Pho is one of the most comforting foods known to man. Pho (pronounced “fuh”, with an upward lilt to the word as if it were a question) is a Vietnamese soup made of richly flavored broth, with Rice noodles, tons of herbs, and thinly sliced meats.
Pho is traditionally made with either beef or chicken, and the broth is reflective of the protein choice, but beef is far-and-away the more popular variety. The meat in a beef pho is typically uncooked, and is only lightly poached by spooning over the very hot broth.
Since the meat for pho is only poached by the broth, it is important that it be shaved extremely thinly, so that the broth isn’t cooled down before the heat can make it through to the middle of each slice of beef.
If you don’t own a meat slicer (most of us don’t), clean your beef if any connective tissue on the surface, wrap pieces in plastic wrap, and freeze for 30 minutes until your beef is firm but not frozen completely solid. You can shave it with a very sharp knife.
Use any cut of your choice, but the better the beef, the better the pho will be.
The Broth is the Key
While you have flexibility in your protein choices, the constant in a true pho is the broth. Start with a beef bone broth. In a perfect world, you would make this broth yourself, but store-bought will work in a pinch.
If you are able to make homemade broth, definitely do that. Bone broth is basically stock, but it is clearer than traditional stocks. For beef bone broth, blanch the bones and meat until hot, change out the water, and cook low and slow until all of the flavor is extracted from the bones.
Add in any aromatics you would like to increase the richness of your broth, like onions, celery, and carrot. These are the traditional base to a French stock, which makes sense when you consider that pho is a post-colonial mix of traditional food with french elements, like much of modern Vietnamese cuisine.
There are some shortcuts you can take if you don’t want to wait two days for your stock to fully extract flavor. You can make your stock in a pressure cooker within a few hours, or you could use a prepared bone broth.
Once you have this basic broth, you have to add several specific ingredients to make your soup into pho. Your broth should be simmered with the following aromatics: black cardamom, fennel, clove, cinnamon, star anise, coriander, garlic, and ginger.
A slow simmer with these ingredients can make a plain stock work for pho. After cooking for as long as you are able to extract the flavor, strain the broth several times through a fine sieve to remove any impurities. After service, you can freeze your leftover stock to be ready for next time.
Now it is time to build! The most important thing is that the broth is extremely hot when the time comes to serve.
You will also need flat rice noodles, that have been hydrated by soaking in a bowl covered in boiling water, then drained and rinsed in cool clear water.
To assemble your pho:
- Place your shaved beef in the bowl
- Add hydrated rice noodles
- Add your fresh elements: mung bean sprouts, cilantro, basil, mint, fresh thinly sliced jalapenos, scallions, and/or shaved onion
- Pour your boiling broth over the bowl
- Squeeze lime
- Add any flavor elements you desire- soy sauce, hoisin, chili paste, sliced thai chilis, extra herbs
Hopefully, this pho recipe has shown that homemade pho is not as difficult as you might have imagined. To summarize, you can make pho in half an hour, so there is never an excuse not to have this delicious comfort food!
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