Pho Bo Recipe (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)

Pho Bo Recipe (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup) Recipe

This weekend, we had a quiet dinner with only my family and I decided to make my dad the Vietnamese dish I think I make the best. There are several variations of Vietnamese beef noodle soup; I wanted to make Papa’s favorite, which is the one with beef tendon, called phở bò tái gân.

We watched la Météo (weather forecast) yesterday on TV and it seems it's going to be raining all week!.The clear broth is absolutely delicious and it's perfect if you feel under the weather, which seems be happening to us given the rain!


Yields: 10 servings

6½ quarts water
1 dozen oxtail bones
5 pieces tender beef shank
5 pieces beef tendon
5 pounds large knuckle beef bones with marrow
1 yellow onion
1 (4-inch) chunk fresh ginger, about 4 inches
1 daikon, peeled
3 sticks cinnamon, broken in half
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
3 tablespoons star anise seeds
2 tablespoons whole cloves
2 black cardamom pods
8 green cardamom pods, slightly crushed
⅓ cup salt
4 teaspoons mushroom powder
1 teaspoon MSG, (optional)
3 tablespoons palm sugar, freshly grated
2 to 2½ pounds "outside" flank steak, very cold
2 packages rice noodles
2 cups bean sprouts
1 bunch Thai basil
1 bunch Vietnamese mint
½ bunch fresh cilantro
5 tablespoons ngò gai (Vietnamese-style cilantro)
2 limes, cut into wedges
3 fresh green jalapeno peppers, sliced
5 red Thai bird chiles
5 tablespoons hoisin sauce, as needed
5 tablespoons Sriracha hot sauce, or
1 white onion (milder in flavor), sliced paper-thin
½ bunch green onions, finely chopped


For the beef broth:

In a pot, soak the beef bones in about a quart of water with 1 tablespoon of salt overnight. The next day, rinse the bones, beef tendons and beef shanks, place them in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Drain the water. Rinse the bones under running water and set aside. This step is important to get clear broth before starting the long slow-cooking.

Char the ginger and yellow onion: Wash the whole unpeeled ginger; pat dry. Peel the whole onion without cutting the stem to make sure the onion doesn't fall apart in the broth. Place a grill on your stove, then char all the skin of the ginger and onion. Wrap them in aluminum foil. Let cool for about 10 minutes. Wash the ginger and onion under running tap water; the blackened skin will come right off. Bruise the ginger using a hammer to loosen the flesh and help release all the flavor.

Prepping the phở spices:

In a large spice strainer (see tips below) or a large disposable teabag, combine the cinnamon, star anise, cloves and both kinds of cardamom. Set aside.

Making phở broth:

Fill a large stockpot (use the largest you own) with 6½ quarts water. Place the oxtail bones and tendons from before, whole daikon, the strainer of spices and the charred ginger and onion in the pot. Bring the liquid to a boil, then lower the heat to a bubbly simmer. Cook for about 2 hours. Regularly skim the impurities rising to the surface of the broth using a fine mesh strainer. Add salt, mushroom powder, sugar and MSG if you choose to (it's more authentic). Cook for another 40-50 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, fish out the oxtails bones and tendons; transfer to a big bowl. Cover with cold water and set aside for about 15 minutes. (Note: The method used to ensure that the meat does not darken as the broth cools down is basically the same procedure as that used to keep vegetables a bright green color). Drain the water from the oxtail bones and tendons, then refrigerate untilserving time.

If you're health conscious, you can remove the fat from the broth: Let the broth cool down to room temperature, plastic wrap the pot tightly and place the whole pot in the refrigerator. The fat from the broth may pick up some other odors from the refrigerator if the container is not sealed properly. A layer of fat will form at the surface, which can be removed using a spoon. You can skip this step by regularly degreasing as the broth cooks, using a fine mesh strainer.

At the end, add the bones with marrow into the beef broth and cook for another 15 minutes.

The beef broth is ready. Get the rest of the pho preparation ready.

For the rice noodles:

Soak the dry rice noodles in a large bowl filled with cold water for 45 minutes. Drain the water using a colander. Set aside until the beef broth is ready.

When you're ready to serve, fill a medium-sized pan with about 2 quarts of water. Bring to a boil. Then place a deep bouillon strainer (or a large strainer that can fit in the pan) and add about 1 cup of the rice noodles. Wait for the water to come back to a boil (about 1-2 minutes) then cook for about 30-45 more seconds. Lift the strainer, drain the liquid and transfer the noodles to a serving bowl. Repeat for each individual bowl.

For the slices of flank steak:

You can ask your butcher to thinly slice it for you. My local Asian store provides this service. Just mention that you need flank steak for phở bò.

Your other option is to place the whole piece of meat in the freezer for about 30 minutes. Then thinly slice the meat with a sharp chef's knife.  Make sure to cut the meat perpendicular to the grain so the slices remain tender.

I like to make the bowls of phở individually. Pour about 2 ladles of beef broth into a small saucepan. Add one oxtail, thinly sliced beef tendons and one knuckle bone. Bring the broth to a boil. Then add about 2 tablespoons of the sliced raw flank steak. As soon as the beef slices are in the broth, transfer immediately to your serving bowl so that the meat keeps a slightly pink color (I prefer the beef to be medium-rare) and remains tender.

Repeat for each individual bowl.

Instructions for assembly (when you're ready to serve):

Line up your serving bowls. Place some aromatic herbs (2 types of cilantro, mint, basil) and green onions in each bowl. Add the boiled, drained rice noodles. Add the slightly cooked slices of beef and ladle the boiling beef broth you have prepared.

Serve with Sriracha sauce and hoisin sauce, more Thai basil, more mint, sliced jalapeno peppers and the Thai bird chiles. Squeeze some lime juice into the beef broth to finish.

Serve immediately.

Bon appétit!


I prefer using dry banh pho rice noodles. I buy the Ba Co Gai (Three Ladies)  brand for this dish. I usually choose the small-sized flat rice noodles but Papa prefers the medium, thick kind. I think this is the best brand of dry rice noodle on the market; you can find it in Asian stores.

The key to good pho is a good, clear, fragrant broth. If, at the end of the meal, you see empty bowls and no beef broth left, it means that you successfully made an excellent pho. Cooking very slowly and gently keeps the broth relatively clear. It's very important to remove the foam that rises to the surface of the broth as it cooks. Never bring the broth to a full boil, always keep a gentle simmer. Also, to ensure a clear broth, if the broth is too salty, only add boiling water, no cold water. I usually have a kettle of boiling water on the side.

I purposely do not salt the broth at the beginning, but wait to add salt until the bones are fully cooked. This way the broth remains clear.

If you do not own a giant spice strainer for the pho spices, you can use a cheesecloth. Place all the spices in the cloth and tie it in a tight knot.

Mushroom seasoning salt brings a very distinct, earthy flavor to the sauce. You can get it at any gourmet specialty store or in most Korean stores. I get mine at Marina Foods, 10122 Bandley Drive, Cupertino, CA 95014. They also have a great food-court. I love their Chinese duck.

Daikon is called củ cải trắng in Vietnamese. You've probably eaten it with pickled carrots because it's commonly used in Vietnamese bánh mì sandwiches. 

Technically, I do not use flank steak but the outside flank of the steak (the best part), called nạm. Placing the meat in the freezer helps you control the thickness of each slice of meat. Make sure the slices are as thin as you can make them. Also make sure the meat is sliced against the grain to ensure optimum tenderness.

I am not a big fan of MSG (monosodium glutamate). It's more authentic but I don't think it changes the taste, plus I've heard it's not all that healthy.

If you have pho beef broth left over, place the broth in containers and store in the freezer. You can keep them up to 6 months.

Making pho is time-consuming. I always make this dish on weekends. Be sure to invite a large crowd to share the meal with you.

Check out my vegetarian version called phở chay.

Published By: Jacqueline Pham on October 15, 2012.


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