Beef pho, or pho bo, is the most popular pho in the West. You can find it in every Vietnamese restaurant. If you are a fan of pho you have probably noticed how the taste and quality varies from place to place. What makes or breaks pho is the broth. It takes time and quality ingredients to prepare. Authentic pho broth will captivate you with its aroma and the taste that seamlessly combines salty, sweet, and umami all in one. Pho requires a methodical and complex preparation, but all that can be easily done at home and its so worth it. Once you try it once you will be making it over and over again.
When I make pho the aroma of beef, cinnamon, star anise, coriander, ginger, roasted garlic and onion fill the entire house, making everyone extremely hungry. The aroma is mind blowing.
This recipe makes a full-bodied broth with a rich, multilayered flavor and taste. The broth has a dark amber color but clear. The longer it simmers, the more intensely flavored it becomes. The broth will taste very good after a couple of hours, but if you let it simmer for 10-12 hours, you will be blown away by the rich taste.
I like to make beef pho on the weekend, starting early in the morning and allowing it to cook for about 9-10 hours, just in time for dinner. Since I cook on the stove top, I like to be around to check on pho every now and again, so no overnight cooks. I am thinking that I would more comfortable with overnight cooks if using a slow cooker, but my Crock Pot is only 4 quarts and is too small for the job.
Assembly of the pho bo starts with placing mounds of slipper rice noodles in a bowl, followed by paper-thin slices of raw beef eye round. Personally, I’ll take ramen over rice noodles any time, and that’s what I use in my pho. That’s the beauty of homemade pho bo – you can completely customize it to your taste and come up with a masterpiece.
The next step is to pour boiling hot broth over the noodles and the meat. The hot broth will cook the raw thinly sliced meat to perfection – deliciously flavored and tender. Just make sure to cover the meat with the broth. Note that if you follow the recipe below, the picture above should also have bits of meat from the bones and thinly sliced onions and scallions arranged over the raw beef slices before pouring the broth. Things happen when trying cook, style, and take pictures at the same time.
To enhance the finished dish, well-done flank, brisket, tendon, or tripe are sometimes added as well. The more meat the better, right?
Finish the dish by garnishing it with bean sprouts, greens and squeezing some lime juice over it.
If you like your pho spicy add some sriracha on the side. Traditionally, hot sauces are served on the side so as not to spoil the taste of the broth. Just dip a slice of meat into the sauce and eat it, followed by spoonfuls of delicious pho.
The recipe is adapted from the Little Saigon Cookbook.
Authentic Vietnamese Beef Pho (Pho Bo) Recipe
- 3 lbs beef knuckles or neck bones with meat (see notes)
- 2 lbs beef oxtail see notes
- 10 cups water or enough to entirely cover meat
- 2 large yellow onions peeled
- 1 fresh ginger root ½ size of small palm, roughly peeled
- 4 whole star anise with pods
- ½ Tbsp whole cloves
- 1 Tbsp black peppercorns
- 4 cloves garlic smashed
- 1 daikon peeled and cut into 3 pieces
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 3 small shallots peeled
- 2 6- ounce packages flat rice noodles pho noodles
- 1/2 cup fish sauce see notes
- 1 Tbsp salt plus more to taste, the original recipe calls for 2 Tbsp
- ¾ pound sirloin or top round steak sliced paper-thin against the grain
- 1 medium yellow onion sliced paper-thin on a mandolin
- 6 scallions chopped into rings
- For the garnish:
- Sriracha chili sauce
- Hoisin sauce
- Fresh cilantro leaves
- Green limes quartered
- Mung bean sprouts
- Thai basil leaves
- Perilla leaves
- Coriander leaves
- Fresh whole red or green chiles
Place the beef bones and the oxtail in a large stockpot. Add the water. The bones should be completely covered with water. If not, add more. Bring to a boil and let the the bones boil while you are preparing the rest of the ingredients.
Cut two peeled onions in half. Char each half by holding it with tongs over open flame of a gas stove or place it under the broiler. This will bring out the aroma and deepen the flavor of the broth. Repeat the same with the ginger and set aside.
In a small skillet, lightly toast, frequently stirring, the anise pods. cloves, peppercorns, and garlic for about 5 minutes, or until fragrant. Set aside to cool.
Check on the boiling bones in the stockpot and skim off any scum that has accumulated.
Add the toasted spices and garlic, charred onion and ginger, daikon, cinnamon stick, and shallots to the stock. Boil for 15 minutes, then bring down to a gentle simmer.
Add the rock sugar (optional), fish sauce, salt, and stir well. Continue to simmer for 2½ hours, uncovered, periodically skimming off any scum or fat as they accumulate. The broth will be ready to eat after 2 1/2 hours, the longer you simmer the better it will become. Continue simmering, covered, for up to 10 hours in total.
When the broth is done cooking, remove the pot from the heat and set aside to cool a little. Remove the bones and oxtails and set aside. You can use the meat and the bone marrow in the soup. Strain the broth through a fine mesh strainer into a new stockpot. The broth should be richly colored but clear. Bring the broth back to gentle simmer.
Fill a large pot with hot tap water. Soak the rice noodles in the water for about 10 minutes. They should soften just slightly: the hot pho broth will cook them the rest of the way.
Drain the noodles and place them in six individual soup bowls. Arrange the sliced raw beef on top, followed by thinly sliced onions and scallions.
Slice the oxtail meat and add it to the bowl as well as any of the bits of meat and bone marrow taken from the bones.
Pour the boiling hot broth into the soup bowls, making sure it covers the raw beef. The broth will cook the beef as well as the noodles. Give it a few minutes to do so, then serve with the pho garnish platter. A squeeze or two of lime juice will help cut the richness of the broth. The sauces can be added to the pho bo or used as a dipping sauce for beef. Using them as a dipping sauce will prevent from spoiling the wonderful flavor of the broth.
Recipe NotesI had a hard time finding beef knuckles of beef neck bones at local supermarkets and ended up buying what was called 'beef soup bones'. They worked really well.
Oxtails are not cheap. I've tried this recipes with and without oxtails, and both times the broth turned out fantastic. The difference was barely noticeable.
The original recipe calls for rock sugar - ½ cup rock sugar, roughly palm size. If you like sweetness in your pho, add this ingredient.
The original recipe calls for 1 cup fish sauce, which I found to be a little too much for my taste. 1/2 a cup was just perfect for my taste. You decide for yourself.