for 10 minutes.
TIP: Pop out the marrow in 4/5 of the bones to prevent the soup from being too greasy.
*There’s a knife in the boiling water so I could easily cute the marrow out…but it popped right out just pushing it with my fingers.
Not to be gross, but this murky, greasy junk would have been in my broth is I hadn’t parboiled the bones. After the 10 minutes, I dumped the water and rinsed the bones in cold water. At first I was afraid I was washing off the flavor but I rinsed pretty vigorously.
Once the bones are rinses, I put them back in the pot and covered them with cold water and brought it back to a boil. Which takes a while. Use a mesh strainer to get out the scum that rises to the top.
After straining everything out, add the charred ginger, onion, spice packet (of above ingredients), sugar, fish sauce, and salt.
TIP: Fish sauces should not be skimped on. Don’t go cheap. The darker the better. At first I didn’t have fish sauce and I googled fish sauce alternatives. People recommended mixing equal parts soy sauce and rice vinegar (or 2 parts soy sauce, 1 part rice vinegar…) but I think it would be too salty. Find a local Asian market and get some!
TIP: Sugar recommended was the rock candy kind that you liked to get as a kid.
I know I took more pictures but cannot find them at this time. The recipe recommends simmering the bones and ingredients together for 1.5 hours and then removing the bones and continuing to simmer the rest of the ingredients for another 1.5 hours.
When I was making this broth I did not have fish sauce, cinnamon sticks, or cardamom. Actually I also didn’t have mesh bags or ginger either…but that’s saved for later in this post.
I had everything else though and I wanted to cook pho. So I simmer the bones and ingredients for 1.5 hours. Then I removed the bones and simmered the ingredients for another 1.5 hours. Then I let it cool and put it in the refrigerator until I could continue with the other ingredients. Which happened to be overnight.
Overnight, all the fat solidifies at the top. I was able to very easily scoop it out and discard. The beauty of broth is that the more you simmer it, the richer and deeper the flavors become.
TIP: Refrigerate over night to remove additional fat easily.
I added the ingredients the next day and simmered for another couple of hours. It was worth the ingredient additions. I had my broth.
Pho is made with rice noodles. I didn’t have a chance to go to an Asian market to look at the fresh noodle options (in the chilled section…) so we settled for dried ones that I boiled for 10 minutes (or until tender.) The first thing my daughter said was that the broth was great, the noodles did not taste good.
TIP: Go to an Asian market and get GOOD rice noodles for your pho.
Traditionally the raw meet and noodles are put into the bowl and boiling pho broth is ladeled over it. The thinly sliced premium cut meat (because you don’t want to skimp here either…) is cooked by the hot broth. You can then offer freshly sliced limes (sliced within 30 minutes of use for optimized juice flavor), cilantro, Thai basil, thinly sliced onions, bean sprouts, hoison sauce, and siracha for a kick. Eat it with chop sticks in one hand and a spoon in the other.
- Mesh Bag – I didn’t have a mesh bag (or cheesecloth…) and used an unopened pair of fishnet stockings. I googled the heck out of it (not the only person out there doing this!!) and washed and rinsed them with dish soap.
- 8 Quart Pot – I also do not have an 8 quart pot (yet!!) I do however have two 4 quart pots. I split everything in half until I removed the bones after 1.5 hours of initial simmering. At this point there was enough space for all the broth, sans bones.
- Ginger – I didn’t have fresh ginger (for the first time ever!!) that I could char but I did have roasted ginger tea. I put a tea bag with my spices in my fishnets and simmered it for the 3 hours and it worked for me!
- Marrow – I was left with a lot of marrow chunks from the bones…loving marrow, I saved it and have used it in sauces and sauteing (like a lard) since. Very tasty – Julia Child has a recipe with bone marrow too.
Here is the actual recipe that I followed from Steamy Kitchen:
2 onions, halved
4″ nub of ginger, halved lengthwise
5-6 lbs of good beef bones, preferably leg and knuckle
1 lb 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 sugarTHE BOWLS
2 lbs rice noodles (dried or fresh)
cooked beef from the broth
1/2 lb flank, london broil, sirloin or eye of round, sliced as thin as possible.
big handful of each: mint, cilantro, basil
2 limes, cut into wedges
2-3 chili peppers, sliced
2 big handfuls of 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. 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.