Making Vietnamese pho (that delicious and flavorful broth served with noodles, paper-thin slices of raw beef, scallions and other garnishes) is easier than you think! Especially when you cheat a bit by not making the stock from scratch as I outline below. You can easily make this on a weeknight, and this is the time of year to do it…I can’t think of a better comfort food for the cold weather.
If you’ve never had it before, pho is made with a rich and flavorful broth, usually made from beef bones and steeped with aromatic spices like star anise, cinnamon, ginger, clove and white pepper. The addition of salt and sugar enhances the flavors of the spices to yield a broth that is delicious (and addictive!). The broth is ladled over cooked rice noodles, slices of raw beef, sliced scallions, herbs (usually cilantro and/or thai basil), slices of chile peppers and bean sprouts. Sriracha and hoisin are served on the side for dipping the meat, and lime wedges are served to add to the broth if desired.
The really tricky part is not in making Vietnamese pho, but in eating it! I’ve found the best way to eat it is with a combination of chop sticks and a ceramic Asian soup spoon like this one from Crate and Barrel:
The way to eat pho is to hold the spoon in your left hand (assuming you are right handed), and use your chopsticks to grab a piece of the meat, dip it in the sriracha and/or hoisin, put the meat in your spoon. Now use the chopsticks to grab some of the noodles and gently lay them in your spoon. Dip the full spoon into the bowl to get some of the broth and eat.
Here is everything you need to make Vietnamese pho:
Total time: 1 hour 15 minutes
1/2 pound good quality boneless beef steak (sirloin or top round)
8 cups of low sodium beef broth
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
2″ fresh ginger, sliced
1 whole star anise
2 whole cloves
2 cardamom pods, lightly smashed
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
1 tsp brown sugar
salt to taste
2 scallions, sliced thinly
1 cup of bean sprouts (optional)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
a handful of fresh basil leaves
1 jalapeno pepper, sliced (optional)
4 oz of banh pho noodles (they are flat rice noodles that you can often find in the grocery store)
1 lime, cut into 4 wedges
Put the steak in the freezer. You’ll leave it in there for about 45 minutes so that it is partially frozen, which makes it much easier to cut thin slices.
In a medium saucepan, combine the broth, onion, ginger, star anise, cloves, cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, white pepper and sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for an hour, partially covered. Broth should be reduced by about half. Strain the solids and return the broth to the burner to keep warm. Add salt to taste, and add additional sugar if needed.
During the last 15 minutes of the broth cooking, prepare the rest of the ingredients. Put water onto boil for the rice noodles. Thinly slice the scallions, roughly chop the cilantro, tear the basil leaves into small pieces, slice the jalapeno pepper. Remove the steak from the freezer and slice against the grain as thinly as possible with a very sharp knife. Once the water is boiling, cook the rice noodles for 1-2 minutes until soft and white (taste one to make sure it’s your preferred consistency. Turn the heat up under the broth to bring it back to a boil.
Now assemble your bowls of pho. Divide the noodles between two large bowls (if you don’t have bowls for ramen or pho, you might want to use medium sized mixing bowls These are the noodle bowls that we have and they’re wonderful for pho, ramen, Sichuan noodle dishes and more). Sprinkle the cilantro and basil leaves, the scallions, the jalapeno slices (if using) and the bean sprouts (if using). Pile half of the steak on top, and then ladle the broth around the noodles, splitting it between the two bowls. You will use all of the broth.
Serve your piping hot pho with limes on the side and a small dish per person for the hoisin and/or sriracha. Stir the meat into the broth to cook it, then enjoy as I described above using your spoon and chopsticks.
I hope you enjoy making Vietnamese pho (and eating it of course!) as much as I do!