Beef phở (pronounced fuh) is a traditional Vietnamese soup (typically made with beef although chicken and vegetable versions are also available), wide rice noodles, and served with a variety of garnishes. To me, there is nothing more comforting on a blustery winter day than sitting down to a steaming bowl of phở, slurping noodles off a pair of chopsticks, and feeling its warming effects spread to the ends of my fingers and the tips of my toes. The broth, steeped with spices and charred onions, is slightly sweet, highly flavorful, and wonderfully aromatic, which sets this soup apart from other “noodley” soups, as my toddler likes to call them. (If you don’t have time to make this somewhat labor intensive stock by hand, see the Shortcut at the end of the recipe for tips on how to quickly enhance store-bought stock.) Oh, and I promise next week’s soup will be an easy one. No really — chop a few ingredients, throw everything into a crockpot, then put your feet up and wait for the payoff!
(Sugar and spice and everything nice, that’s what phở is made of.)
For the Stock:
- 2 white or yellow onions
- 1 hand of ginger root, about 6-inches long
- 3 lbs. marrow bones
- 2 lbs. oxtail
- 1 lb. chuck roast, cut into 2-inch pieces
- 1 lb. beef brisket
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 5 whole star of anise
- 6 whole cloves
- 1 tsp. fennel seeds
- 1 tsp. coriander seeds
- 1 oz. yellow rock sugar (see Notes) or 2 Tbsp. Sugar in the Raw (or granulated sugar)
- ¼ – ½ cup fish sauce, depending upon taste
- Kosher salt
- Fresh cracked black pepper
(Pictured from top: beef bones, oxtail, chuck roast)
For the Soup:
- 1 lb. rib eye, skirt, or flank steak, thinly sliced, seasoned with salt and pepper
- 2 cups oyster mushrooms
- 1 lb. Phở noodles (see Notes)
Garnishes for Serving:
- 2 limes, cut into wedges
- 3 cups bean sprouts
- 1-2 cups fresh basil
- 1-2 cups fresh cilantro
- 4 green onions, thinly sliced
- 2 Thai chilies (Very HOT!), serrano peppers (HOT!), or Jalapeños (kinda hot), thinly sliced
- Chili sauce, such as Sriracha
- Fish sauce and/or hosin sauce
(A few phở garnishes.)
Char Onions and Ginger
Charring the skins of the onions and ginger gives the broth an appealingly smoky quality that’s quintessential to phở. Follow one of these three charring methods:
- On an outdoor grill: Place onions and ginger over direct heat on high. Allow the skins to become black, then turn, continuing to char on all sides, 5-8 minutes.
- Over an indoor gas burner: Turn on exhaust fan. With a pair of kitchen tongs and working one at a time, hold onions and ginger over open flame until skins have blackened, then turn, continuing to char on all sides, 5-8 minutes. (If your kitchen tongs are metal, you may want to wear an oven mitt — trust me!)
- In an electric oven (pictured below): Turn oven on to broil. Place onions and ginger on a foil-lined roasting pan and place on an oven rack set 3-4 inches below the broiler element. Allow the skins to become black, then turn, continuing to char on all sides, about 20-25 minutes.
The onions and ginger should be very dark and burned on the outside, yet soft and slightly cooked on the inside. (I swear the photo below isn’t one of my kitchen catastrophes – I meant to do this!)
Peel onions and ginger, rinsing off any blackened bits. Cut into quarters and set aside.
Add beef and bones to a large stock pot. Cover with water by 2-inches. Bring to a boil and continue to boil for 15 minutes. Dump water, beef, and bones into a colander set in the sink, allow to cool slightly. Rinse stockpot clean of any residue. Run cold water over beef & bones, and gently scrub any scum from the surface. This will eliminate cloudiness, leaving you with a crystal-clear broth. Beautiful!
Return beef & bones to stockpot and cover with 5-6 quarts water (20-24 cups). Add onions, ginger, spices, sugar, ¼ cup fish sauce, and 1 Tbsp. salt and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer for at least 5 hours, and up to all day, skimming any fat that rises to the surface. (Do not allow to boil otherwise your stock may become bitter.)
Once stock is done simmering, remove onions, ginger, and spices and discard. Gently scoop beef & bones from stock and set aside. Pour stock through a fine-mesh sieve set over a large storage container. Refrigerate, uncovered, overnight.
Carefully remove any meat and connective tissue from the bones and oxtail and place in a storage container, cover. Slice brisket and place in a separate storage container, cover. In a third storage container, add the beef chuck. Cover, and refrigerate all three. Discard bones.
After the stock has cooled overnight, use a slotted spoon to gently remove the layer of fat that has risen to the top, discard.
You may end up with more stock and beef than you need for 6 servings. Both stock and beef can be refrigerated separately for up to three days, or frozen for 4-5 months (see tips on freezing stock in Homemade Stocks).
Make the Soup
Evenly divide garnishes (bean sprouts, lime wedges, fresh herbs, green onions, and chiles) among 6 small plates.
Microwave reserved beef until warm, and place in three separate serving bowls.
In a large stock pot, bring stock to a simmer. Test for seasoning and add more fish sauce and salt & pepper if needed.
Add mushrooms to stock and continue to simmer until soft, about 5-6 minutes. Add thinly sliced beef (rib eye, skirt, or flank steak) to stock and cook for 1 minute, until rare.
Cook phở noodles per package instructions, strain and divide among 6 bowls.
Ladle stock, thinly sliced beef, and mushrooms into bowls over top of phở noodles.
Place serving bowls of reserved beef on the table, allowing guest to add what they like. Serve with Sriracha, fish and/or hosin sauce, and a plate of garnish for each guest.
- Yellow rock sugar can be found in many Asian markets or online, however, you can always substitute Sugar in the Raw or regular granulated sugar.
- Phở noodles can also be found in many Asian markets, however, if they’re unavailable in your area, look for another style of Asian noodle (see examples pictured below). And if you’re really in a pinch, you can always use instant ramen noodles.
Shortcut: In leu of making your own stock, add 12-16 cups of store-bought stock (about 2 cups per person) to a large stockpot. Add 1 cinnamon stick, 3 whole star anise, 2-inches peeled and sliced ginger root, 6 whole cloves, 2 tsp. coriander seeds, 1 tsp. fennel seeds, 1-2 tsp. sugar, 2-3 Tbsp. fish sauce (plus more for seasoning later) and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer for 15-20 minutes. Scoop out spices and discard. Continue with directions: Make the Soup.
Sidekick: The choice beverage selection with this slightly sweet, somewhat spicy dish is a Vietnamese beer (which can be hard to find†), so try looking for other more commonly found Asian beers such as Sapporo. For wine drinkers, a chilled glass of Gewürztraminer or Riesling would also pair well.
† Your best bet for finding a Vietnamese beer is at a local Asian Market or World Market.