Pho (Vietnamese Noodle Soup)

Pho Bo Soup (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)

The Spruce / Julia Estrada

Prep: 20 mins
Cook: 4 hrs 30 mins
Chill: 60 mins
Total: 5 hrs 50 mins
Servings: 8 servings
Yield: 8 bowls

Today there is no dish that is more associated with Vietnamese cuisine than phở (pronounced "fuh"), even though the dish's 120-year-old history is a mere blip in the timeline of Vietnam's 4,900-year civilization. Its exact origins are still uncertain but everyone agrees it originated from the north, in or near Hanoi, as an evolution of xáo trâu, a noodle soup made with water buffalo meat. Due to French colonization in the 1900s, the demand for beef grew as French officials wanted dishes from back home. The bones and unwanted scraps from the French beef were purchased by xáo trâu vendors and used in place of water buffalo, and thus phở was born. 

After the Geneva Agreement of 1954 which created two Vietnams, almost a million northerners migrated south, bringing phở along with them. Because the southerners have more of a sweet tooth and an abundance of herbs, they added rock sugar, coriander, and fennel seeds to the broth and they served the meal with an abundance of Thai basil, culantro, bean sprouts, hoisin, and chili sauce. The dish was once again transformed. 

Knowing the history of phở takes away much of the intimidation and pressure to make the dish "authentically." It's a relatively modern dish that in its short history has already undergone massive transformation. One person's phở will not taste like another's because of upbringing, individual tastes, availability of ingredients, etc. The most important thing is that phở comforts you, and if what you made does that, then you did it "right."

This recipe has a flavorful broth thanks to charred aromatics, toasted spices, and beef bones and brisket. If the cook time is intimidating, know that most of it is inactive and all the prep can be done while waiting for the next step. You can freeze the broth for later, but boil the noodles and add all of the fresh toppings just before serving. The hot broth perfectly cooks the thinly sliced steak in the bowl.

Ingredients

For the Bones and Brisket:

  • 6 pounds beef bones

  • 2 pounds brisket or shank

  • 1/4 cup white vinegar

  • 1/4 cup salt

For the Broth:

  • 2 gallons water

  • 1/2 cup rock sugar, optional

  • 3 tablespoons salt

  • 2 medium yellow onions

  • 2 (3-inch) pieces ginger

  • 10 whole cloves

  • 3 pods whole star anise

  • 1 black cardamom pod

  • 1 cinnamon stick

  • 3 teaspoons coriander seeds, optional

  • 2 teaspoons fennel seeds, optional

  • 1/2 cup fish sauce

For the Bowls:

  • 2 (14 or 16-ounce) packages pho noodles, prepared according to package directions

  • 1 pound filet mignon, sliced thinly against the grain

  • 1 red onion (sliced thinly into half rings and stored in cold water)

  • 1 medium red onion, sliced thinly into half rings and stored in cold water

  • 4 medium green onions, white parts thinly sliced lengthwise, green parts chopped in a circular cut

  • 1 bunch cilantro leaves, roughly chopped, optional

For Serving (all optional):

  • 2 cups bean sprouts (blanched)

  • 8 sprigs Thai basil

  • 8 culantro leaves

  • 4 Thai bird's eye chilies, with seeds and thinly sliced

  • 2 limes, quartered lengthwise into slices

  • Hoisin sauce, for serving

  • Chili sauce, for serving (such as Sriracha)

Steps to Make It

Prepare the Bones and Brisket

  1. Gather the ingredients for the bones and brisket.

    Bones and Brisket ingredients

    The Spruce / Julia Estrada

  2. Place the bones and brisket in a large stockpot. Fill the pot with enough cool water to cover the bones and add the vinegar and salt. The acidity of the vinegar starts the process of drawing nutrients from the bones before you even start cooking. Place in the refrigerator and soak for 1 to 2 hours.

    bone and brisket in a pot

    The Spruce / Julia Estrada

  3. Drain and rinse the meat and bones of the salt and vinegar. Return the bones and brisket to the pot. 

    beef and bones in a pot

    The Spruce / Julia Estrada

  4. Pour enough water to cover the bones and brisket again. Cover, bring to a boil, and cook at a rapid simmer for 10 minutes. At this point, a lot of foam and impurities should have risen to the top (if not, cook for another 5 to 10 minutes until it does).

    meat and bones with water in a pot

    The Spruce / Julia Estrada

  5. Drain, rinse the bones and brisket, and return them to the pot again. Similar to the previous step, this is done to further remove impurities from the meat and bones to yield a clearer broth. 

    Drain, rinse the bones and brisket

    The Spruce / Julia Estrada

Make the Broth

  1. Gather the ingredients for the broth. 

    broth ingredients

    The Spruce / Julia Estrada

  2. Add 2 gallons of fresh, cool water along with the rock sugar (if using) and salt to the stockpot with the bones and brisket and bring to a boil over high heat. Immediately reduce the heat to a very low simmer and leave uncovered. In the beginning, a lot of foam and many impurities will float to the top; skim those out regularly. 

    Add 2 gallons of fresh, cool water, rock sugar, and salt to the stockpot with the meat and bones

    The Spruce / Julia Estrada

  3. Meanwhile, broil the onion and ginger pieces in an oven set to broil, so the skins starts to blacken. (Alternatively, cook over a gas flame until blackened.)

    broil the ginger pieces and onions in an oven

    The Spruce / Julia Estrada

  4. Rinse under running water to cool and peel the black skin off to release their fragrance. Add to the stockpot with the bones and brisket. 

    add onions and ginger to the stockpot

    The Spruce / Julia Estrada

  5. After the broth has cooked for 1 hour, check to see if the brisket is fully cooked through. If so, remove it from the stockpot and store it in cool water to keep it moist and prevent it from darkening. 

    brisket in a container

    The Spruce / Julia Estrada

  6. After another hour has passed, heat a sauté pan over high heat. Toast the cloves, star anise, black cardamom, cinnamon stick, coriander seeds (if using), and fennel seeds (if using) until just fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Be careful not to burn them.

    spices toasting in a pan

    The Spruce / Julia Estrada

  7. Secure them in a sachet or tea bag and add them to the center of the stock pot.

    put spice bag into the broth pot

    The Spruce / Julia Estrada

  8. Simmer uncovered for another hour. After the broth has cooked for 3 hours total, season it with the fish sauce. Taste the broth and adjust seasoning, as necessary.

    broth cooking in a pot

    The Spruce / Julia Estrada

  9. Simmer for another hour to let the new seasonings work their way into the broth. After 4 hours of broth making, once the taste is right, bring it up to a boil. 

    broth in a pot

    The Spruce / Julia Estrada

Assemble the Bowls

  1. Gather the ingredients for the bowls. 

    Assemble the Bowls

    The Spruce / Julia Estrada

  2. Take the brisket out of its cool water storage and thinly slice against the grain

    beef on a plate

    The Spruce / Julia Estrada

  3. Divide the prepared noodles among the four bowls, top with cooked brisket, raw filet mignon, red onion, green onion, and cilantro.

    Divide the prepared noodles among the four bowls, top with cooked brisket, raw filet mignon, red onion, green onion, and cilantro

    The Spruce / Julia Estrada

  4. Ladle the boiling stock over each bowl, pouring over the raw meat first so it cooks right away. There should be enough stock to cover the beef in each bowl. 

    broth added to the pho

    The Spruce / Julia Estrada

Serve

  1. Gather the ingredients for serving. 

    pho toppings

    The Spruce / Julia Estrada

  2. Place bean sprouts, Thai basil, culantro, and chili slices on a large serving plate for everyone to draw from and add to their bowls. Thai basil leaves should be plucked from their stems and torn in half to release their flavor. 

    Place Thai basil, culantro, beansprouts, and chili slices on a large serving plate

    The Spruce / Julia Estrada

  3. Serve everyone a slice of lime to squeeze into their phở and a small bowl of hoisin and chili sauce to dip their meat in. Prepared phở should be eaten immediately after serving. 

    Pho Bo Soup (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup) in a bowl

    The Spruce / Julia Estrada

Glass Bakeware Warning

Do not use glass bakeware when broiling or when a recipe calls to add liquid to a hot pan, as glass may explode. Even if it states oven-safe or heat resistant, tempered glass products can, and do, break occasionally.

How to Store and Freeze

  • The broth will last in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days. If you notice the broth seems very gelatinous, that's normal. You did it right. Bone marrow has a lot of collagen in it and a lot of that goodness has transferred to your broth. 
  • For best results, make the noodles and add the toppings fresh.
  • The broth can also be frozen for up to a month. Try freezing it into ice cube trays for a quicker phở in the future. 


Tips

  • Rock sugar is often used in Vietnamese soups and can be found at most Asian grocery stores. It can be white or yellow. 
  • Pre-packaged phở spice bags are available online and at some Asian grocery stores. 
  • Freezing the filet mignon for 30 to 45 minutes will make it easier to slice thinly. 
  • As with most broths, the more time spent simmering, the more flavorful it will be. If you want to go for an overnight broth, only simmer the blanched bone marrow, partially covered. Otherwise, the brisket will be overcooked and the other ingredients will impart too much of their flavor and throw off the balance of the broth.
  • Leftover brisket can be used in soup or stew or cubed and added to stir-fry, fried rice, or hash.

Recipe Variations

  • Chicken phở has a different taste profile and different accompaniments. Do not swap out the two meats. 
  • In the south of the U.S, Thai bird’s eye chilies are often substituted with jalapeños
  • For a non-traditional way to kick up your broth, after blanching, roast the bone marrow with a drizzle of cooking oil for 30 minutes at 450 F. This browns and caramelizes the bones and loosens the marrow.