When it comes to noodles in Vietnam, Phở is the undisputed king. From Hanoi in the North to the Delta in the South, phở is ubiquitous and with good reason; it is utterly delicious. At first glance phở may seem like a simple dish of beef broth, rice noodles and herbs, but don’t be fooled. Complex, alluring and fragrant, when it comes to aromatics, phở’s beef broth is legion. The ingredient list for phở is intimidatingly long, but with the exception of a couple of items, most of the aromatics are quite common. Some phở recipes require over 25 ingredients just for the broth alone, so in comparison my recipe is quite accessible.
- This isn’t a dish for the impatient; the broth takes time, a lot of time.
- The correct type of noodle is vital, this being a wide, flat rice noodle. Use fresh if possible, if not use the best dried noodles you can find.
- A good selection of herbs is essential
- Phở must be served piping hot, there is no waiting on ceremony with phở – dig in the moment it is ready!
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Beef Phở Noodles (Phở Bò): Serves 6
For the broth:
- 2 brown onions, unpeeled
- 6cm piece of fresh ginger, unpeeled
- 1 small daikon radish, peeled and diced (omit if unavailable)
- 5 star anise
- 2 tbsp. whole coriander seeds
- 8 green cardamom pods
- 2 black cardamom pods (omit if unavailable)
- 6 whole cloves
- 1 tsp. whole black peppercorns
- 1 large stick of cinnamon
- 1 tbsp. salt
- 1 tbsp. white sugar
- 2 to 4 tbsp. fish sauce (add 2 tbsp. first then add to taste later)
- 2kgs of beef (chuck, short ribs or brisket cut into large chunks)
- A few pieces of oxtail, if available
- Some beef soup bones/marrow bones
For the Noodles:
- Wide Flat Rice Noodles, fresh or dried
- 500g raw beef fillet or sirloin, par-frozen and then thinly sliced
- 1 onion, thinly sliced
- 3 spring onions (green part only), thinly sliced on the diagonal
- Bean Sprouts
- Lime Wedges
- Selection of Asian herbs: coriander (cilantro), Asian basil, Vietnamese Mint/coriander
- Ground white pepper
- Hot bird’s eye chillies, sliced and steeped in fish sauce
- Hoisin Sauce
- Hot Chilli Sauce
- Add the soup bones to a large stockpot (10 litre capacity). Cover with cold water and bring to a rapid boil. Boil vigorously for 5 minutes, allowing the bones to release any impurities. Drain the bones and rinse clean under fresh water. Clean out the stockpot and then return the bones to the pot.
- Place all the aromatics for the broth into a spice bag or piece of cheesecloth secured with some string (you can break the cinnamon stick into pieces) and add to the stockpot
- Char the onions and ginger using an open flame (or under a grill if necessary) allowing the skin to burn. The onions and ginger do not have to be completely burnt, just scorched. Add to the stockpot along with all the rest of the broth ingredients.
- Add enough water to cover the meat and other ingredients completely (about 8 litres). Bring to a boil and simmer for at least 4 hours (the longer the better).
- After 4 hours, strain the broth and set aside. I like to strain the broth through a sieve, lined with a some cheesecloth, to remove any impurities. Remove the meat – discard all the other ingredients. Cover the reserved beef with cold water and allow to cool down for 10 minutes (this will stop it browning). Wrap the cooled meat in cling wrap and store in the refrigerator
- Check the broth for seasoning, add to taste.
- Keep the broth overnight in the refrigerator
Assembling the Phở:
Remove your broth from the refrigerator and skim off any fat that has solidified on the surface.
Prep all your toppings
Cut up the reserved beef and add to your prepared toppings
Boil some water and add to your serving bowls.
Bring your beef broth to a furious boil.
Cook the dried rice noodles according to the pack. If using fresh, briefly blanch them in some boiling water.
Discard water from the serving bowls and add the cooked noodles.
Place some of the reserved beef on top of the noodles. Add some of the thinly slice onion, green spring onions and then top with the thinly sliced sirloin/fillet.
Ladle the boiling stock over the beef, add a dash of white pepper and serve IMMEDIATELY!
How to eat: add the fresh herbs and bean sprouts to the noodles as you want them, letting the hot broth soften them. Add the chilli and hoisin sauces to taste. Add the sliced bird’s eye chillies if you can take the heat.