Homecooked Beef Pho: a Step-by-Step Guide

  • 01 of 09

    A List of Ingredients for Making Beef Pho

    Beef Pho (pho bo)
    Connie Veneracion

    Among all Vietnamese dishes, beef pho is arguably the best known and best loved outside of Vietnam. What makes it so unique? The secret lies in the broth. In this step-by-step guide, we will make beef pho starting with the broth and ending with the noodle soup.

    First, a checklist of the ingredients which we will divide into four sections. The measurements for the broth ingredients yields enough broth for eight to ten bowls of pho.

    For the Broth

    • 1 stalk of lemongrass
    • A small cinnamon bark
    • 5 to 7 whole cloves
    • 1/2 teaspoon of coriander seeds
    • 1-star anise
    • 5 to 7 black peppercorns
    • 2 to 3 cloves of garlic
    • A knob of ginger
    • Beef shank with bone marrow and beef tail (about 1.5 kilograms total weight)
    • Fish sauce
    • For the Pho
      Rice Noodles
    • Thin in slices of beef loin or round (sukiyaki cut works best), as much as you like

    To Garnish: Fresh mung bean sprouts, whole lemon basil leaves, whole mint leaves (spearmint is recommended), whole cilantro leaves, scallions, cut into one-inch lengths, lime wedges

    Continue to 2 of 9 below.
  • 02 of 09

    Roast the Spices for Pho Broth

    Roasting the spices for pho broth
    © Connie Veneracion

    Start by roasting the spices—lemongrass, cinnamon bark, cloves, coriander seeds, star anise, garlic, ginger, and peppercorns—in an oil-free pan. Just toast them around over medium heat until the aroma is heightened and the edges of the ginger and garlic are lightly browned.

    In Vietnam, the ginger and garlic cloves are tossed on an open flame and turned around until the surface is scorched. The burnt skins are wiped off and discarded before the ginger and garlic are added to the broth. You can choose to do it that way; the broth will benefit from the smoky flavors that the ginger and garlic will impart. For home cooking, however, pan roasting is sufficient.

    Once the spices are roasted, set them aside.

    Continue to 3 of 9 below.
  • 03 of 09

    Beef Shanks (With Bone Marrow) and Beef Tail for Bho Broth

    Beef shanks (with bone marrow) and beef tail for pho broth
    © Connie Veneracion

    Why these cuts of beef and why specify that the beef shanks should have bone marrow? Well, that's what makes beef pho broth so tasty. The long-simmering will loosen the marrow from the bones and fall into the broth.

    The beef tail contains tendons around the meat which give the broth a richer texture.

    Place the beef shanks and tail in a pot. Cover with water and bring to the boil.

    Continue to 4 of 9 below.
  • 04 of 09

    Pre-Boiling Beef to Remove Scum Makes a Clear Broth

    Pre-boiling beef to remove scum makes a clear broth
    © Connie Veneracion

    Boil the beef shanks and tail for about ten minutes to allow all the scum to rise to the surface.

    Throw off the water.

    Scrub the pot clean or get a clean one.

    Rinse the pieces of beef under the tap. They are now ready to be simmered with the spices.

    Continue to 5 of 9 below.
  • 05 of 09

    Add Fresh Water and Spices to Beef and Simmer

    Add Fresh Water and Spices to Beef and Simmer
    © Connie Veneracion

    Place the rinsed beef in the pot. Cover with water again. Add all the roasted spices and about two tablespoonfuls of fish sauce. Cover and simmer for three to four hours. It is the slow cooking that will coax out the flavors from the beef bones and the spices to flavor the broth. Taste every hour and add more fish sauce, as needed.

    For convenience, you can place the spices in a piece of cheesecloth and tie the cloth before adding to the pot. That will make it easier to simply ladle the broth into the bowls later without the need of straining it.

    Continue to 6 of 9 below.
  • 06 of 09

    Soak the Rice Noodles in Water

    Soak the Rice Noodles in Water
    © Connie Veneracion

    About half an hour before the broth is ready, place the rice noodles in a bowl and pour in enough water to totally submerge them. Depending on the width and thickness of the noodles (rice noodles do come in several sizes), the soaking may take anywhere from twenty to forty minutes. What you're after is to soak them long enough until they turn pliable and opaque. Once they do, drain the noodles.

    Continue to 7 of 9 below.
  • 07 of 09

    Blanch the Rice Noodles

    Blanch the Rice Noodles
    © Connie Veneracion

    Boil water in a pot deep enough to submerge the now plumped-up noodles.

    Place the noodles in a kitchen spider and blanch for about three minutes. Check package instructions to be on the safe side. ​Do not overcook. Drain. 

    Divide the noodles among the bowls that you intend to serve the beef pho in.

    Push to the noodles on one side of the bowl and place the thinly sliced raw beef on the other side.

    Continue to 8 of 9 below.
  • 08 of 09

    After Hours of Simmering, the Broth Is Ready to Make Pho

    After Hours of Simmering, the Broth Is Ready to Make Pho
    © Connie Veneracion

    After three to four hours of simmering, the broth is ready. The liquid would have turned darker. If you did the pre-boiling step correctly, the broth should be clear, not cloudy. Keep the broth simmering. Taste one last time and add more fish sauce, if needed.

    Ladle the hot broth directly into the bowls with the noodles and beef. The heat will cook the beef just enough so that it doesn't turn rubbery.

    Continue to 9 of 9 below.
  • 09 of 09

    Garnish the Beef Pho With Fresh Herbs

    Homecooked Beef Pho (Pho Bo)
    © Connie Veneracion

    Garnish the beef pho with fresh mung bean sprouts, lemon basil, mint leaves, cilantro, and scallions. You may place them directly in the bowl on top of the noodles and beef, or on the side.

    Serve the beef pho immediately with lime wedges on the side.