Pho is the national dish of Vietnam. The name of the dish sometimes carries the base of the broth to indicate which variant is meant. The two best known are Pho bo (beef), and Pho ga (chicken). Often the word Pho is used alone, referred to the original version Pho Bo.

Nowadays restaurants experiment with Pho chay (vegetarian) and Pho hai san (seafood), but I don’t need all that. Pho dac biet means “pho special’, you will often get all kinds of beef in your bowl: stewed meat, thinly sliced raw beef and beef meatballs. Abroad, you also have a variant with tripe. Personally, I think it doesn’t add anything to the flavor. Its has a rubbery texture, and Vietnamese are really fond of tough bites. I’ll keep it the traditional way.

In Vietnamese restaurants Pho is a good indicator of the quality of the food. You can read by the fresh garnish, herbs and seasonings whether you can expect an excellent Pho, and whether the restaurant has good intentions with you. But ultimately, the broth is the most important.

Ingredients Pho Bo
Although the basis for Pho Bo is beef, a whole chicken is often added for a more powerful broth, but only beef is fine too. For an intrinsic taste a long cooking process is required. Given the preparations and numerous additions, it is best to make the broth the evening before. Preferably use noodle bowls of 21-24 cm.

  • 1½ kilo of beef: ox tails, marrow bones, beef knuckle, beef rib (preferably much bone)
  • 1 boiling hen
  • 3 liters of water + 2 l (extra boiling water from the kettle to fill in while cooking)
  • 80 g star anise
  • 100 g ginger, peeled and crushed
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3 onions, unpeeled
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • Bo vo vien, defrosted beefballs from the shop, fresh from special stores or homemade (optional)
  • flat rice noodles, prepared according to instructions

Garnish

  • raw steak, thinly carpaccio sliced 
  • red and white onions, thinly sliced
  • spring onion, chopped or julienned
  • coriander, chopped
  • culantro, chopped (optional)
  • red chili, thinly sliced (optional)

Fresh vegetables garnish and seasonings (on diner table)

  • Thai basil
  • bean sprouts
  • lemon, in wedges
  • Sriracha chili sauce
  • hoisin sauce

Dipping sauces

  • fish sauce: in a bowl, put some fish sauce and some ring cut bird’s eye chillies. Usual a few teaspoons of this sauce is put in the bowl of soup for extra flavor and heat.
  • hoisin-chili-lemon sauce: in a bowl, mix some hoisin sauce, lemon juice and chili sauce. This sauce is great for dipping the Pho meat.

Preparation

  1. Wash the beef meat and put in a large bowl of water with two tablespoons of salt for about 15 minutes. Rinse.
  2. Bring 3 liters of water to the boil in a large soup pan and add 1 tablespoon salt and 2 tablespoons sugar. Keep the kettle of boiling water ready.
  3. Roast in a skillet the star anise until fragrant. The star anise gets a little black, which is not bad, but not too black. Rinse the star anise with water.
  4. Rinse the skillet and dry off. Grill the unpeeled onions slowly until charred. The onions are therefore softer and sweeter, the fragrance of the grilled star anise and onion gives the typical smell of Pho. Let the onions cool, peel off the onion and rinse.
  5. Clean the chicken and remove as much skin off the chicken. Add the chicken and the beef in the boiling water, add any water from the kettle until the chicken is under water and bring to a boil. Remove the layer of foam occasionally.
  6. Add the ginger, star anise and cinnamon stick. Make sure that the foam layer and layer of fat is constantly removed, so the broth remains pretty clear.
  7. Put the peeled onions in the Pho pan, scoop out the onions once they begin to soften. The onions are usually thrown away, but I find them very tasty and put them into my noodle bowl right before I pour broth over it. The broth should simmer for at least 4 hours.
    During the long cooking process, you can add a little boiling water that you have ready in a kettle. As long as the chicken remains under water it is not necessary. I only add water at the end if the soup is too much evaporated, this obviously depends on the cooking time. The longer the cooking, the better the broth.
  8. In the meantime, you can set the garnish. Spread in a large bowl sliced white and red onions, cilantro, culantro and spring onions to garnish the soup bowls easily later.
  9. Place on the diner table the fresh vegetables, seasonings and dips. Put on a plate lightly blanched and/or raw bean sprouts to taste, Thai basil and lemon wedges.
  10. Taste the broth and add any extra sugar and/or salt. Don’t make the soup too salt, because the noodle soup is still going to be flavored with seasonings at the dinner table.
  11. If you have beef balls Bo vo vien, put them for a few minutes in the broth until they’re warm. You can keep them outside of the broth in a bowl so they won’t get too soft.
  12. Arrange the noodle bowls as follows. Put into each bowl some rice noodles and bean sprouts until half of the bowl. When the rice noodles are cold, you can put them 1 minute in the microwave first before garnishing. Put some thinly sliced raw steak over the rice noodles. Sprinkle fresh herbs on the meat to taste.
  13. Make sure the broth cooks well. Pour some boiling soup in the bowl and take some meat from the pan with it. You can cut them into strips or chunks first. Oxtail and shank I find delicious, so I always put some in a separate bowl beside my noodle bowl.
  14. At the dinner table you can taste the soup first.Then you add hoisin sauce (sweet), chili sauce (spicy) fish sauce (salt) and fresh lemon juice (acid) to taste. Tear some Thai basil in your bowl and add any additional bean sprouts or bird’s eye chili. Don’t forget to dip the meat in the delicious hoisin-chili-lemon sauce.