Traditional Beef Pho

The calendar says it is spring in Ann Arbor but it hasn’t quite warmed up yet.  I’m eagerly awaiting the warmer weather but in the meantime the cool temperature means there is still a few more weeks to enjoy huge bowls of delicious broth.  Is there anything more comforting, especially in the winter?  Several years ago I had pho for the first time at Tomukun Noodle Bar (my wife and I are also big fans of their Korean BBQ place next door).  Pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup with an intensely flavorful beef broth and handfuls of accompanying herbs, meat, and bean sprouts.

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This isn’t any plain old beef broth, either.  It comes together over several hours and is flavored with cinnamon, fennel, star anise, coriander, cloves, and fish sauce.  You may end up having to go a few places to track down all the ingredients but it is absolutely worth it.  Sitting over a piping hot bowl of this with the steam carrying up all manner of incredible smells will make everything else melt away.

I mentioned last week that earlier this year my wife was gone for an internship rotation for a few weeks.  Much to her disappointment this was one of the first things I made while she was out of town.  Fortunately I made so much that there was plenty left over to freeze for when she got back.  On that note, you’ll want at least an 8 quart stock pot to make the broth; if you don’t have one large enough you can either scale down the recipe or split it between two smaller pots.

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One of the fun parts of making pho is getting to assemble all the different things you’d like to add to your bowl.  I added bean sprouts, scallions, cilantro, jalapeños, thai basil (just to add more flavor) and a bit of lime juice.  Rice noodles are a must in addition to different cuts of meat.  I put in some of the brisket I cooked in the broth and thinly shaved some raw flank steak into the bowl.  It then cooked when I poured the hot broth over it.  The second time I made this I grilled some flank steak to slice and put on top.

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Often pho will be served with Sriracha and hoisin sauce on the side.  The Serious Eats post where I got this recipe pointed out that these could just be covering for poorly made broth.  I had never thought of it that way and to be honest each time I had eaten pho before I added Sriracha and hoisin without really thinking about it.  The broth has so much going on that it really doesn’t need much else.  If you’re a big fan of heat then I’d recommend adding a bit of Sriracha or more jalapeños.

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As I said above this recipe makes a very large amount of broth, I think we got 12 servings from it.  Many of the cuts of meat I tracked down at a nearby Asian grocery store.  Despite the effort I will absolutely make this again, but probably not until next fall.  The broth freezes well so you can keep some for when it gets cold or if you’re not feeling well, this is a perfect cure!

Traditional Beef Pho (Serves about 12)

Ingredients

For the Broth

  • 3 lbs beef shin
  • 2 lbs oxtail, cut into 1/2 to 1 inch thick slices
  • 1 lb boneless beef chuck
  • 1 lb beef brisket
  • 2 large onions, halved
  • 1 large piece ginger (about 6 inches long), halved lengthwise
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 4 cloves
  • 3 star anise pods
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 C fish sauce
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt

To Serve

  • Pho noodles
  • 1 lb flank steak, sliced thinly
  • Bean sprouts
  • Cilantro
  • Basil
  • Scallions
  • Jalapeños
  • Lime wedges
  • Hoisin sauce
  • Sriracha

Directions

Place onions and ginger on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil  Broil until charred on all surfaces, about 25 minutes.  You will need to turn every 3-4 minutes.  Set aside when done.

In a large stockpot combine beef shins, oxtail, chuck, and brisket.  Cover with cool water and bring to a boil on high heat.  Boil for 15 minutes, then dumb out water and meat into a strainer.  This is done to remove some fat from the broth, you will also have a much clearer finished product.

When the meat is cool rinse under cool water and then return to the pot.  Cover once more with water.  Add the charred onions, ginger, fish sauce, and salt.  Add the anise, cinnamon, fennel, and cloves.  If possible place in a tea infuser or wrap in cheese cloth; something that will allow you to easily remove the spices later.

Bring pot to a boil then reduce to a simmer, occasionally skimming fat off the top.  Cook until the brisket and beef chuck are tender, about 1 1/2 hours.  When done remove brisket and chuck to a separate bowl.  Refrigerate them until you are ready to serve the pho.

Continue to simmer the broth for 4 hours, adding water as necessary to ensure everything remains covered.  When done strain broth through a fine strainer.  Discard bones and spices, you should have about a gallon (16 cups) of broth.

Skim any additional fat off the surface and discard.  Add fish sauce, salt, and/or sugar to flavor if needed.  Slice the cooked beef.  Prepare noodles according to package directions and prepare other accompanying items.  Thinly slice flank steak.

Prepare bowls of broth, adding noodles, sprouts, herbs, beef, and sauces as desired.

Recipe courtesy of Serious Eats, detailed blog post available from The Food Lab.

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