Making your own fabulous bowl of Vietnamese pho soup at home is not hard, all you need is a straightforward recipe, a few secrets and a nice big stockpot.
You’ve had Pho before, right? If not, it’s a wonderfully delicate Vietnamese noodle soup, made from beef bones, ginger, onions and lots of aromatic spices. It’s nothing short of soup perfection. The way all the spices and flavors from star anise, cardamom, fennel seeds and cinnamon come together is incredible and the best part? You can customize; it’s encouraged that you add any and all the condiments you desire to make it your own.
We make this at least once a month, always making sure there is leftover broth to freeze for another day. While it takes a bit of time, most of that is hands-off, so let’s get going towards amazing pho at home, shall we?
You can’t make an awesome soup without awesome beef bones, right? So, look for knuckle and leg bones that contain marrow. We buy beef knuckles from a local Asian market and find them to be pretty inexpensive.
When you simmer bones they release “scum” or impurities. If you don’t get rid of this, you’ll be stuck with a cloudy broth. Not good. We like our Pho to be as clear and clean as possible, so we add an extra step. Add the bones to a large stockpot, cover with cold water then bring to a boil. Boil for a few minutes then throw the water and bones into a strainer. Discard the water then rinse the bones to get rid of all the impurities. Also, make sure you give the pot a rinse, too — there will be scum on the bottom and sides of the pot.
To create that distinctive and deep flavor of great Pho, slide onion and a sizable piece of ginger under the broiler. Broil until well charred. That’s going to give you nice depth and color.
Even though we’re simmering the broth with spices for a few hours, we still like to give all the spices a quick toast before adding to the pot. To do this, throw them into a dry pan over medium heat, stay close and shake the pan a couple of times to make sure they toast. You’ll know when they’re ready when you start to smell them. It only takes 2-3 minutes.
Don’t just use regular white sugar from your pantry. We know that buying yellow rock sugar seems pretty particular and we’re all left with the problem of what to do with it after making this pho recipe, but here’s the deal: using plan old sugar sadly produces a sweet, flat broth, whereas the rock sugar rounds things out and brings everything together. Plus, you’ll need that leftover rock sugar for the next time you make Pho soup!
Buy some. You really can’t make pho soup (or other Vietnamese recipes) without it. Our fish sauce sits within arm’s reach of our stove. We use it in everything and absolutely will not make pho without it. We’ve come to trust the Three Crabs brand of fish sauce, which you can buy online or in Asian markets. Andrea Nguyen of Viet World Kitchen suggests that when shopping for fish sauce, look for glass bottles, not plastic and allow price to guide you. Go for the mid-high priced fish sauce (which will run you $4 to $5).
You can buy fresh noodles at Asian markets, which is a nice treat, but dried rice noodles work perfectly as well. Even if you use fresh or dried, never cook the noodles in the broth. If you do this, the broth will become cloudy. So, cook them in another pot (they only take a few minutes) and add the cooked noodles to your bowl just before adding hot broth. As for condiments, we’re partial to Thai basil (you can substitute regular basil if you need too), fresh mint, crispy bean sprouts, a teeny tiny splash of fish sauce and some Asian chili sauce. Some like to add hoisin sauce, but we rarely do — it can take over the delicate deep flavor of the broth.
Oh, and while it’s not a “secret” make sure you have some freezer space to store some of that extra broth for the best make-ahead meal, ever!
Our recipe will yield 3 1/2 to 4 quarts of broth.
Yellow Rock Sugar: This is also known as “lump sugar” and is sold at Asian markets. Look for it sold in a box. You will most likely need to break the rock sugar into smaller chunks. You can use a hammer or rolling pin to do this.
Noodles: You can usually find fresh noodles at Asian markets. If you cannot, simply use dried “banh pho” noodles. Follow directions on package for cooking. For the fresh noodles, you will most likely need to immerse the noodles into boiling water for a few seconds. For dried, you will need to soak the noodles in hot water for 15 to 20 minutes or until softened and opaque. Check the package for specific directions.
Raw Beef: Either ask your butcher to thinly slice the meat or if slicing at home, place beef into the freezer for 15 minutes to harden a little. Then, carefully thinly slice the beef across the grain into 1/16-inch thick slices.
Onions: Raw onion can be overpowering. So, thinly slice the onions then submerge them in some water. Set aside for 15 to 20 minutes then drain and rinse. This will tone down the “raw” flavor of the onion.
Recipe adapted and inspired by Andrea Nguyen of Viet World Kitchen and Jaden Hair of Steamy Kitchen.
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