Friday, April 5, 2013

Real Phở Bo | Vietnamese beef noodle soup recipe

I'm cleaning up the blog a bit, so more on the cultural history of phở over here and my phở -natic confessions.

Real Phở Bo Recipe

Vietnamese beef noodle soup (feeds 5-8)
This recipe endeavors to take phở back to its homemade, slow cooked, nutrient-dense roots with whole food ingredients without chemical additives and without the corner-cutting cheats found in a fast food restaurant environment.  It goes without saying, use organic, sustainably-raised ingredients when possible.  Grass-fed and/or pastured organic beef really tastes soooo much better. A second best choice would be grain-fed halal beef which is more humanely raised (no antibiotics) & slaughtered than conventional beef. This is a Northern style phở recipe which is less sweet and uses less condiments than its mainstreamed Southern counterpart that is typically found in most restaurants.  There are tips on how to make it more Southern-style if you prefer a sweeter broth.  This homemade phở is more nourishing and wholesome than most, if not all, restaurant phở, and a different culinary experience.  You can read a little more about phở here.

If you like that sweet, southern style of pho (I am a northerner, I do not like it) once the broth is done, add an unpeeled daikon and simmer to release glutamates. This replaces synthetic MSG which is the source of sweetness and the laxative-effect in restaurant phở.  Remove when it is soft enough to poke with chopstick.  If you leave in too long, it becomes starchy & breaks down and the broth will be ruined.


  • 3 lbs  knuckle, marrow bone, feet, or shank (or soup bones) and/or oxtail and my new 2017 fave short ribs (not the Korean kind)
  • (optional for a meatier flavor: 1 pound piece of beef chuck, rump, brisket or cross rib roast, cut into 2-by-4-inch pieces)
  • raw, organic apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
  • 1 organic, sweet onion or 3-4 shallots
  • 1 whole fresh organic ginger
  • spice: 10 star anise
  • small handful of cloves
  • two 3-in stick of cassia (saigon cinnamon)
  • optional handful thảo qua/smoked cardamom (can find in an Indian or Southeast Asian grocery)
  • handful of coriander seed (aka cilantro seed)
  • sea salt to taste (I use grey sea salt)
  • 1/4 cup Red Boat fish sauce (do not mess with any other fish sauce)


  • 2 bags of med to extra large size bánh phở/thick rice noodles/pad thai noodles. (I use dried gluten- & preservative-free noodles.  I like the Ba Cô Gái|Three Ladies brand).
  • 1/2 lb thinly sliced beef eye round, filet mignon eye of round, sirloin, London broil or tri-tip steak (If you are using a whole piece, freeze for one hour and then slice thinly.)
  • mung bean sprouts (optional)
  • cilantro
  • thai basil
  • limes
  • ngò gai/rice paddy herb (optional)
  • sliced fresh chiles/jalapenos or chile paste (I get mine from my mother-in-law)
  • Red Boat fish sauce (accept no substitutes)
  • optional apricot or prune syrup
Equipment: pressure cooker or 8 qt stockpot, pan, baking pan/aluminum foil, spice bag, ladle
If you are using a pressure cooker, expect 1 hour cooking time.  If you are using a stockpot, expect 3-5 hours cooking time.


1) Acidulate bones overnight by soaking in water with 1 cup of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice.   Acidulating helps to render the collagen and calcium and release the minerals.
2) Drain & rinse the bones.  Then parboil the bones.  Put bones into pressure cooker/stockpot.  Cover with water and bring to a boil on high heat.  Dump it all out into a metal colander and scrape off sides of pot to get rid of the scum.
3) While that is going, char a whole onion (or shallots) to release carmelizing sugars in oven or on grill. Open all your windows, ventilation fan, close all bedroom doors.  Remove outer onion skin, then put on foil in a baking pan (will release liquid) in the oven to broil for 5-10 minutes until blackened or translucent.  Scrape off most of the black and drop in the pot.  The carmelized onion is what gives phở it's color.
4) Char ginger.  No need to peel the skin.  Slice in long thin slices (length of ginger is fine).  Then panroast on a dry unoiled pan on high heat or over open flame.  You can either throw it in pot or add to spice bag.
5) Toast the remaining spices and add to the spice bag.
6) Pour in new water (approx 6-8 qts) with the bones.  Add spices to spice bag and throw in the pot.  If you are adding any tendon or tripe, that goes in now.  Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a low boil for 3-5 hours until the collagen renders. For a pressure cooker, when the indicator pops up, reduce heat to low.  Low boil for at 45 minutes to an hour. (*9/25/2017 I've upgraded to a Kuhn Duromatic 12 qt pressure cooker. I can make 12 servings of pho in under an hour! Yasss!)
7) If you like that sweet, southern style of pho, add an unpeeled daikon and simmer to release glutamates.  Leave whole or whatever chunks fits in the pot.
8)  Broth will taste plain until you add lots of seasalt which will bring out the flavors.  Add sea salt to taste (1/8-1/4 cup) and fish sauce (approx 1/4-1/3c).  You want to make it towards the salty side because the rice noodles and sprouts water it down.   Skim as much rendered fat & collagen off the top of the soup as you prefer or not.  It's more nourishing to eat it.  Nowadays, I leave it in.  If you prepare this the day ahead, refrigerate the pot and if you prefer a less nourishing broth, skim the congealed fat off in the morning.  The broth should be gelatinous after refrigeration from the rendering of collagen in the connective tissues; this is the gold standard for a nutrient-dense broth.  Note that restaurant phở never congeals.


9) If you are using dried noodles: soak dried rice noodles in room temperature water for at least 15 minutes to reconstitute. Bring water to a boil. Drop in noodles and use chopsticks to separate. Cook until tender approx 2-5 minutes. Drain & rinse out starch with cold water.  If you are using fresh noodles, they just need to be heated up before you add the broth (otherwise they cool the broth down).  
10) Bring broth back to a boil before ladling into the bowl.  Put noodles & mung bean sprouts in the bowl. If you like your meat well cooked, you can either cook it in the broth pot first or put it in the bowl before adding broth.  If you like it rare, add meat last.
11) Garnish to your preference with the fresh herbs.

I personally do not garnish phở with anything other than herbs, fish sauce and lemon.  Hoison sauce or "plum" sauce is a popular southern garnish and is comprised of refined sugar, gluten, starch and food coloring and nary a plum to be seen; IMHO it has negligible flavor.  However, for those folks who like hoison sauce in their phở and are looking for a gluten-free/additive-free alternative, I suggest blending organic prunes or unsulfured dried apricots or with water to a thick consistency as a substitute.  If it's just a sweeter broth you are looking for, you can add carrots to the broth making.

Leftover broth can be frozen in 1 cup amounts or left in the fridge for a few days. 

Ăn Ngon Lành|Eat Delectably!

This could probably be made in a slow cooker, but I've never tried.  Leave a comment if you have tried it and let me know how yours turned out.

If you are using organic bones, you can reuse them a few times with new water and seasonings before throwing them away.  That next batch will taste slightly like pho even without the spice bag though.
Shake that thing baby baby
Gelatinous broth

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