Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)
Funny story. The first time my husband bought beef soup bones for me at the Korean-run Asian grocery where we shop, the woman at the counter asked him if his wife was Korean. Apparently, we Americans are not known for our broth making abilities. Cans, powders, packets, cubes – that is where even many good cooks turn when starting a soup recipe. Homemade broth may be more time consuming, but it isn’t much hands on time. Cooking broth mostly involves a lot of simmering. But the time spent is well worth the amazing nutrition (see my post on Homemade Chicken Stockfor more nutritional information).
Back to the recipe at hand. Pho (pronounced “fuh”) is a popular Vietnamese street food that was transported across the globe by refugees after the Vietnam War. Many cultures boast tasty beef based soups (I’m a huge fan of French onion myself), but pho bo delights the palate with the unique flavors of charred ginger and onion, cinnamon, anise, and a seemingly endless combination of condiments and garnishes.
A few notes on methods and ingredients. First, don’t skip the charring step. It only takes a few minutes, and you’ll be rewarded with amazing depth of flavor. As for all of the boiling, rinsing, skimming, and slow simmering of bones – the end game is a clear broth. So don’t skip those steps either, unless you want your broth to look gross and cloudy. Before you freak out about putting uncooked meat into your bowl, realize that you will be covering it with boiling broth which will both cook it gently but thoroughly. (If you are worried about feeding it to a child or someone who is pregnant, you can cook it in the boiling broth just before serving.) Depending on where you live and where you shop, you may have a difficult time finding the spices and the yellow rock sugar (the remaining ingredients are available in most grocery stores, and your local butcher should be able to provide you with the bones). If you’re having a hard time finding a package of pho spices, you can substitute with your own mixture of cinnamon sticks, anise stars, whole cloves, and a pinch or two each of ground cardamom and coriander. You may even like using your own spices anyway, so that you can customize the flavor and ensure the freshness of your spices. You can also substitute regular white sugar for the yellow rock sugar. Finally, when it comes to condiments and garnishes, you can use as many or as little as you want. If you just want a plain beef noodle soup, you can prepare your bowls with noodles, beef, onions and broth, and enjoy. But if you want some more spice or flavor, grab some (or all) of the fresh garnishes listed below just before you’re ready to serve the dish.
- 2 onions, cut in half (do not peel)
- 4 inch knob fresh cut ginger, cut in half or slices
- 5 pounds beef soup bones (marrow and knuckle bones)
- 6 quarts water
- 1 packet Pho spice packet (or 2 cinnamon sticks, 5 star anise, 6 whole cloves, pinch ground cardamom, pinch ground coriander)
- 1 pound boneless beef chuck, cut into 2 inch pieces
- 1.5 Tablespoons salt
- 4 Tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 (1 inch) chunk yellow rock sugar, also known as duong phen (or 1 Tablespoon white sugar)
- 0.5 pounds flank steak
- 4 cups fresh or dry rice noodles
- 1.25 cups onion, sliced paper thin
Garnishes and Condiments
- Thai basil
- lime wedges (to squeeze over soup)
- sliced hot chili peppers
- bean sprouts
- hoisin sauce
- Sriracha sauce
- sliced green onions
- black pepper
Place oven rack at the highest setting and turn heat to broil. Place onions and ginger on a baking sheet and cook under the broiler for 10-15 minutes turning once halfway through cooking time. Onion and ginger will be charred, but they don’t need to be completely blackened. Set aside to cool. Fill a large stock pot with water and add beef bones. Bring the pot to a rolling boil and cook about five minutes to remove all of the impurities. This will not detract from the flavor, but rather will give you a nice clear beef broth. Drain the bones and rinse with cool water. Return them to the stock pot and add 6 quarts of fresh water. Return to a boil and skim off any impurities that rise to the top. Reduce heat to a simmer and add onions, ginger, pho spices, boneless beef pieces, salt, fish sauce, and yellow rock sugar. Simmer for 1.5 hours uncovered. Remove boneless beef pieces and place in a bowl of cool water (this will keep the meat tender as it cools). Continue simmering bones for another 1.5 hours. Skim off any scum that has risen to the top (and fat according to taste) and taste the broth. Adjust the flavor using fish sauce, salt, and rock sugar. The broth should taste just slightly too strong since when you add in the other ingredients they will soak up the flavor. Strain all of the bones, solids, and spices from the broth. When the broth is almost finished place flank steak in the freezer for 15-30 minutes. Then remove and slice very thinly against the grain. Allow flank steak to thaw out. Meanwhile, prepare rice noodles according to package directions and divide among bowls. Top with cooked boneless meat and thawed, uncooked flank steak (it will cook in the boiling broth), divided evenly among the bowls. Slice onion paper thin and divide among bowls. Prepare a plate of condiments and garnishes (see list below) so that each person can add them as desired. Bring strained broth back to a boil, ladle steaming broth over each bowl.
Cook broth as directed above. Return cooked boneless chuck to broth and store together in freezer bags. Slice flank steak as directed above (thinly against the grain) and store uncooked in a separate freezer bag. To serve: Thaw broth and flank steak completely. Bring broth to a boil in a large pot. Meanwhile, prepare bowls as directed above with noodles, onion, and uncooked flank steak. Pour boiling broth over the bowls and season with garnish and condiments as desired.
Servings: 8 (normal soup bowl size, not the huge servings you’ll find in pho restaurants)
**conversion chart image provided by Erik Spiekermann This Post will be linked at: