July 13, 2012

Pho (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)

My favorite food culture is Asian, hands down, no contest. Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese... I think those are all I have tried. I love them all!! I really need to learn to make more recipes from these cultures. I have a Masaman curry recipe (Thai) from my Mom, I have made sushi and yakisoba (Japanese) and love them, have adapted a great Orange Chicken recipe from Cooks Illustrated (Chinese... but is it really??)... need to find a Korean recipe, but I LOVE bemimbap (everyone spells that different)... Anyway, you get the point! And yes, I will post those at some point. :) But this one is arguably our most famous Stephen Phillips family recipe. It all starts with Stephen's sister, Anne. Who is married to Stephen's brother-in-law, Dan. Who served a Vietnamese-speaking mission in Vancouver, Canada and luckily for us, he liked the food enough to bring a few recipes home with him! I had my first experience with Pho (pronounced fuh) at his house after I married Stephen, and it immediately became one of my favorite meals of all time. I was a pretty rookie cook, so we would only have it at Dan and Anne's house. After a few years, (and much improvement in my cooking skills) this was no longer enough. I did some recipe research, got Dan and Anne's recipe, was immediately intimidated (this stuff takes ALL DAY!!) and discovered that Cooks Illustrated had a "quick and easy" version. The problem with the Cooks version is that it was SO quick and easy, it wasn't very authentic anymore. They had even removed the "pho" from the title, it was just Vietnamese Noodle Soup! Blasphemy. Clearly I had to do some recipe cut-and-paste!!
The toughest part about authentic pho is getting deep flavor into the light broth. It's quite a bit harder here in the land of boneless-skinless-everything to find the beef bones required for true authenticity, but some of the shortcuts the Test Kitchen used drastically cut into the depth of flavor this broth should have. Dan and Anne boil their roast in water to make beef broth, and we LOVE theirs, but were looking for a bit stronger flavor. So we took tips from both, and created our own version. It is significantly stronger, or "beefier" than most pho you might find in restaurants. Lucky for us, Dan says this soup varies all over Vietnam, so maybe there is an area that tastes like ours! We love it, and we love serving it to friends, family, and guests, and have yet to get a negative review, even from our boys!! It is absolutely their favorite meal (even more than pizza, gasp!!), which makes me SO proud! And believe it or not, it's still pretty easy!

Pho (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)

1 large chuck roast (2-3 lbs)
6-8 cups Swanson beef broth (Trust me, the broth matters. If you are awesome and make your own beef stock, use that! But I am not that awesome)
1-2 cups water
1/4-1/3 cup fish sauce
4-6 peeled whole garlic cloves
3-4 inch long chunk of ginger, peeled and sliced into disks
2 cinnamon sticks
small handful star anise 
1-2 tsp granulated sugar
rice noodles (thinner is better, thick get sticky, like pad thai)

Optional Toppings: limes, ENGLISH cucumber (firmer and crunchier with fewer seeds), shredded carrots, Thai basil, mint, cilantro, fresh jalapeno, yellow onion, scallions, bean sprouts, red chili paste (Sriracha)

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Generously season the roast with salt and lots of pepper. Sear roast on all sides in a few teaspoons of oil on high heat in a frying pan. 
Place roast in a baking dish (casserole, Corningware, etc) cover with lid or foil, cook 7 hours. Remove from oven, turn oven off, let roast rest in juices for 1 hour. After resting, save juices from roast, shred the roast and set shredded meat aside.
For Broth
Combine broth, water, fish sauce, garlic, ginger, cinnamon sticks, anise, sugar, and reserved juices from the roast in large pot. Bring all to a boil. then lower to active simmer (you want the broth to be moving, not so low that there's no action! :) for 30-60 minutes. The longer you can let it simmer, the better your broth will taste! When done, strain solids out and throw them away. Serve as soon and as hot as possible!
At some point while broth is simmering, soak rice noodles in very hot water for 10 minutes. Drain and save for later (they are not quite ready yet) This is also a good time to prepare toppings. SuggestionsCut limes in half (one half is usually perfect for each bowl. Limes are essential!) Slice cucumber in half lengthwise and then into inch-ish long slices. Cut yellow onion in half, then slice as paper thin as you can get them. Dice (VERY small) or slice fresh jalapeno into disks. Roughly chop herbs. (We used to use mint, then we discovered Thai basil and Stephen is hooked. We don't use cilantro but many people do) We love the pre-cut thin carrot sticks that some grocery stores carry with their salad makings; if you can't find those, grate a few carrots on the large holes of a cheese grater. Chop a few scallions a few minutes before serving, not too far in advance or they develop a soapy flavor. 
When ready to serve, bring a small pot of water to a boil. Eyeball a serving of noodles, place in wire strainer, and immerse in boiling water for 10-20 seconds. This softens the noodles a bit more and removes extra starch. Place noodles in bowl, top with chosen toppings, shredded beef, and spoon broth over the top. Squeeze about half a lime over soup and Enjoy! (I gave amounts for a smaller batch, that will yield a few days of leftovers, and bigger batch for serving to company... or multiple teenage boys...)
The ginger and spices in the broth make it so healing if you are feeling under the weather! It is also wonderful for settling an upset stomach. Don't let the anise or fish sauce scare you off, I promise this doesn't taste like licorice or old fish!
The anise brings a sweetness and an essential layer of aromatic flavor that makes pho so distinctive. The cinnamon adds warmth and rounds out those aromas. My favorite part is the zing from the fresh ginger while the garlic deepens that smooth, savory flavor layer. The fish sauce adds the saltiness, and melts into the flavors from those roast juices. (I promise, not even a whiff of fish) The beef broth gives you the flavors of all-day cooking in MUCH shorter time and the shredded beef is melt-in-your-mouth tender and juicy. 
I love the contrast of these deep, meaty flavors with the cool, fresh, crunchy veggies, so I top it with cucumber, bean sprouts, carrot, scallions, onion, jalapeno, and chili paste or Sriracha. I'm surprised Stephen didn't take a picture of "the Perfect Bite!" This is not a soup you eat quickly. No, you build each bite, which is why we use the extra large-bowled soup spoons and chopsticks. You pick a piece of tender shredded beef to start your bite in the bowl of your spoon, top it with a few shreds of carrot, cucumber and herbs, a pile of noodles, and then dunk your spoon into the broth to fill the spaces left in between... Then slowly bring this perfect pile to your mouth... and it will fill your WHOLE mouth (hee hee) with perfectly balanced flavors. Mmmm, I wish I had some right now!! Stephen gets credit for these gorgeous pictures, he made this for himself and the boys and sent me the pictures. We hope you give this fantastic soup a try, it is worth it!!
A few more Pho notes: Though you can find almost all these ingredients at your local grocery store, (you can even sub anise seeds for the star anise if you HAVE to. Use 2-3 Tb) the best place to get the whole spices, Thai basil, noodles and fresh bean sprouts is in an Asian market. It is SO worth it to find one near you; not only will the quality of their ingredients be head-and-shoulders above your average grocery store, they will also be CHEAP!! Especially the whole spices, which are generally REALLY expensive! If you like it enough to plan on eating it often, we also recommend purchasing larger Asian bowls and spoons, (though a fork and spoon work perfectly fine if you aren't as picky as we are!) which can also be very inexpensive at an Asian market. 

This reheats very well, just put desired amount of refrigerated broth and meat in your bowl, (stored separately, of course!) microwave for 3-4 minutes to get very hot, then add your reheated noodles and veggies! The noodles can also be refrigerated and used again, just boil some water to heat them through, just like you served them the night before.

Last, but not least, I took a great idea from Korean Bemimbap, which serves a fried egg with soft yolk over fresh veggies, red pepper paste, hot seasoned meat and rice...and I tried pho with a fried egg on top. Loved it!! Turns out this is actually an authentic method of having pho for breakfast in some areas of Vietnam! YUM. Give it a try, breakfast pho is completely delicious!


  1. I am impressed, I am tempted to try it and I NEVER would have thought to try pho. I don't like Chinese or Japanese food (love Thai), iffy on Vietnamese, but this look amazing!

    1. It IS amazing, give it a try!! The roast takes a long time, but as a whole the recipe is pretty easy!

  2. This tasted really delicious last night! Thanks for having us over and I can't wait to make this SOON! I'm craving it already. P.S. I'll be waiting patiently for the cobbler recipe :]

  3. I think I told you this before, but I LOVE pho! It's the best soup out there in my opinion. :)

  4. Thank you for this, I love Pho but, thought it would be hard to make. I look forward to trying this. My oldest daughter lives in San Diego and took place that makes great Pho, I've loved it ever since.
    Thanks again, looks great!
    Diane M.

  5. Looks delicious! Bright and hearty! I've been wanting to try Pho. The only time I had it was frozen from Trader Joe's.


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