Pho is a Vietnamese rice noodle soup made with beef stock simmered for hours with star anise, cloves, cinnamon, onion and ginger. The finished broth is poured over sliced raw beef to flash cook it. It is then served with flat rice noodles, garnished with fresh Asian herbs, and finished off with a squeeze of lime.
While I was in Scotland visiting Scotch’s parents, my father-in-law (FIL) wanted to learn more about Chinese and Vietnamese cooking and was very keen on learning how to make Pho (Vietnamese rice noodle soup), which he had read about in this post on my mom’s Vietnamese kitchen.
Making Pho in Dubai is never a one-stop shop. It involves driving to three or four different supermarkets to source all the ingredients. Usually one place for the beef bones (Carrefour or LuLu’s), another place for the noodles, and one last place for the Thai basil (although the last few years I have been growing my own Thai basil).
If I had ever complained about the challenges of finding Pho ingredients in Dubai, I take it all back after experiencing what happened in Dunbar, Scotland, the beautiful sea-side town where my in-laws live.
Sourcing Ingredients in Dunbar, Scotland
We commenced Operation Pho Noodle Soup one day prior to when my FIL and I were to serve the Pho. We drove to the butcher shop in the next township to buy all the beef ingredients. There, we were given a few massive chunks of beef bones FOR FREE! YES, FREE! I couldn’t believe it. Who gets stuff for free nowadays?
But the bones were too big for the butcher to cut into small pieces so this is how we simmered them (along with star anise, cloves, cinnamon, onion and ginger):
Then off to Tesco to get bean sprouts, limes, cilantro, and scallions. Asian basil was, unfortunately, nowhere to be found.
Then off to Asda where we picked up hoisin sauce and fish sauce (only Blue Dragon brand was available). We could not find Pho noodles so bought the closest thing we could find: “Thai Style Ribbon Noodles” (which I assume is the English supermarket translation of “Pad Thai”) to substitute for the Pho noodles.
These noodles were pre-cooked and vacuum-packed but had a slick oily coating on them which I rinsed away with hot boiling water.
Assembling the Pho
After the beef broth was finished and the noodles reheated, it was time to assemble the bowls of Pho.
First, I prepared all the garnish and thinly sliced the raw beef (I like using beef tenderloin and it helps to put the beef in the freezer for 30 minutes to firm it up).
For the garnish, I used cilantro, bean sprouts, scallions, thinly sliced brown onions, red chillis, and limes. Be sure to thinly slice your cilantro and scallions – don’t serve them whole like in the photo below – ha!
Then I warmed up the rice noodles by dunking them in boiling water for 30 seconds. Alternatively, you could microwave them for 30 seconds. (You want the noodles hot so that when you pour the beef broth over them, it doesn’t cool down the broth so much that it can’t cook the raw slices of beef.)
To assemble the bowls of Pho, I first placed the pre-cooked noodles on the bottom of a large bowl.
Second, I layered the beef and then the remaining garnish except for the limes.
Third, hot beef broth was ladled into each bowl.
Because all the ingredients are placed raw in the bowl, the broth has to be very hot (keep it at a simmer) to cook the meat and blanch the vegetables so that the veg retain their crunchy texture with a nice half-cooked half-raw flavor that I always aim for.
Finally, the all important squeeze of lime was added at the very end to add acidity and balance out all the flavors
I was very pleased with the final result and also very happy to showcase this Vietnamese dish to my in-laws.
I think that they truly enjoyed it and will recreate the recipe when I am gone.
Now It’s Your Turn
Vietnamese cuisine may at first seem daunting to cook at home as the techniques and ingredients can seem rather foreign. In areas where some of the ingredients cannot be obtained, a little effort has to be made to either drive to a larger market or to purchase on-line.
But I can tell you that if I can make Pho in a small town like Dunbar, then so can you!
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Pho Noodle Soup
For the broth:
- 4 pounds beef bones , preferably with marrow; cut into 2-inch pieces
- 1 pound stewing beef (chuck, brisket, etc), rinsed, cut into 2" cubes
- 1 3- inch piece of ginger , peeled, cut into chunks
- 1 large onion , halved and peeled
- 1/4 cup Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce
- 6 whole star anise
- 4 whole cloves
- 1 3- inch cinnamon stick
- 2 Tablespoons sugar
- salt and pepper to taste
For the garnish:
- 1 pound 1/4-inch rice noodles
- 2 bunches scallions , thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup tightly packed fresh cilantro leaves , chopped
- 1/2 cup Asian basil leaves
- 1 cup mung bean sprouts
- 1/2 yellow onion , very thinly sliced
- 1 large lime , cut into wedges
- 1/2 pound beef (flank, sirloin, filet mignon), trimmed of fat and sliced very thin across the grain
- Hoisin sauce for dipping the meat
- Hot chilies , sliced or Sriracha sauce (optional)
- Place the beef bones and stewing meat into a large stockpot and add enough water to cover. Bring to a full boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Discard the water and gently rinse the meat and bones. Return the meat and bones to the pot and cover with 2 quarts (2 liters) of fresh, cold water. This process will give you a cleaner and clearer broth.
- Bring the stock to boil again over high heat and then reduce to a simmer. Allow to simmer for 10 minutes and skim any scum that surfaces.
- Add the remaining broth ingredients, cover and simmer for 1.5 to 2 hours, occasionally skimming any scum that surfaces. Remove the stewing meat and once the meat is cool enough to handle, slice thinly and place in the fridge for later use.
- Simmer the broth for another 1.5 hours and carefully strain through a fine sieve. Remove any remaining tendon from the bones, slice thinly and set aside in the fridge with the cooked beef.
- De-fat the stock by skimming the fat from the surface with a spoon or ladle. (I sometimes use a fat separator to retain as much of the stock as possible.)
- Add the fish sauce, then the sugar, salt and pepper to taste.
- Arrange the cilantro, scallions, bean sprouts, onions, Asian basil, lime wedges, and chillis on a large plate in separate piles. Place the hoisin sauce in small dipping bowls as a condiment for the meat.
- Prepare the rice noodles, drain and divide among the bowls.
- Just before serving, return the broth to a full boil.
- Place the raw sliced onions, the reserved cooked meat and tendon, and the slices of raw beef over the noodles in each bowl.
- Carefully ladle the boiling broth over all the ingredients in the serving bowls. The raw beef should be submerged in the broth to cook properly.
- Serve immediately, along with the garnish and hoisin sauce.
This post was originally published on September 10, 2011.
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