Pho (pronounced Pfah) is the traditional Vietnamese noodle soup served mainly for breakfast, but also for lunch and dinner. Cooking a real Pho takes between 8 and 10 hours. This time is necessary to get the full flavour of the broth. Cooking noodle soup sounds easy, but Pho is not just a simple noodle soup - it is a healthy, wholesome dish with many fresh ingredients. Pho can be prepared with beef, pork or chicken or a mixture of all. Pho with beef is called Pho Bo.
To cook Pho Bo for a large group one needs 15 litre water and about 15 kilogram beef and beef bones. One has to keep in mind that cooking Pho Bo for a group requires a very large pot.
- Recipe for 6 persons
- 5l water
- 1,5kg beef bones, preferably from the lower leg for a sweeter taste
- 500g beef
- Saigon Pho noodles or other flat rice noodles (banh pho)
- A handful chicken meat with lots of fat
- 1 large onion
- 3-4 small onions
- 2 medium sized ginger pieces
- 1 lime
- Bean sprouts
- Spring onions
- Cilantro (Chinese coriander)
- Sawtooth coriander (Wild/Thorny coriander)
- Thai basil
- Rice patty herb
- 2 garlic pieces
- 2 large chillis
- Sugar, salt
- Fish sauce (Nuoc Mam from Phu Quoc is the best!)
- 3 anis stars
- 20g cinnamon bark
- 10g cloves
- Three quarters of black cardamom
Peel all onions and ginger and place together with the beef bones on a grill. Leg and knuckle bones are best, as the yellow marrow guarantees the rich and full Pho flavour. Grill everything for a couple of minutes from all sides. Boil 2 litres of water in a deep pot.
Remove the grilled beef bones, onions and ginger from the grill. Put the bones into the boiling water and cook for 10 minutes to clear the bones from any impurities. Thereafter empty the pot and rinse the beef bones as well as the pot in clear water. Refill the pot with 5 litres of fresh water and boil it. Exchanging the water is necessary for a pure and fine-tasting broth. Cut the beef bones in 5cm large pieces.
Divide the grilled onions into four pieces and crush the ginger. Put the beef bone pieces, sliced onions and crushed ginger in the boiling water and simmer everything for minimum 3 hours on a small flame. The longer the beef bones are cooked, the more bone marrow will withdraw from the beef bones and the broth will get a better, sweeter taste. The broth for a real Pho is cooked between 8 and 10 hours. Make sure the water level is always the same and remove any foam if necessary. The lower it simmers, the less foam develops.
Crush coarsely the cinnamon bark, anis stars, cloves and black cardamom in smaller pieces and roast them without any oil for 1-2 minutes. Roasting the spices makes them more aromatic. Put the roasted flavour mix in a small sack and hang the sack for 15 minutes in the broth. Thereafter remove the sack. When the broth starts loosing its aroma during simmering put the sack back in for a while.
There are two different ways to prepare the beef, the Hanoi or Saigon style.
Hanoi style: cook the entire beef meat on a small flame in clear water for 5 minutes, remove it and slice it in thin strips across the grain just before serving the Pho. The meat will be still raw in the middle.
Saigon style: slice the beef in thin strips across the grain and blanch it in clear water for 10 seconds.
Slice the chilis and garlic and mix it with vinegar, sugar and salt in a small serving bowl.
Slice the fat chicken meat and 1 small onion. Cook the chicken in a pan without oil until the fat turns liquid. Thereafter add the onion slices and cook everything together until the onions turn transparent. Put the chicken and onion slices together with some sugar and salt into the broth. The amount of sugar and salt added to the broth depends on personal taste.
Preparing the individual serving bowls: Take one ladle of bean sprouts and hold it in the broth for 10 seconds, put the bean sprouts in a larger serving bowl. Take one ladle of Saigon Pho noodles and wash them in clear water, thereafter hold them for 5 seconds in the broth and put them on top of the bean sprouts in the serving bowl. Slice the Hanoi style meat in thin strips or take the already sliced Saigon style strips and put them on top of everything in the serving bowl. Add some broth to make it soupy (the hot broth will cook the raw Hanoi beef immediately).
Put some fish sauce in a small serving bowl and serve the soup together with the garlic, chili mix and a plate of fresh herbs and sliced lime. Some fresh cilantro leaves, sawtooth coriander, Thai basil and rice patty herb as well as some cut spring onions can be added to the soup whilst eating to perfect the taste.
Mr. Nguyen Dinh Thanh (born in 1959) has worked as a head chef for over 20 years. Thanh grew up in Dong Da Province (near Hanoi), where his parents had a small restaurant serving breakfast and lunch which is where his passion for cooking begun. During the Vietnamese/American war he served as a cook in the army. After the war he travelled between Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam while working as a cook on various cruise liners. Since 1980 he lives with his wife in Ho Chi Minh City, and he currently works as a head chef at Mango Bay Resort on the island of Phu Quoc, southern Vietnam.