Phở Bò (Beef Pho) is easily the most popular Vietnamese dish. Not only here in the States, but in Vietnam as well. It can be found anywhere from street vendors, to high-end restaurants and everywhere else in between. There's something about the light, yet rich and deeply flavored broth that is so comforting. One sip and it warms your soul, right down to your bones.
This recipe makes enough for about 4-6 bowls of pho but I always try to make a bit more beef and broth than I will need. The leftovers make a great pho dip sandwich.
What is Pho Broth Made of?
It takes a lot of time to make a great bowl of pho. Pho broth begins with roasted bones that's simmered for 6+ hours to create deep complex flavors. The process isn’t much different or difficult than making beef bone stock. Think of it as a labor of love. The more time you let it simmer, the lovelier your broth becomes.
Pho broth is much more than just bone stock. What turns bone stock into pho broth are the five spices that make pho so unique, cinnamon, star anise, cardamom seeds, coriander seeds and cloves. A simple toasting of these warm spices will bring out aromas that are instantly recognizable. It's a lot of spices and honestly most of these I stock only for making pho. Luckily, pho spice bags are available for those who have difficulty finding these ingredients or are looking for a way to make this process a little easier.
In addition to beef bones and spices, charred onion and ginger slices are added to the broth. These ingredients round out the base flavors and also contribute to the broth's golden hue. After 6 hours of simmering, the onion becomes impossibly soft. Don't throw it out! Break it up and enjoy it in your bowl of pho.
It's a lot, I know but that's what makes pho so delicious. On the positive side, once all the ingredients are added, most of the time is unattended simmering. All that's needed is to check on your broth periodically and give it a stir every now and then. With the intoxicating smell warming your kitchen, you'll check on your soup more often than you'll realized. Watch in amazement as those bones and spices transform into a gorgeous amber colored broth.
Does Pho Have MSG?
You may be wondering why after enjoying a bowl of Pho at your favorite Vietnamese restaurant why it always leaves you with extreme thirst, a headache or overbearing food coma (disguised as drowsiness). You wonder, "Is there MSG in Pho?" Your hunch is right. These are just some of the many side effects of MSG and it's part of what makes Pho at restaurants tastes so good.
My Authentic Beef Pho Bo recipe does not include MSG. It includes so many ingredients that include its own natural umami that you can't even tell it's missing MSG. You'll finally get to enjoy a delicious bowl of Pho without suffering the side effects of MSG.
What Kind of Beef is in Pho?
If you've ever ordered a bowl of Phở Bò, you'll have noticed the menu is usually a numbered list with several different variations of beef. You'll often see combinations of brisket, flank, rare steak, tripe, tendon and even meatballs. It can be overwhelming sometimes. If you can't make up your mind, do as I always do and order the #1 Pho Dac Biet (large bowl), which comes with a little bit of everything. You can't go wrong with that.
When making Beef Pho at home, most households may not have a pot big enough to fit all the bones and every cut of beef. I usually only include one type and opt for brisket, my family's favorite. However, if you have a huge stock pot, and a lot of large appetites, include them all for your own homemade #1 Pho Dac Biet.
Beef brisket, beef flank and beef tendon will require about 3 hours of cook time. After an initial boiling and cleansing, the meat can be cooked together in the pho broth along with the bones. Once it's tender, remove from the broth and allow it to cool before slicing.
For rare steak, eye of round is commonly used. However, ribeye or tenderloin can be used as well. Prep the meat by putting it in the freezer for about 30 minutes to an hour. Meat is much easier to slice in a semi-frozen state. Slice it thinly and store it in the refrigerator. When ready to serve, arrange the rare steak in a single layer over the noodles. The piping hot soup will cook the thinly sliced meat instantly.
I love beef tripe in my pho. It doesn't have much flavor but it adds a nice textural crunch to the dish. It's also the simplest to prepare. There are three different types of tripe. Book/Bible tripe is the one you want to use for pho. Book tripe is ivory in color and quite literally looks like a book. This type of tripe only takes about 10 minutes to cook in boiling water. Once it's cooled, slice it crosswise and it's ready for pho.
What are Pho Noodles?
Pho noodles (banh pho) are rice noodles that are thin and flat with a slight transparency. Pho noodles are available fresh or dried. The fresh variety only needs about a 5 second dip in boiling water. It'll continue to absorb liquid in the pho broth so it's best to cook it al dente with a slight chew.
Fresh pho noodles are much more preferable and is what is used in pho restaurants. However, they are hard to find. Where I live in San Diego, I can only find them in Vietnamese grocery stores. Dried pho noodles are much more accessible and they come in a variety of thicknesses. Just cook according to package instructions. They will take longer than 5 seconds but again, try to aim for al dente. Pho noodles soften quickly in hot soup.
- 4 lbs beef bones
- 3-4 lbs brisket
- 1 whole onion (any type), outer layer removed, cut in half.
- 6-8 slices of ginger
- ¼ cup fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 package fresh pho noodles
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 15-20 pieces star anise
- 5 black cardamom pods
- 2 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 10 whole cloves
- Place the beef bones on a roasting rack and bake in the oven at 350ºF for 30 minutes or in an air fryer for 20 minutes. Halfway through the cooking time, flip the bones over to roast the other side. If there's any bone marrow, scoop it out and enjoy it on a toasted baguette for a special treat!
- Place the brisket in a large stock pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Carefully remove the meat and set it aside. Pour out the water and wash the pot. Give the brisket a rinse as well to remove all the impurities. This will give you a much clearer broth.
- Return the brisket to the pot and add in the roasted beef bones. Cover with water and bring to a boil.
- Remove the outer layer of the onion and cut it in half crosswise. Using tongs, lightly char the onion on all sides over a gas burner on medium/low heat. Do the same for the ginger slices. If you don't have a gas stove, you can skip this step. (See notes below.)
- Using a frying pan over low heat, add the SPICES (cinnamon sticks, star anise, cardamom, coriander, cloves). Do not use any oil. We want to toast the spices to bring out the flavors. You'll start to smell the intense and fragrant aroma of the spices. At this point, everyone in the house will know you're making pho. Stir constantly until they begin to change color.
- When the spices are toasted, add them to the stock pot along with the onion, ginger slices, fish sauce and salt.
- Simmer over low heat until the meat is tender. For brisket it takes almost 3 hours. Remove the meat and allow it to cool before slicing.
- Continue to simmer the bones for another 3 hours. Add more water as needed, just enough to cover the bones.
- Using a fine mesh strainer, periodically skim the surface of the broth to remove impurities. We want to keep the broth clear.
- When the 3 hours are up, remove the bones from the broth. Using a strainer, fish out all the spices and remove any remaining impurities.
- Skim off some of the fat floating on top of the broth. Leaving a little is OK, but the more you remove the better. You'll have a much lighter broth that won't weigh you down.
- Add more salt and fish sauce to taste. Adjust accordingly depending on how much liquid you have left after simmering. The broth should taste a tad on the salty side. Once poured over noodles, the flavor gets slightly diluted.
- If you're using dried pho noodles, cook according to the package instructions. If using fresh pho noodles, 10-15 seconds in boiling water is all it takes. Don't over cook it.
- To assemble, add the cooked noodles in a bowl. Top with sliced brisket, sliced white onion, chopped cilantro and scallions. Ladle the hot broth over the top. Garnish with fresh bean sprouts, basil, fresh chilis and a squeeze of lime.