Sunday, September 26, 2010

Vietnamese Beef Pho - Phở Bò

There is a pleasant aroma floating through the air, filling my home with the enticing feeling of warmth and comfort often enjoyed as the days grow shorter and cooler, as fall knocks at the front door. It's a wonderful soup, slowly cooking, allowing all the flavors of each ingredient to mingle together... 

~Didier Corlou, Executive chef, Sofitel Metropole Hanoi

Pho is a fragrant broth soup filled with thin slices of beef and noodles and enhanced with herbs, spices, citrus and hot peppers. Traditionally served in the morning, it was considered an "everyday" meal and not eaten during festive or special occasions. By many, pho is considered Vietnam's national dish. Even though its' exact origins are unknown, it is believed to originate in Hanoi around the turn of the century. 

There are many versions for making this wonderful soup – from the simple to the complex. To get the most authentic flavor and delectable broth one must slowly simmer a combination of beef bones, meat, spices and onions or shallots to get the most beautiful broth filled with supple flavors.

~Mai Pham - "A Bowl of Pho"   

To make my soup, I headed to United Noodles, an Asian market in Minneapolis. This was my first time there and wow, what a store!  They had about everything you could dream of for cooking an Asian meal. It was very cool and I'm glad I took the time to go there. For the most part, the closest I come to cooking any type of Asian cuisine is by making stir fry. I loaded up on fresh pho noodles (rice noodles), fish sauce and some herbs that I don't typically see at the co-op where I shop. Now, don't get intimidated and think that you must head out to an Asian grocer in order to make this wonderful soup. I believe most, if not all the ingredients are readily available at the typical grocery store, just perhaps with not as much variety of brands. 
Fresh herbs and spices are essential to this soup, along with excellent quality meat. If you are able to, take the time to search for bones from grass-fed cows and find a wonderful oxtail. The oxtail isn't a must, but it does lend an amazing flavor to the broth. Several ingredients that are different than a traditional broth in the States is the use of fish sauce (nuoc mam) and roasted shallots/onions and ginger. An article on Viet World Kitchens explains how to shop for fish sauce, which is a key flavor in the broth;

From all of the recipes that I read, another key step to not skip is the roasting of the shallots/onions  and ginger. Ideally you would roast these ingredients on an open flame, however placing an oven rack close to the broiler and roasting them under the broiler works very well too. The roasting imparts an extra sweetness in the broth. 

I can't begin to say how glad I am that I tried this dish. I can see it becoming a quick favorite in our home, especially as fall is now here and winter will be close behind. Who doesn't want a soul-warming soup as the leaves turn their radiant colors only to slowly fall to the ground and the cool rain transforms to beautiful, white snow.

What You'll Need: - Serves 8-10
• 2 lbs. beef bones, preferably from grass-fed cows
1 1/2 lbs. oxtail
1 lb. beef rump or shoulder
1 oz. or approximately 3" section of ginger
2 shallots or small onions - one is for roasting the other for adding to individual bowls later
1 3" cinnamon stick
2 whole star anise 
6 cardamon seeds
3 whole cloves
1/4 cup fish sauce (nuoc mam)
2 tsp. sea salt 
• 16 cups filtered water
• 2 lbs. pho noodles (banh pho)
• 3 limes sliced into thin wedges
• 1 lb. beef fillet to be sliced and eaten raw (optional)
• For toppings: a mixture of fresh herbs: mint, Thai or sweet basil, coriander, parsley, cilantro, bean sprouts and fresh chilies thinly sliced

Getting Started: 
1. Wash your bones, oxtail and beef rump.

2. Grill or roast one shallot and ginger either on an open flame, like on a grill or gas stove or place under the broiler in the oven. 
3. Crush the star anise and then place in several layers of cheese cloth or a thin cloth, along with the cinnamon stick, cardamon seeds, and whole cloves. Tie cloth tightly. 

4. In a large pot, bring water to a boil, then add the beef bones. Allow water to return to a boil and then skim off any scum that rises to the top. Turn stove down to low and keep at a simmer.

5. Add the spices tied in the cloth, the whole shallot, whole ginger and the beef rump to the pot. Season with the fish sauce and sea salt.

6. Allow broth to simmer for 3+ hours. Remove spice bag and beef rump and then check broth seasoning, adding more fish sauce and sea salt to taste.

7. Prepare toppings by pulling leaves of herbs off of stems, thinly slicing the shallot and thinly slicing chili peppers. Slice cooked meat and raw meat, if using, into thin (paper thin for the raw meat), bite-
sized pieces. Arrange toppings, meat and lime wedges on a platter. 

8. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Drop in noodles for 5 seconds, remove, drain and place in individual soup bowls. 

9. Allow individuals to arrange meat and toppings in their bowls and then pour hot broth over top. Squeeze fresh lime on top. 

Enjoy every delicious bite!



  1. This is one of favorite soups! Great recipe, clearly written!

  2. Therese, what a beautiful post. I absolutely adore Vietnamese Pho and I was considering this for my post. I'm going to use this recipe to make this soon!

  3. This looks very welcoming and hearty for cold bones on a chilly day. I love not only the wholesomeness of it, but the feast for the eyes... all in a handsome bowl with smorgasbord choices. The pictures were very nice.

  4. Your posts are always so peaceful and soothing. The way that you write and lay out your photographs...just wonderful! This looks fresh and flavorful. Great job on the challenge! I will vote for you tomorrow!

  5. beautiful pictures and nice presentation...recipe looks great

  6. This is the 8th pho post I've seen for PFB - that's amazing! I made it too. I like your pictures - good luck!

  7. Thank you all for the wonderful comments. To those of you also participating in PFB - Good luck too!

  8. Wonderful post! I really like your style of writing this post/challenge. What a nice addition to add some quotes from Vietnamese culture. Beautiful pix too. Good luck on PFB! I look forward to reading more from you.

  9. Beautiful pictures! And the pho sounds amazing - you've got my vote! I didn't realize it until afterwards, but there was no fish sauce listed in the recipe I used and I think it really needed it! Next time I won't leave it out!

  10. Yum! I love pho

    Voted for you and good luck with PFB :)

    I would like to invite you to participate in my giveaway

    Here is my entry for PFB

  11. This looks wonderful- great photos, too! I just voted for you! Best of luck!! :)

  12. Loved all your pictures, the soup looks beautiful. Just sent a vote atcha!

  13. Your pho looks great! Way to go on challenge've got my vote!

  14. Therese - beautiful post! The pictures of the fresh ingredients have me wanting to try the Pho recipe I have set aside to try this fall/winter. Thanks for the inspiration.

  15. Beautifully written and looks like a dish well executed! Great job and good luck in round 2!


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