Thursday, August 11, 2016

Vietnamese Beef Pho Rice Noodle Soup (Pho Bo)

It ain't easy making a really good beef stock for Pho, that classic Vietnamese noodle soup that's, well, inimitably and insanely delicious because of and in spite of its sheer, deceptive simplicity. I tried my hand once before at making a long-simmered beef stock using the requisite beef knuckle and leg bones (I followed Jaden Hair's recipe), but found the end product way too greasy. I  couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong. After some experimentation, this time using Andrea Nguyen's recipe from her cookbook Into the Vietnamese Kitchen as the base, I finally achieved a broth that I really, really like. Where I slightly strayed from the reservation for a beef pho was using both beef shanks AND chicken drummettes for the soup base, cooking it low and slow for 3+ hours and skimming frequently to keep the broth clean. I also added about 2 lbs. of  boneless beef top round to the broth, which kicked up the beefy flavor but was, unfortunately, too tough to use after 3 hours of cooking (of course, our ridiculously spoiled Akitas, Addy & Sasha, reaped the benefits of those leftovers). Instead, I added some very  thinly sliced raw beef sirloin (aka, New York steak) to the noodles just before serving. The hot broth cooked the raw beef slices to a very tender medium to medium-well, so no worries you squeamish 'OMG, WTF I can't eat freakin' raw meat' folks. It's all good!

1 large (1 lb.) or 2 medium yellow, white or red onion
4" piece of fresh ginger root, unpeeled

3-4 lbs. beef leg bones (e.g., shank) and/or oxtails and/or short ribs 
1.5 lbs. chicken drummettes or thighs
1.5 lbs. boneless beef chuck, top round or brisket, cut into large chunks
10 quarts water (40 cups)


6 whole star anise
6 whole cloves
4" Vietnamese cinnamon stick 
1-2 black cardamom pods
1 tbsp. fennel seed
1 tbsp. coriander seed
1 tsp. black peppercorn

1" chunk of rock sugar (or 1 1/2 tbsp. light brown sugar)

1 1/2 tbsp. salt
3/4 cup fish sauce

2 lbs. New York/sirloin or tenderloin steak (to add to soup before serving)

16 oz. dried or fresh thin rice noodles (for 4 servings)


1 medium white onion, thinly sliced
2 cups fresh Thai basil leaves
1 cup fresh mint leaves
1 cup chopped cilantro
2 cups fresh bean sprouts
3-4 scallions, thinly sliced
1 cup thinly sliced jalapeño peppers (seeded if you don't want them too hot)
Lime wedges

MAKING THE BROTH: 1. Char the onion and ginger on the stovetop over medium heat (you can do this directly over the flame on a burner, but I find it easier, faster, and less messy to do this on a slotted or mesh grilling sheet, cast iron skillet or a Mexican comal over the burner). Turn over with tongs until blackened on all sides, about 15 minutes.

2. Remove the charred onion and ginger and let cool. Peel the charred bits off of the onion and ginger (you can use a teaspoon to scrape off the blackened parts of the ginger); quarter the onion and cut the ginger piece in half and bruise/smash lightly with a cleaver; set aside.

3. Place the beef shank and/or oxtails/short ribs, beef chuck or round, and chicken drummettes into a large stock pot and add enough cold water to just cover. Bring to a boil over high heat, about 2-3 minutes to release the scum/foam from the meat. Drain the water from pan and rinse off the meat and the pan to remove any remaining scum. 

4. Add all the spices to a dry skillet and cook 1-2 minutes over medium heat, stirring constantly, until fragrant. Remove immediately to a plate & set aside. 

5. Add 10 quarts of water to the pan with the parboiled meat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer; and continue skimming off any foam/scum that floats to the top. 

6. Add the onion, ginger, spices, salt, fish sauce and rock sugar. Simmer, uncovered, 3 hours, skimming off fat and scum throughout. 

7. Strain broth through a fine mesh strainer into a large bowl or a medium pot. (should yield about 4 quarts or 16 cups of broth). Taste and adjust seasonings if needed (more fish sauce, sugar, and/or salt). Once cooled, you can refrigerate the broth at this point and keep for 2-3 days before serving. 


1. Cut the New York/beef sirloin steak into thin slices; set aside.

2. Bring the stock to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to a simmer.

3. For the noodles, bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Directions for fresh and dried noodles:

     a) FRESH NOODLES: place the noodles in a colander and rinse with cold water, separating the
         strands. Place a large handful (1 serving) of the noodles into a vertical strainer and immerse in
         the boiling water for 5-10 seconds until softened. Immediately strain and place into a serving
         bowl. Repeat with the remaining noodles.

     b) DRIED NOODLES: Pre-soak the noodles in hot tap water for 15-20 minutes until softened;
         drain in a colander and set aside. Place a large handful (1 serving) of the noodles in a vertical
         colander and immerse into the boiling water for 15-20 seconds until softened. Immediately
         strain and place into a serving bowl. Repeat with the remaining noodles.

4. Place several pieces of sliced raw sirloin over the noodles in each bowl (if you prefer more well done, just blanch the beef slices in the soup before adding to the noodles). Top with sliced onions,
cilantro, basil, mint, bean sprouts, jalapeños and scallions, according to taste. Ladle hot broth over each bowl. Serve with lime wedges on the side.

Char the onion and ginger over the burner of your cooktop

Peel off the burnt part of the onion skin and (using a teaspoon), the charred skin of the ginger.

Cross-cut bone-in beef shank

Chicken drummettes

Boneless top round.

Top round, cut into large pieces.

 Toast the spices.

Add enough water to the beef shank, beef round, and chicken drummers to just cover. Bring to a boil and cook 2 minutes to release the scum/foam. Pour out the water and rinse off the meat and also the pot.

Add the beef shank, drummettes and pieces of top round back into the pot and add 10 quarts of water.

Add toasted spices, charred ginger and onion, rock sugar, fish sauce, and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer on low heat, uncovered, for 3 hours.

Cloves, fennel seed, coriander seed, black cardamom, black peppercorns, rock sugar, star anise, cinnamon sticks, fish sauce.

Skim off any foam from the surface of the broth throughout the cooking time.

Strain the broth through a fine mesh sieve, discarding all the solids (I saved the meat from the beef shank and top round for our fur babies, Addy & Sasha). 
Keep the strained broth simmering over low heat.

Fresh rice noodles that I bought from 99 Ranch Market. You can also use dried.

New York/Sirloin steak. Wrap in plastic and freeze 20-30 minutes before slicing and serving with the finished pho.

Rinse the fresh noodles in a colander to soften before cooking.

Place a large handful of the noodles (1 serving) into a vertical strainer and dip into a pot of boiling water for about 10-15 seconds until the noodles have softened. Strain and immediately pour the noodles into a serving bowl. Repeat for additional servings. 

Slice the beef super thin. 

Garnishes: bean sprouts, mint, lime wedges, cilantro, jalapeños, Thai basil, scallions.

Place some raw beef sirloin slices over the noodles along with thinly sliced white onions. Pour piping hot broth over. Let your guests add their own jalapeños, basil, cilantro, scallions, bean sprouts, mint, and freshly squeezed lime juice, according to their individual tastes. 

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