There’s two things you should know about Pho. Firstly, it’s actually pronounced as “fuh” instead of the commonly mispronounced “faux”. Secondly, a good bowl of authentic Vietnamese Pho typically takes hours upon hours to make.
This classic Vietnamese dish is typically eaten for breakfast, a delicious way to warm yourself on a cold morning before you start your day. Primarily made with beef, but you’ll also be able to find chicken versions or even vegan versions using tofu and shiitake mushrooms instead. Fresh yet savory, the dish compromises of a bone broth simmered over the stove for 8 hours at the least. This broth is the main star of the dish, where on top of beef and beef bones, there are also charred aromatics, spices such as star anise and fish sauce that lend to its distinct umami flavor.
The meat served in Pho is typically thin cuts of flank or brisket, sometimes served with beef meatballs as well. In most places, the meat is served rare on top of the noodles, allowing the hot broth to cook the beef once scooped over. This ensures the beef is deliciously tender and nowhere near overcooked. As for the noodles, there is a very specific noodle to use for authentic Pho. These flat rice noodles are called “bahn pho” and can be found in your Asian or Vietnamese supermarket. As you may or may not noticed, Pho is served with a plate of garnishes on the side. The usual suspects on this plate are lime wedges, thai basil, white onion slices, chili slices, raw bean sprouts and cilantro. There are also dipping sauces like chili sauce and hoisin sauce. All these add to the overall taste and texture of the dish to make it the well-known beef noodle soup we know today.
For this Pho recipe, I’ve made the flavor profile as authentic as can be, but instead of the labor-intensive 8 hour process, we’ll be using packaged bone broth. If you have the time, I highly suggest you to make your own bone broth by blanching oxtails and shin bones then simmering along with the spices for 6-8 hours. For depth of flavor and better color, roast your bones in the oven to caramelize them first before the simmering process. However, I’ve made this recipe a simple, easy Pho recipe for weekday dinners. Something a little more doable for most people who want to try Pho but don’t have the time to look after and store a simmering cauldron of soup.
Easy-Peasy Vietnamese Pho Recipe
- 1 litre beef stock
- Flat rice noodles for 3 pax
- One large white onion
- 2 small old gingers
- One stick of cinnamon
- 3-4 star anise
- 1 tbsp of cloves
- 250 g of thinly sliced beef brisket / flank
- 3 tbsp of fish sauce
- 2 tbsp of yellow rock sugar
- Thai basil
- Raw bean sprouts
- Lime wedges
Halve the white onion and gingers. Place them on an ungreased tray in the topmost rack of the oven to broil at 220 degrees celsius for 15-20 minutes or until you see the outer layer beginning to turn charred and black.
Soak noodles in water for 20-30 minutes until soft and bendable. Boil for 10 minutes till it reaches your desired consistency.
Pour stock into a stockpot. Bring to a boil then simmer it for 40 minutes. Remove any scum that floats to the top.
Prepare thinly sliced beef slices
Add fish sauce
Place garnish and enjoy
STEP ONE – ROAST THE GINGER AND ONION
Halve the white onion and gingers. Place them on an ungreased tray in the topmost rack of the wall oven to broil at 220 degrees celsius for 15-20 minutes or until you see the outer layer beginning to turn charred and black. They will release an intense, deep aromatic scent. At the last 5 minutes, toss in your spices onto the tray to let them toast. Alternatively, if you’re using a gas stove, you could roast them over an open fire with a pair of tongs. Just be careful as the close proximity to the heat may burn you or heat up the tongs.
STEP TWO – PREP THE NOODLES
If using dried bahn pho, soak in water for 20-30 minutes until soft and bendable. Boil for 10 minutes till it reaches your desired consistency. I prefer mine softer, hence the slightly longer cooking time. Fish out the noodles and set them aside.
STEP THREE – MAKING THE SOUP
Since this recipe is for a simple easy pho that you can still make on weekday nights after a long day at work, we’re using packaged beef stock. Of course, using shin bones and oxtails is preferable and will produce a much more authentic stock. For this version, pour the stock into a large stockpot. Add the onions and ginger and put the spices into a spice bag if you have one. If not, you could fashion one for yourself using cheesecloth / muslin cloth. You can also just throw in your spices and remove them later like I’ve done. Bring to a boil then simmer it for 40 minutes. Remove any scum that floats to the top.
STEP FOUR – PREP THE BEEF SLICES
Ideally, your beef slices should be thin enough to cook through when the hot soup is poured in. If your slices are slightly thicker, cook them slightly first. I did this by putting in the beef for a minute or two just before serving while the soup was still simmering. Be careful not to overcook it.
STEP FIVE – ADDING THE FISH SAUCE AND PLATING UP
Once the soup is nearly done, adjust the seasonings by adding the rock sugar and fish sauce to your liking. If using beef stock, it’ll most likely be pre-seasoned already and can tend to be quite high in sodium. If not, add salt and keep taste-testing in between. Arrange the noodles and meat into the bowl and scoop the steaming hot soup over it.
STEP SIX – GARNISH AND ENJOY!
When serving, place the garnishes separately in a basket or plate. The essential ones are thai basil, raw bean sprouts and lime. Rinse the bean sprouts before serving.
Pho has a very distinct taste to it. It’s a lovely balance between depth of flavor from the bone broth, saltiness from the ever so essential fish sauce and sourness from the lime juice squeezed in at the end. It’s also incredibly healthy, balancing carbs, protein and vegetables all in one bowl. Especially if you’re using homemade bone broth. This is one dish you have to try in order to truly capture the taste of Vietnam.