Pho Bo Soup (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)

Beef pho with rice, noodles, and basil
Christopher Testani
Prep: 15 mins
Cook: 5 hrs 30 mins
Total: 5 hrs 45 mins
Servings: 8 servings
Yields: 8 bowls
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
647 Calories
25g Fat
33g Carbs
71g Protein
See Full Nutritional Guidelines Hide Full Nutritional Guidelines
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 8
Amount per serving
Calories 647
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 25g 32%
Saturated Fat 9g 47%
Cholesterol 203mg 68%
Sodium 213mg 9%
Total Carbohydrate 33g 12%
Dietary Fiber 4g 13%
Protein 71g
Calcium 175mg 13%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Today there is no dish that is more associated with Vietnamese cuisine than phở, 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 around the 1900s, the demand for beef grew as French officials wanted dishes from back home (at that time in Vietnam, cows were seen only as draft animals, the way we see horses today). 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: a north and south, 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; they served the meal with an abundance of Thai basil, culantro, beansprouts, hoisin and chili sauce (all marked as optional below). The dish was once again transformed. 

And in 1975 when the north reunited itself with the south, there was a large exodus of southern Vietnamese. Many of them settled in the U.S., France, Australia, etc. and opened up their own restaurants serving southern-style phở. 

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. The phở someone's mom makes will not taste like the phở someone else's mom makes because of upbringing, individual tastes, geographic 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."

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. So, see this as a chance to take a nap or binge a show. 

Ingredients

  • For the Bones and Brisket:
  • 6 pounds beef bone marrow
  • 2 pounds brisket (or shank)
  • 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar 
  • 1/4 cup salt 
  • For the Broth: 
  • 2 gallons water 
  • Optional: 1/2 cup rock sugar
  • 3 tablespoons salt
  • 2 (3-inch) pieces ginger
  • 2 yellow onions
  • 3 pieces whole star anise
  • 10 whole cloves 
  • 1 black cardamom pod
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • Optional: 3 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • Optional: 2 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1/2 cup fish sauce
  • For the Bowls: 
  • 2 (14-ounce or 16-ounce package) pho noodles (prepared according to package direction)
  • 1 pound filet mignon (sliced thinly against the grain) 
  • 1 red onion (sliced thinly into half rings and stored in cold water)
  • 4 green onions (white parts thinly sliced lengthwise, green parts chopped in a circular cut)
  • Optional: 1 bunch cilantro leaves (roughly chopped) 
  • For Serving (all optional): 
  • 8 sprigs Thai basil
  • 8 culantro leaves
  • 2 cup bean sprouts (blanched)
  • 4 Thai bird's eye chilies (with seeds, finely sliced)
  • 2 limes (quartered lengthwise into slices)
  • Hoisin sauce
  • Chili sauce (such as sriracha) 

Steps to Make It

Note: while there are multiple steps to this recipe, this recipe is broken down into workable categories to help you better plan for preparation and cooking.

Prepare the Bones and Brisket

  1. Gather the ingredients for the bones and brisket.

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

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

Make the Broth

  1. Gather the ingredients for the broth. 

  2. Add 2 gallons of fresh, cool water, rock sugar, 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. 

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

  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. 

  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. 

  6. After another hour has passed, heat a sauté pan over high heat. Toast the star anise, cloves, black cardamom, cinnamon stick, coriander seeds, and fennel seeds until just fragrant (1 to 2 minutes). Be careful not to burn them. Secure them in a sachet or tea bag and add them to the center of the stock pot. They may need to be weighed down by an onion or bone. 

  7. Simmer uncovered for 1 hour. At the broth has cooked for 3 hours total, season it with the fish sauce. Taste the broth and adjust seasoning, as necessary.

  8. 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. 

Assemble the Bowls

  1. Gather the ingredients for the bowls. 

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

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

  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. 

Serve

  1. Gather the ingredients for serving. 

  2. Place Thai basil, culantro, beansprouts, 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. 

  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. 

  4. Phở should be eaten immediately after serving before the noodles get a chance to bloat up. 

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.

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. 
  • If you save some broth for later and notice when cooled, 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. 
  • Broth can also be frozen into ice cubes for a quicker phở in the future. 

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.