This beloved noodle soup is a complete meal in itself and is best served for breakfast or lunch on a weekend. Because the simmering takes at least two hours, I like to prepare the broth a day ahead of time and keep it in the refrigerator, where it will last for three days. Many cookbooks call for it to be made with oxtail bones, but I prefer a combination of marrow bones and beef chuck, which is what pho cooks in Vietnam use. A good pho broth needs to be clear, not muddy and dark, and certainly fragrant of beef, anise and ginger.–Mai Pham
LC Pho 101 Note
Author Mai Pham anticipated you needing a cheat sheet to pho—a sorta list of tricks to successfully slurping pho. Lucky you, here it is:
You can serve this soup with several toppings, whether rare to well-done beef, briskets and meatballs, even tripe, tendon, and so on. The easiest ones to prepare at home are cooked and raw beef, as in the accompanying recipe.
To use broth that has been made in advance, bring it to a boil, then add fresh ginger to refresh it. Come serving time, get friends or family to help cook the noodles and assemble the bowls. Make sure that the broth is boiling hot and the bowls preheated. Allow about 1 part noodles to 3 part broth for each bowl.
Eat pho while it’s piping hot. If you wait for it to cool down, the noodles will expand and become soggy, and the dish will taste bland. (Some connoisseurs don’t even talk while they eat their pho, preferring to save serious chatting for later.)
Begin by adding bean sprouts, fresh chiles, and a little squeeze of lime. Using your fingers, pluck the Asian basil leaves from their sprigs and, if saw-leaf is available, shred the leaves and add them to the soup. Add the herbs little by little, eating as you go. (If you put them in all at once, the broth will cool too fast and the herbs will overcook and lose their bright flavors.) Chili sauce and hoisin sauce are traditional condiments, but I avoid them because, to my taste, they mask the flavor of pho.
Push the garnishes in the hot broth with your chopsticks and gently turn the noodles.
With spoon in one hand and chopsticks in the other, pull the noodles out of the broth and eat, slurping the broth. It’s perfectly acceptable to be seen with clumps of noodles dangling from your mouth, eyes squinting from the steam.
The broth is served in large amounts to keep the noodles warm and to help season the dish. It’s not meant to be consumed in its entirety. But if you’re in the mood, it’s not considered rude to tip the bowl and slurp down every last drop.
Vietnamese Rice Noodle Soup with Beef Recipe
- Quick Glance
- 1 H
- 3 H, 10 M
- 6 main-dish servings
- For the broth
- 5 pounds beef marrow or knuckle bones
- 2 pounds beef chuck, cut into 2 pieces
- 2 3-inch pieces ginger root, halved lengthwise, lightly bruised with the flat side of a knife, and charred (see Notes)
- 2 yellow onions, peeled and charred (see Notes)
- 1/4 cup fish sauce
- 3 ounces rock sugar (see Notes) or 3 tablespoons sugar
- 10 whole star anise, lightly toasted in a dry pan
- 6 whole cloves, lightly toasted in a dry pan
- 1 tablespoon sea salt, or to taste
- To assemble and serve
- 1 pound dried 1/16- inch wide rice noodles (banh pho), soaked, cooked, and drained
- 1/3 pound beef sirloin, slightly frozen, then sliced paper-thin across the grain
- 1/2 yellow onion, sliced paper-thin
- 3 scallions, cut into thin rings
- 1/3 cup chopped cilantro
- 1 pound bean sprouts
- 10 sprigs Asian basil (may substitute regular basil or mint)
- 1 dozen saw-leaf herb leave (optional)
- 6 Thai bird chiles or 1 serrano chile, cut into thin rings
- 1 lime, cut into 6 thin wedges
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Make the broth
- 1. In a large stockpot, bring 6 quarts (24 cups) water to a boil. In a smaller pot, bring the beef bones, beef chuck, and enough water to cover to a boil. Let boil vigorously for 5 minutes. Using tongs, carefully transfer the bones and beef to the large pot of boiling water. Discard the water in which the meat cooked. (This reduces the impurities that can cloud the broth.)
- 2. When the water returns to a boil, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Skim any foam from the surface of the broth. Add the charred ginger and onions, fish sauce, and sugar. Gently simmer, skimming any foam, until the beef chuck is tender, about 40 minutes. Only gentle bubbles should rise to the surface of the broth. Do not allow the broth to return to a full boil. (This also reduces the chance of a cloudy broth.)
- 3. Remove one piece of chuck, leaving the other piece in the gently simmering broth. Submerge the chuck in a bowl of cool water for 10 minutes to prevent the meat from drying out. Drain the chuck, then thinly slice and refrigerate it.
- 4. After the broth has simmered for 50 more minutes (1 1/2 hours total), wrap the star anise and cloves in a spice bag or piece of cheesecloth and add to the broth. Let infuse until the broth is fragrant, about 30 minutes more (2 hours total). Remove and discard both the spice bag and onions. Add the salt and leave the remaining chuck and bones to simmer, skimming as necessary, until you’re ready to assemble the pho. (The broth may taste slightly salty but will be balanced once the noodles and accompaniments are added.)
- Assemble and serve
- 5. Place the cooked noodles in preheated bowls. (If the noodles are no longer hot, dip them briefly in boiling water to prevent them from cooling down the soup.) Place a few slices of the reserved thinly sliced beef chuck and the raw sirloin on the noodles. Bring the broth to a rolling boil and ladle about 2 to 3 cups into each bowl. The broth will cook the raw beef instantly. Garnish with yellow onions, scallions, and cilantro. Serve immediately, inviting guests to garnish the bowls with bean sprouts, herbs, chiles, lime juice, and black pepper.
- To char ginger and onions, hold the ingredient with the tongs directly over an open flame or place it directly on a medium-hot electric burner. While turning, char until the edges are slightly blackened and the ginger or onion is fragrant, 3 to 4 minutes. Peel and discard the blackened skins of the ginger and onions, then rinse the remaining ingredient and add to the broth.
- Rock sugar, also known as rock candy or duong phen, is a solidified mixture of refined and unrefined cane sugar and honey. The Vietnamese prefer this sugar in pho and in other savory dishes in which a touch of sweetness is desired. It is available at Asian markets.
- Rice sticks, or banh pho, are translucent, flat rice noodles that resemble linguine. They’re used in soups such as pho as well as stir-fries. For pho, buy the small, 1/16-inch-wide variety. To prepare them for use, first soak the noodles in cold water for 30 minutes, then drain. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. When you’re ready to serve (not before), place the noodles, one portion at a time, into a sieve and lower it into the boiling water. Using chopsticks or a long spoon, stir so the noodles untangle and cook evenly. Blanch just until they’re soft but still chewy, about 10 to 20 seconds. Drain completely, then transfer to a preheated bowl. Cook the remaining noodles the same way. If you’re cooking for several people, you may instead cook the noodles all at once by adding them directly to the pot of boiling water. Just make sure to serve them immediately. If you’re able to buy fresh pho noodles, which are becoming increasingly available, omit the soaking but blanch them in boiling water.
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Vietnamese Rice Noodle Soup with Beef Recipe © 2001 Mai Pham. Photo © 2005 Un rosarino en Vietnam. All rights reserved.