Beef Bones and Boiling Beef:
1. To make a great bowl of pho the secret is to key in on a few details during the prep phase of the broth. Begin with the bones and boiling beef, add to a large pot and fill with water. Place onto a high heat and bring up to a boil. When ready boil the bones and boiling beef for 10-15 minutes so that all of the impurities rise to the top. The pot I used in this recipe holds 8 litres.
2. Now to clean the bones, this process will help keep our broth nice and clear at the very end. Drain off the bones and boiling beef and rinse under cold running water. Clean until the bones are fairly clean and are clear of any impurities. When ready place into a fresh large pot and fill with water (8 litre pot). Place the bones back onto the heat and bring up to a simmer.
3. Now to give the broth that classic essential pho flavour! Again this is a process that is slightly labour intensive but one that should be done with love. Start by charing 5 shallots and 120g of ginger either over a low naked flame or in a dry pan. Char until blackened then place to one side to cool. Now briefly char 2 cinnamon sticks and 5 star anise until they start to smoke then when ready place to one side. When the shallots and ginger are cool scrape off any charred parts of the ginger and peel the shallots then set to one side.
4. Next for the remaining spices, in a dry pan add 1 tbsp coriander seeds, 1 tbsp fennel seeds, 1 tsp black pepper, 1/4 nutmeg shaved, 5 cardamon pods and 4 cloves. Dry fry until toasted and fragrant then place these toasted spices into a small tea strainer and close. If you do not have one of these then you can empty a teabag then reseal the spices tightly.
5. Now that all of our spices are ready we now want to add these to the bones and boiling beef. Add the ginger, shallots, star anise, cinnamon and the tea strainer of spices. Then peel and add 1 whole onion and 3 tbsps of rock sugar then keep the broth at a gentle simmer and cook without a lid for 2 1/2 hours. Whilst simmering occasionally remove any impurities that may rise to the top of the broth and top up with additional water if needed.
6. After 2 1/2 hours of the broth slowly simmering we now want to remove the boiling beef from the broth to prevent from overcooking. Place the cooked boiling beef into ice cold water to quickly chill as this will prevent the meat from darkening. Place into the fridge to completely chill then when ready remove the meat from the bone and slice as thin as you possibly can. Most pho places in Vietnam you will immediately see large various types of slow boiling meat hanging up next to the broth ready to be sliced. Now continue to simmer the broth and top up with water again for an additional 4-5 hours.
Rice Noodles and Toppings:
7. Whilst the broth is cooking we can begin to prepare the rice noodles and herbs to finish the dish. Start with the rice noodles, add to a pan of boiling water with a small drizzle of cooking oil to prevent the rice noodles from sticking. For the rice noodles I used, I cooked them for 1-2 minutes, however, go with the time the packet suggests. You want the rice noodles to be slightly under cooked as the hot broth will add additional cooking time. When ready drain from the water then chill under cold running water. When ready place into a colander to drain any excess water.
8. Moving onto the herbs, begin by washing a bunch of coriander and Thai basil. Roughly chop the coriander and simply just tear the Thai basil. Finely slice a few red chillies and wash and drain approximately 200g of beansprouts. Now finely slice 1/2 white onion and 6 spring onion green parts. I like to mix the onion and spring onion together to make a mini onion salad to add. Finally slice some limes into quarters then arrange all the herbs individually onto a plate.
9. When the broth has been simmering for a decent total of 5-6 hours we can now begin to finish the pho, you can cook pho for 8-12 hours if you wish although for this amount of pho I found it is not really necessary. All we need to do next is to season, begin by adding salt and fish sauce. For how much its really up to you although, add a generous amount of salt first (it takes more than you would think). You want the salt to enhance the flavour of the broth without being overly salty. When satisfied add approximately 50ml of fish sauce, this will give the broth umami and a slight bit of funk. Finally the next seasoning is optional, I did find even in Vietnam lots of pho places will add either msg or instant chicken bullion to enhance the flavour of the broth. I don’t think it needs msg but try a few tsps of chicken bullion at the very end if you like…Overall seasoning the broth at the very end is what will make the pho good or bad, you want the overall taste to be slightly salty as when you add the broth to the noodles they will dilute the flavour slightly. I recommend constantly tasting your broth to get it just right and season little by little.
10. Now our pho is ready we are good to go, begin by turning the heat of the broth up to high and bring up to the boil (there’s nothing worse than a cool bowl of pho). Next begin to arrange the cooked rice noodles first into serving bowls then top with some of the herbs. Add some of the thinly sliced beef then generously ladle the hot broth over the top. Finish the bowl with a squeeze of fresh lime, some more herbs, chillies and a bottle of sriracha on the side if you really want to get after it! Hope you like this amazing dish and I’m sure it will make you hooked if your not already!
I know what your thinking regarding the cooking time of the broth, unfortunately, to make a good bowl of pho you need to really take your time with it. If you use a pressure cooker to try to speed things up the broth will become cloudy. As for alternative joints you can cook in the broth then you could go for brisket or short ribs and cook for the same time as the boiling beef. Have fun making pho and its one of those dishes you may end up cooking at least once a week!