A recipe for Phở Bò (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)! This aromatic soup is filled with meat, rice noodles, and fresh herbs for an incredibly comforting breakfast.
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Phở Bò is a clear, aromatic Vietnamese soup paired with thin, flat rice noodles, herbs, onions, and meat. A mixture of beef bones and brisket are first simmered for around three hours, then charred onions and ginger are added to the pot, and finally a combination of toasted, warming spices during the last bit of time.
To serve, the broth is poured over the noodles and thin slices of beef, then paired with a platter of fresh herbs, bean sprouts, lime wedges, and chilies.
I first tried Phở Bò (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup) and many other incredible Vietnamese dishes as a teenager in Montgomery, Alabama. We were regulars at a small restaurant called Saigon Deli.
While in college, Phở Bò became a favorite of mine for a special lunch treat between classes, particularly to relieve some stress during finals.
A few years later, the restaurant moved into a larger building further north on Eastern Blvd and was renamed Saigon Bistro. We only got to visit a couple more times after moving away and I recently learned the family retired and the restaurant closed in 2018.
We are now surrounded by many amazing Vietnamese restaurants here in Los Angeles- particularly just east in Westminster in Orange County, but I will always remember my first experiences at Saigon Deli every time I make Phở.
A Few Tips
I used a large (12 quart, 11 liter) stockpot. Make sure it is at least 10 quarts (9.5 liters) to hold the beef bones, brisket, vegetables, and water.
After charring the onions and ginger (I used a broiler set to high, but a 450˚F/230˚C oven, grill, or carefully over an open flame will also work), peel and rinse the vegetables under water to remove any charred pieces. This will help keep the soup clear.
Only add the charred onions and ginger during the last two hours of simmering. Add the spices during the last hour.
I used a combination of cloves, star anise, black cardamom, coriander, and cinnamon to the soup for aromatics. In Vietnamese markets, there are also pre-measured whole spice packets with a combination based on the region (and often with a cloth spice bag inside).
I placed the toasted spices in the cloth spice bag to keep them together in the soup. If you do not have a bag available, you can also use a small piece of cheesecloth wrapped around the spices and tied shut with a food-safe white piece of twine.
If the water reduces too much while cooking, pour in a little more hot water. You can also add more water if too much salt is added. Adjust flavors to taste with more/less salt, fish sauce, and rock sugar.
Blanch the bean sprouts in boiling water for about 10-30 seconds, then rinse in cold water before arranging on the platter.
Slice the beef against the grain thin enough so they cook when added to the hot soup. If you have difficulty, place the flank steak in the freezer for about 15 minutes before using.
There are a few different variations of Phở Bò based on region and family. At Saigon Deli, I especially loved Phở Bò Viên- the beef noodle soup with the addition of beef meatballs.
All of the ingredients below can be found in a market with Vietnamese or Southeast Asian ingredients. For those in the Los Angeles area, I was able to find everything, including fresh Bánh Phở at Westminster Superstore in Westminster, California.
For the beef bones, pick a mixture of knuckle, marrow, femur, and/or oxtail. At my local market, they are sold in the freezer section already put together in 5 pound (2.25 kilogram) bags. It is important to briefly boil them and rinse well before simmering in the soup to remove excess residue and impurities.
Bánh Phở (pho rice noodles) are fresh or dried rice noodles made from white rice flour. They have a flat shape compared to the round noodles used in other dishes.
Bánh Phở Khô (dried noodles) come in packaging with Small, Medium, or Large widths. I used the smaller to medium widths for this soup (1/8-1/4 inch, 3-6 millimeters wide). Soak the dried noodles in hot water until softened, 15-20 minutes, then drain and rinse with cold water before using.
Bánh Phở Tươi (fresh noodles) can be found in the refrigerated section of Vietnamese markets. Before serving, cook in boiling water for only 5-10 seconds, then drain and rinse with cold water.
Rock Sugar (đường phèn) are large sugar crystals with a mild taste. If unavailable, substitute with about 1 tablespoon superfine sugar.
Fish sauce (Nước Mắm) is a condiment created by slowly fermenting fish (generally anchovies) in a salt water mixture, then pressing to produce a thin liquid. It has quite the strong smell, but provides a savory flavor. Brands from different countries will vary a bit in taste and quality.
Thai Basil (Horapha, Húng Quế) is a type of sweet basil with purple stems, purple flowers, and small narrow green leaves. It is originally from Southeast Asia and common in Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian cuisine.
Ngò Gai (Culantro, sawtooth herb) is a fresh green herb with long leaves and serrated edges. It is native to Mexico/Central America/Caribbean and is now popular throughout Southeast Asia. The flavor is similar to cilantro but with a stronger taste and aroma.
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This recipe was originally posted in June 2013 and updated January 2022.
Phở Bò (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup) Recipe
Phở Bò (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)
- 5 pounds (2.25 kilograms) beef bones mixture of knuckle and leg/marrow
- 1 pound (450 grams) beef brisket chopped into 2 inch (5 centimeter) pieces
- 6 quarts (5.5 liters) water
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 2 large yellow onions unpeeled, cut in half lengthwise
- 4 inch (10 centimeter) piece fresh ginger unpeeled, cut in half lengthwise
- 5 whole cloves
- 5 whole star anise
- 2 black cardamom pods slightly crushed with the side of a knife
- 2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 inch (2.5 centimeter) piece yellow rock sugar
- 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) fish sauce
- 1 medium yellow onion peeled and thinly sliced
- 2 pounds (1 kilogram) dried pho noodles or 3 pounds (1.4 kilograms) fresh pho noodles
- 12 ounces (340 grams) flank steak thinly sliced
- 3 green onions
- Fresh cilantro
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Thai basil
- Ngo Gai Culantro
- Mung bean sprouts blanched
- 2 limes cut into wedges
- Red Bird's eye Chilies thinly sliced, or Serrano or Jalapeño
To make the broth:
- Place the beef bones in a large stockpot and add enough water to cover. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Once boiling, cook for 5 minutes, then drain.
- Rinse the bones and the pot well under cold water. Place the bones back in the now empty pot.
- Add the brisket, the 6 quarts (5.5 liters), and salt to the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.
- Cook, occasionally skimming any froth and impurities from the top, for 3 hours.
- Remove the pieces of cooked brisket and place in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate until needed (to add a few pieces to the Phở).
- Arrange the unpeeled onions and ginger on a baking sheet. Place under the broiler over high heat and cook, turning as needed, until charred on all sides. Remove from heat.
- Once cool enough to handle, remove the peel from the onions and ginger. Brush off any charred spots and rinse under water. Add the vegetables to the simmering stockpot and simmer for another hour.
- Place a skillet over medium heat. Add the cloves, star anise, cardamom, coriander, and cinnamon to the hot pan. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, but not burned. Remove from heat.
- Place the toasted spices in a spice bag, close, and add to the stockpot. Continue to cook, uncovered for one last hour.
- Skim off any remaining froth or excess fat that develops on top and discard the bones, onion, ginger, and spices.
- At the end of cooking, add the rock sugar, fish sauce, and adjust seasonings with salt as needed. Remove the pot from heat.
- Strain the broth through a fine mesh strainer into a large container. If it is not completely clear, strain again.
- If not using the broth immediately, allow to cool, cover, and refrigerate until ready to use.
- Place the prepared beef broth in a pot over medium heat and bring to a simmer to keep hot.
- Place the thinly sliced onion in a large bowl and cover with cold water. Set aside for 30 minutes.
- If using dried pho noodles, soak in hot water for about 15-20 minutes, until softened and just tender. Drain and rinse with cold water. Immediately before serving, add to a pot of boiling water just until heated through, about 10-20 seconds.
- If using fresh pho noodles, place in boiling water (no need to soak first) until just softened and separated. This will take about 5-10 seconds. Drain and rinse with cold water.
- Divide the softened noodles among soup bowls. Add a few pieces of the refrigerated cooked brisket.
- Place the thinly sliced beef over the noodles in the bowls.
- Add a few pieces of the soaked onion slices.
- Thinly slice the dark green pieces of the green onions on the diagonal. Cut the light green and white parts of the green onions into thin shreds lengthwise.
- Finely chop the cilantro.
- Pour the hot broth over each bowl of noodles and meat.
- Top with the green onion and cilantro pieces. Add a sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper.
- Serve immediately with the hoisin and Sriracha on the side and the Thai basil, Ngo Gai, bean sprouts, lime, and chilies arranged on a platter.