Vietnamese Pho is a delicious soup of rice noodles and thinly sliced rare beef in a rich spiced beef bone broth. Topped with Thai mint and basil and mung bean sprouts, this dish is a feast for the senses and also incredibly nourishing. If beef bone broth is normally too full-on for you, this is a great version to try, as the spices really alter the flavour and smell for the better! If you are a meat eater but don’t eat red meat, try making the broth from chicken bones instead and replace the rare beef with cooked chicken or tofu. It will still taste amazing.
I can quite easily say that this dish rates very highly on my list of favourite foods for a number of reasons. First of all, it is all kinds of delicious. It is also inexpensive and simple to make. The bone broth is rich in gelatin, minerals and amino acids that are not all found in meat alone (glycine, proline, glutamine and alanine, as well as many others). These minerals and amino acids are key players in the body’s ability to make healthy collagen, cartilage and blood. They help with fat digestion and detoxification while helping to improve the health of the gut and immune system. To put it simply, every body system will benefit from a bit of bone broth in the diet.
Traditionally pho is made using a beef bone broth, which uses a variety of beef bones and knuckles, that have been pre-roasted or blanched and then simmered gently for many hours. The onions and ginger are also charred in the oven. But because we eat this soup weekly, I prefer to make it in as few steps as possible without compromising on flavour. I often use a quicker chicken stock from a leftover roast chicken when time is limited, and it still tastes wonderful. In a total pinch, you can use store-bought real stock made from chicken or beef (not the powdered stuff, but the liquid stuff in the carton) and continue on with adding the spices etc, but I would recommend trying out the slow simmered bone broth version at some point in your life. It’s so worth it. Moore Wilson’s also carries ready-made proper beef and chicken bone broths in the fresh chilled section.
Here are a few tips and shortcuts that I use:
- Use a chicken or duck carcass leftover from a roast dinner instead of beef bones. You can also use raw chicken frames, feet and necks to make a lovely broth that is rich in flavour, gelatin and collagen. Gelatin is wonderful for its ability to heal the gut lining. Collagen helps your body grow stronger and healthier hair, nails and skin.
- **If using a pre-made broth or stock, skip the first step in the recipe and continue on to step 2 and simmer for 1-3 hours, depending on how much time you have.
- Never boil a stock or broth as this will break down the collagen and gelatin and prevent the stock or broth from gelling. A good stock is clear when it is hot and jelly-like when cold. Boiling not only breaks down the collagen and gelatin, but also produces a cloudy stock or broth.
- *Use a slow cooker on the low setting if you prefer. Keep the lid slightly ajar if it can’t maintain a gently simmer on the low setting. We have limited bench space so I often use the next method below for slow-cooking a broth.
- *Use an enamelled cast iron pot/Dutch oven with a lid or a large 5+ litre ovenproof dish with a lid and use your oven set at 100-110 degrees Celsius to cook your broth if stove top space is an issue. I usually don’t skim the scum with this method as I am often quickly putting the pot into the oven before rushing out of the house for the day.
- Freeze the beef steak for 14+ days to kill any parasites and bacteria if you are concerned about eating rare beef that has been flash-cooked in the hot broth. Alternatively you can cook the sliced beef in the simmering stock for 10-20 seconds before serving.
- Use partially thawed steak and a sharp knife to make slicing easier.
- Heat the bowls prior to serving to keep the soup hot when serving. The cold meat and noodles can sometimes cool the broth down as they finish cooking in the bowl.
- Instead of boiling the rice noodles I soak them in warm water for 30-40 minutes while I prep the rest of the ingredients and finish off the broth. Strain the noodles and place directly into the hot bowls. The hot broth will finish cooking the noodles to the perfect consistency within a minute or so. No boiling necessary, and they don’t stick together!
Vietnamese Pho Soup - Simple Bone Broth Version (Beef or Chicken)
1kg beef bones (meaty brisket, oxtail and knuckle bones are best – avoid marrow bones as they are really fatty with a strong flavour. Alternatively you can use a chicken carcass from a leftover roast or raw frames.)
3-4 litres water (or enough to cover the bones well)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
1 onion – unpeeled and cut into about 8 wedges
1 inch (2-3cm) piece of ginger – unpeeled and chopped into a few pieces
1 cinnamon stick
6 whole star anise
3 whole cloves
1 tsp whole peppercorns
1 -2 tsp sea salt (or to taste)
1 TBLS fish sauce
1 TBLS raw sugar
1 pack dried flat rice noodles (not vermicelli)
200-300g fresh beef steak – ideally frozen and partially thawed, but not necessary (brisket, sirloin, porterhouse, flank or blade)
These are the toppings that we usually use to serve it with:
Cilantro (Fresh Coriander)
Basil leaves (any variety)
mung bean sprouts
wedges of lime
sriracha hot sauce & hoisin sauce
- Rinse beef bones under cold running water and place into a 5-6 litre stock pot or enamelled cast iron pot. Add water and apple cider vinegar (or lemon juice). Place pot over medium heat with the lid ajar and gently bring to a gentle simmer (just barely bubbling, do not boil or the stock will go cloudy and not gel as well). Using a slotted spoon or metal sieve, scrape off any foamy scum that comes to the surface and discard. *See tips in the post above for slow-cooker and oven methods.
- Add remaining ingredients apart from rice noodles, rare beef and toppings. Continue to simmer for a minimum of 1-2 hours, but ideally leave the pot to simmer longer for a gelatine-rich broth (up to 12 hours). **See tip in the post above for using a pre-made stock or broth.
- About 40 minutes before the broth is ready, place rice noodles into a large bowl and cover with warm water. Once the noodles are bendy and very flexible, strain them.
- Using a sharp knife, slice the beef as thinly as possible – about 1-2mm thick. I find it is easiest use partially thawed steak but don’t always plan ahead with this meal so end up using fresh steak. If you are using a steak such a brisket or flank, cut across the grain of the steak.
- Heat the bowls well in the oven or with hot water until they are hot (this will help keep the soup hot while the hot broth is cooking the noodles and steak in the bowl). Divide soaked rice noodles among the hot bowls and place a portion of rare sliced beef on top of each. Hold a metal sieve over the bowl and pour over the hot, simmering broth over the meat and noodles until the rice noodles are well covered. You can push the meat into the broth a little to help it cook. Repeat with the remaining bowls. Serve immediately with your desired toppings. Remember to remove your stock pot from the heat before sitting down to eat.