How to Make Basic, Great Pho
Hello Pho! To me there’s nothing better than a basic, great pho. I mean, I’ve seen fancy versions where there are whole marrow bones, truffle, and thinly sliced dry aged rib eye, but give me a house special any day and I’m a happy noodle. Pho dac biet, literally house special, as explained to me by Mike, is essentially the pho that has whatever the restaurant wants it in, like all Asian house specials. Usually that means some variation or all of: steak, brisket, flank, tendon, tripe, and meatballs.
Of course, you can order a bowl with just whatever your favorite meats are and call it your house special, which is what I did here. I made a basic pho stock then topped it off with what I consider all the good stuff: brisket, sliced steak, and meatballs! Are you guys familiar with Vietnamese meatballs or bò viên? They’re completely different from your typical soft and loose meatball, more of a chewy, bouncy texture. Asians love that bouncy texture in food and you’ll find it over and over again, in noodles, in meat or fish balls, and in dessert. Chinese people call it “qq,” Vietnamese people call it “dai,” and Japanese call it “mochi-mochi.” Texture is a huge component of Asian food and is partly why pho is SO good. It has the slipperiness of the noodles, the dai of the meat balls, the tenderness of brisket, the freshness and crunch of bean sprouts, and on and on. Each bite is different, but harmonious.
I know, I’m waxing poetic about pho, but bear with me, I just love it so much. And really, it’s not so much effort to make a big batch of pho stock. All you do is: char some aromatics, hard boil some bones to get the gunk out, then simmer everything together in a big pot of water with spices for as long as you can. You strain everything out, prep your toppings and noodles and then you get to sit down to a bowl that you made from scratch. So satisfying.
Beefy noodle goodness, here you come!
noodles and soup,
PS – If you can find Vietnamese meatballs, please do – they sell them at Asian grocery stores, in the fridge section or you might be able to convince your local pho joint to sell you some. To be honest, I’ve never made them, just bought them, but I think it might be a good project one day.
PPS – Mike is working on an InstantPot pho! I’ve had it’s first iteration and it’s fantastic so I can’t wait to share it when it’s perfected. Keep your eyes peeled!
Basic Great Pho with Brisket Recipe
- 3-4 inch chunk of ginger
- 2 onions, halved
- 1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon whole cloves
- 4 whole star anise
- 2 pounds beef shank bones or oxtail
- 5 quarts water
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 large carrot, peeled and cut into large chunks
- 1 small daikon, peeled and cut into large chunks
- 1 lb beef brisket
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce, or to taste
- 2 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
- pho noodles, fresh or dried
- thinly sliced steak, optional
- beef balls, optional
- sliced green onions
- roughly chopped cilantro
- red chilis
- Thai basil
- lime wedges
- hoisin sauce
Toast your ginger and onions in the oven on broil until the onions are sweaty everything is nicely charred. Alternatively, you can char your aromatics on your gas range, rotating as needed. Peel the ginger and onions and set aside until you’re ready to start your broth.
Toast the coriander seeds, cloves, and star anise in a dry pan on low heat until they are aromatic, about 2-3 minutes. Tie the spices up in cheesecloth or large tea/spice bag for easy removal from your soup.
Put your beef bones in a large pot with cold water and bring to a hard boil for 5-10 minutes to force the scum and impurities out. Drain, rinse the bones and wash your pot.
Fill your clean pot with about 5 quarts of water and add the beef bones, ginger, onions, spice packet, cinnamon stick, carrots, daikon, and brisket. Bring to a boil and lower to a very gentle simmer, uncovered. After 1 hour, check to see if your brisket is tender and cooked through. Remove it from the broth and place it into a bowl filled with cold water and ice. When chilled, remove from the water, dry, then wrap tightly and place in the fridge.
Continue simmering for as long as you can; reducing it will intensify the flavor. I let my broth simmer for about 4 hours until the water reduced to 3 quarts. At this point take out the bones and strain the stock into a new clean pot. If using oxtail, remove and shred the meat from the oxtails and discard the bones.
Gently heat the stock up and season with fish sauce and sugar. Add the sugar and fish sauce in increments until you’re happy with the flavor. You want the soup to be aggressively seasoned because the noodles will dilute the flavor. Slice the beef brisket against the grain. Gently warm up the brisket and beef balls in the broth. The stock should be very hot.
Prepare your noodles according to the package, strain and divide evenly into large bowls. Add a generous amount of beef brisket, thinly sliced steak, meatballs and oxtail if you used that. Top with broth, and garnishes. Enjoy!
Note: You can use any types of beef bones you see at the store – try to find some with bits of meat on them. If oxtails are on sale, definitely get those! Also, you can find Vietnamese style beef balls at your local Asian grocery store. If you can’t find them, this pho is great with just brisket and thinly sliced steak as well.