Beef For Pho Soup

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Beef for Pho Soup is the most delicious and healthy way to enjoy your favorite soup. The broth is made with high-quality ingredients, and adds depth of flavor to the simple herbs and spices. Our beef for pho soup is sourced exclusively from grass-fed beef and cooked in the traditional Vietnamese way according to recipes passed down from generation to generation. Authentic flavor, made fresh daily.

Traditional Vietnamese Beef Pho

Ingredients

for 8 servings

  • 10 lb mixed beef leg bones(4.5 kg), shin, knuckle and marrow bones
  • 12 oz ginger(340 g), 2 large hands, halved lengthwise
  • 1 head large garlic, halved crosswise
  • 4 kg medium yellow onion(4 kg), halved lengthwise
  • 8 sticks cinnamon
  • ¼ cup whole black peppercorn
  • 6 pods whole star anise
  • 1 lb beef brisket(455 g)
  • kosher salt
  • ¼ cup fish sauce(60 mL), plus more to taste
  • 1 lb boneless sirloin steak(455 g)
  • 1 lb flat rice noodle(455 g), cooked according to package instructions

FOR SERVING

  • 2 cups fresh mung bean sprouts(200 g)
  • 1 small red onion, very thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 1 jalapeño, sliced into thin rounds
  • 1 large bunch fresh thai basil
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges
  • hoisin sauce
  • siracha

Preparation

  1. Place the beef bones in a large stock pot, then add enough cold water to cover by 2 inches (5 cm). Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat and cook for 10 minutes to blanch the bones and remove any impurities.
  2. Set a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the broiler.
  3. Drain the bones in a colander and rinse under cold running water. Return the blanched bones to the stockpot.
  4. Meanwhile, arrange the ginger, garlic, and onions cut-side up on a rimmed baking sheet and broil on high until the aromatics are deeply charred in spots, 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and add to the stockpot with the bones.
  5. Meanwhile, combine the cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, and star anise in a medium skillet over medium-high heat and toast, shaking the pan occasionally, until the spices are darkened in spots and extremely fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add the toasted spices to the stockpot.
  6. Season the brisket liberally with salt and add it to the stockpot.
  7. Fill the pot with enough cold water to cover everything by 1 inch (2 cm). Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium to maintain a gentle simmer, skimming off and discarding any fat that floats to the top as needed, until the brisket is fork-tender, 2-3 hours.
  8. Using tongs, transfer the brisket to a plate and let cool completely. Refrigerate the brisket until ready to serve.
  9. Continue to simmer the broth to get as much flavor out of the bones as possible, 3-4 hours more.
  10. Using tongs, remove and discard the bones and aromatics. Slowly strain the broth through a fine mesh strainer set over a large pot. Skim and discard the fat from the broth, then stir in the fish sauce. Taste and add more as desired.
  11. Thinly slice the brisket. Very thinly slice the raw sirloin steak against the grain.
  12. Divide the noodles among 6-8 large bowls, then top with the brisket and raw steak. Ladle the hot broth over the noodles and meat and serve immediately with the bean sprouts, onion, jalapeño, Thai basil, lime wedges, hoisin sauce, and Sriracha alongside.
  13. Enjoy!

Vietnamese Pho recipe

Experience the magic of one of the greatest noodle soups in the world with this easy to follow traditional Vietnamese Pho recipe! Made from scratch with the signature broth that’s light yet at the same time so full of flavour, it’s infused with spices like cinnamon, star anise and cardamom. The soup is utterly addictive and every spoonful leaves you wanting more!

Vietnamese Pho recipe

This Pho recipe has been in the works for a while now. It’s been quietly made and remade by various RecipeTin family members since our first trip to Vietnam. We’ve compared notes, debated furiously about how the latest iteration compared to the (many) bowls of Pho soup we slurped during our travels, and our favourite Pho restaurants back home here in Sydney.

We take our Pho very seriously. One of the greatest noodle soups in the whole world commands respect!

And I am very pleased to report every member of the RecipeTin family whole heartedly approves of this final recipe!

This homemade Pho recipe is actually quite straightforward – but you do need a very large pot!

Close up of spoon scooping up Pho soup
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What is Pho?

If you’re wondering “What is Pho?” then you’re probably also wondering “Why is she so bonkers over it???” 

I don’t blame you. It looks like a relatively harmless bowl of beef noodle soup.

That is, until you take your first slurp.

The Pho soup broth is everything. It’s light yet full of flavour, deceptively beefy, savoury, complex, has the tiniest hint of richness and is filled with beautiful spices like cinnamon.

It is, without question, one of The Best Soups in the whole world!

Pho is the first thing you seek upon landing in Vietnam, always choosing vendors crowded with locals rather than tourists!

Best place to try Pho?

In Vietnam, of course.  Here’s our Saigon Food Guide, including the best Pho vendor in the city that you will not find in any guide book!

Close up of making Pho soup broth
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Pho really is a soup that needs to be made from scratch with a homemade beef broth. Throwing some spices into store bought stock just doesn’t cut it I’m afraid – and I rarely say that!


How to make this Beef Pho

While you’ll need to man handle a considerable mound of bones and beef, I think you might be surprised how straightforward it actually is to make pho. It’s more time than anything – and a very big pot!

How to make pho soup broth
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Ladling pho soup into bowl
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  1. Quick boil – Remove impurities from beef with a 5 minute boil, it’s the path to a beautiful clear soup;
  2. Scum – be amazed at all the icky stuff that comes out;
  3. Wash the bones to get all the icky scum off;
  4. Simmer for 3 hours – bones, beef, water, onion, ginger and spices (cinnamon, cardamom, coriander, star anise);
  5. Remove brisket  – some is used for Pho topping, see below recipe for ways to use remainder;
  6. Simmer 40 minutes further with just bones;
  7. Strain; then
  8. Ladle into bowls over noodles and pile on Toppings!

Best beef for Pho soup broth

The ONLY way to get enough beef flavour into the broth is to use a combination of meat AND bones. You will NOT get enough flavour into the broth using just bones – trust me, we tried multiple times. And it distresses me to see so many Pho recipes online using just bones!

The single most important thing in a pho recipe is using the right combination of beef meat AND bones. Most recipes get it wrong, so the broth lacks flavour.

Here’s the combination of beef and bones I find yields the best Pho soup flavour:

Best beef for Pho
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  • 1.5kg / 3 lb brisket – the beef of choice with pho vendors in Vietnam, for its beefy flavour and it holds up to hours of simmering without fall apart (like chuck and rib). Other slow cooking cuts like chuck and gravy beef are also less “beefy”. See below recipe for amazing ways to use leftover cooked brisket!
  • 1kg / 2 lb meaty bones – bones with decent amount of meat on them, for beef flavour and some richness. Best sub: oxtail bones, more brisket or chuck beef (same amount). Next best sub: any beef bones.
  • 1kg / 2 lb marrow bones – bones like leg, shin and knuckle, with less meat on them but are quite big and are cut to reveal some of the marrow inside so it can leach into the broth. This provides the least flavour but it adds that essential hint of richness in Pho broth. Best sub: more meaty bones – lose a bit of richness but still super good.

None of these are difficult to find nowadays though perhaps not all at your local supermarket. I get everything either from my butchers or from Asian butchers (extremely good value). You’ll find brisket and meaty “soup bones” at large supermarkets. And marrow bones are now widely available at butchers and also the freezer section of Asian stores.


Pho Broth Spices and Other ingredients

Beef aside, the rest of the ingredients in the broth are surprisingly straight forward!

The spices are toasted to bring out the flavour before adding into the pot. And the ginger and onion are charred to add a subtle smokey flavour into the broth – a secret little step that adds that extra something-something to make this pho recipe authentic and traditional!

Pho ingredients
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Onion and spices for Pho
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How to serve Pho

The classic way to serve Pho is with:

  1. rice noodles – fresh or dry;
  2. thinly sliced raw beef that cooks to a perfect medium rare when the hot broth is ladled over – see below for more information;
  3. piles of bean sprouts, Thai basil and coriander/cilantro on the side – help yourself as you eat the pho;
  4. lime wedges; and
  5. hoisin sauce and sriracha (or other chilli sauce).

Typically, the bowls come out with just noodles, beef and broth, then everything else is served on the side.


Thinly sliced raw beef for Pho – best cut

I like to use beef tenderloin for the raw beef slices. While that’s a premium cut that is a bit costly, you only need about 30g / 1 oz per serving so a bit goes a long way!

TIP: To thinly slice the beef, just partly freeze the beef then slice. Makes it so much easier to thin super finely!

How to assemble pho noodle soup
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Pho noodles and soup broth
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↓↓↓The beef is pink because pouring the broth over raw beef slices cooks it to medium rare, which is how it’s traditionally served and how I love it.

But if the thought of pink beef in your soup is off-putting, it’s an easy fix – just dunk the beef into the pot of hot broth first, it will cook in 10 seconds!

Close up of beef in beef pho
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Ways to use leftover brisket

The pho broth calls for a considerable piece of brisket to ensure the broth gets enough flavour. Once slow cooked for hours, it’s fall apart tender and much of the flavour has been sucked out into the broth.

While a few thin slices are used for the Pho topping, I always end up with 500g/1lb leftover and I’ve shared this Caramelised Vietnamese Shredded Beef recipe which I created especially to use up the remaining brisket. Those golden crispy edges are amazing!!!

AUTHENTIC VIETNAMESE BEEF PHO NOODLE SOUP (PHỞ BÒ)

Phở Bò (Vietnamese Beef Pho Noodle Soup) is the national dish of Vietnam, a dish that many Vietnamese hold dear to their heart. Learn the authentic way to make beef pho and serve it like a true Vietnamese, as well as cooking tips you may not find elsewhere.

The beef pho broth recipe in this post leans toward Northern-style (since we’re from Hanoi) with suggestions to tweak it to be more like Southern-style. You will also find instructions to serve the noodle soup in each style.

a bowl of Vietnamese beef pho noodle soup served with accompaniments
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What is Phở Bò

Phở” means rice noodles and “” means beef. A bowl of beef phở consists of soft slippery noodles in a hearty, beefy yet fragrant broth and beef slices of your choice. This dish is the most famous Vietnamese noodle soup without any doubts.

Some say pho bo originated in Hanoi while some firmly believe its origin was Nam Dinh, another Northern Vietnamese city a couple of hours away from the capital. Regardless, the dish was created in the North of Vietnam and traveled down South later.

In Vietnam, pho bo is well-loved as a breakfast. A lot of people also eat it as a quick lunch or late night supper. I’d say it’s delicious any time of the day.

Watch How to Cook Beef Pho at Home

Types of Beef Pho Noodle Soup

When talking about types of beef pho soup, we usually think of two ways of classification, by type of beef toppings and by region.

By Type of Beef Toppings

Whenever you go to a pho joint in Vietnam, you will be presented with various meat topping options, and each option has its specific name. Some popular ones are:

  • Phở chín: beef noodle soup with well-done tender meat that can be brisket, flank or shank for example. It can also be called phở nạm. In English, it may be called well-done beef phobeef brisket pho or beef flank pho.
  • Phở tái: beef noodle soup with thin slices of raw meat quickly poached in the broth. The English translation for it is rare beef pho.
  • Phở tái lăn: beef noodle soup with seared thin slices of beef which are very aromatic.
  • Phở bò sốt vangbeef stew pho noodle soup, which has a different taste than those above but very hearty and flavorful. You can find my beef stew pho recipe here.

And of course, diners can combine meat toppings for their bowl of pho however they want. Besides the options above, they can also add beef meatballs (mostly in the South), tendons or tripes. Below is a photo of phở tái chín (or phở tái nạm), consisting of both well-done and rare beef.

a bowl of Vietnamese pho noodle soup with well done beef and rare beef toppings.
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Besides being the national dishpho bo is also a topic of interest in Vietnamese literature from a long time ago. Two famous Vietnamese writers, Thạch Lam (1910-1942) and Nguyễn Tuân (1910-1987), both praised that the most traditional and tastiest pho noodle soup is the version with well-done beef. It also happens to be my most favorite type of pho soup, but it’s really a matter of personal preference. My dad, for example, prefers rare beef pho.

By Region

Now here’s the bigger debate of what is more delicious, Northern pho or Southern pho? As I have explained in many of my posts before, Northern and Southern cuisines have similarities while being very different. In general, someone born in the North will vouch for Northern pho and can rarely get used to Southern pho flavors and vice versa.

Again, it’s a matter of preference and here are some major differences.

  • Northern pho: savory broth with very mild sweetness. The broth is clear with a golden hue. Pho is never served with hoisin sauce nor a veggie platter like in the South. The rice noodles are usually wider and each bowl often has a lot of scallion.
  • Southern pho: sweet broth with a darker color. Pho is served with hoisin sauce and a veggie platter of bean sprouts, Thai basil and saw-tooth leaves. The rice noodles are not as wide, and there isn’t as much scallion in each bowl as with Northern pho.

What do we prefer? Our favorite will always be pho bo Hanoi.

Why This Recipe

a bowl of beef brisket noodle soup
My favorite – beef brisket pho noodle soup, served with fried dough sticks
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This beef pho recipe is authentic with all real, natural ingredients. It is the result of a number of experiments and discussions between us, native Vietnameses who grew up eating pho on a daily basis for over 20 years of our life in the North, and our Saigonese chef friend. The authentic flavors are deeply engrained in us, and this recipe contains tips and secrets you may not find anywhere else.

We also spent a few years living in the US, so we had tried pho in different parts of the US. I think it is not difficult to cook pho at home, and this recipe is very straightforward. It just requires a bit of patience, and the result is better than what you will get at most restaurants.

Master Beef Pho Broth

The hearty and complexed broth of pho noodle soup is the result of slowly and gently simmering beef bones, meat, aromatics, and spices.

Beef Bones and Meat

a tray with beef bones, brisket and shank to make pho broth
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I recommend using marrow bones for a deep flavor. Oxtail is an option and we used it in the past. The thing is oxtails don’t contain many bones, so the broth lacks depth even though it is beefy and that’s why you should still add some beef bones. Some other options are knuckle bones and neck bones.

Even when using bones, I think it’s still necessary to add a large boneless cut of beef like brisket and shank to the broth. They will make the broth more beefy and hearty. In addition, you can use them as well-done meat toppings for your pho bowls since they have a combination of meat and fat/muscle, resulting in a nice texture. Use kitchen twine to tie the meat before cooking to retain a nice shape.

Aromatics

charring onion, ginger and shallot on a grill pan
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Charred onions and ginger add another layer of depth to the broth. If you have shallots on hand, also char and add them for more complexity. You can char aromatics with a grill pan like I do in the video, or broil in the oven. It can take 10-15 minutes to do this, so be patient.

Spices

a plate with different spices for beef pho
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Beef pho spice blend consists of cassia bark/cinnamon (quế), star anise (đại hồi/hoa hồi), black cardamom pod (thảo quả), clove (đinh hương), coriander seed (hạt ngò), and fennel seed (tiểu hồi). Toast them in a skillet for several minutes until fragrant and place them in a spice bag for easy removal. In my opinion, the must-have spices are cinnamon, star anise, clove, and black cardamom pod. 

Other Ingredients

Other ingredients you will need to flavor the broth are salt, fish sauce, and rock sugar. As a Northerner Vietnamese, I still think beef pho needs a small amount of rock sugar to round out the flavors. Chicken pho broth doesn’t need sugar though.

My pho broth recipe leans toward Northern-style, but generally you can tweak the amount of fish sauce and rock sugar to make it more like Southern-style if you want.

The Do’s and Don’ts that Make a Big Difference

a bowl of beef pho noodle soup
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Making pho at home isn’t rocket science. It is actually intuitive and straightforward, but there are quite a bit of small details that make a difference. Therefore, please follow the recipe as closely as you can. Here are some important tips to keep in mind:

  • Do simmer gently and slowly with a lid slightly askew for a clear and complexed broth. I recommend simmering beef bones for at least 6 hours. Do 8 hours or more if you can since we notice a difference increasing to 8 hours.
  • Don’t simmer the onions in the broth for too long or they will get slimy. 2 hours towards the end of cooking should be enough.
  • Don’t add the spices right at the beginning. After 6-8 hours, your house will be filled with fragrances but not much is retained in the broth. Besides, simmering spices for an unnecessary long time will bring out its bitterness. So, add the spices in the last 1.5 – 2 hours of cooking.
  • Do skim off excess fat but don’t discard all of it. We need some fat in the broth since some compounds that make our food flavorful are fat-soluble. It also gives you richness and a smooth mouthfeel.
  • Don’t add fish sauce while simmering because the broth will turn sour. Wait until right before serving to season the broth with fish sauce and rock sugar.
  • Personally, I’m not a fan of using MSG. If you like to use it, don’t add it while simmering. Add a small amount of it to your serving bowl right before pouring the hot broth.
  • Whether you prefer well-done, rare or seared beef, slice it thinly against the grain.

How to Serve and Eat Beef Pho like in Vietnam

So far, we haven’t talked about pho, the rice noodles itself. You will want to use flat and fairly wide rice noodles. In Vietnam, people often use fresh rice noodles. You can use dried rice noodles which are more common outside of Vietnam.

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