One of the most iconic soups of the world made in your very own home!! This is a traditional, easy to follow Pho recipe that doesn’t require any speciality ingredients except a very (very!) big pot.
Vietnamese Pho soup is that elusive combination of light yet so full of flavour, with the signature fragrance from spices like cinnamon, star anise and cardamom. It’s utterly addictive and has a cult following all around the world!
Vietnamese Pho recipe
This Pho recipe has been in the works for a while now. It’s been quietly made and remade by various RecipeTin family members since our trip to Vietnam 6 months ago. We’ve compared notes, debated furiously about how the latest iteration compared to the (many) bowls of Pho soup we slurped during our travels, and our favourite Pho restaurants back home here in Sydney.
We take our Pho very seriously in the RecipeTin family. One of the greatest noodle soups in the whole world commands respect!
Pho is the first thing you seek upon landing in Vietnam, always choosing vendors crowded with locals rather than tourists!
What is Pho?
If you’re wondering “What is Pho?” then you’re probably also wondering “Why is she so bonkers over it???”
I don’t blame you. It looks like a relatively harmless bowl of beef noodle soup.
That is, until you take your first slurp.
The Pho soup broth is everything. It’s light yet full of flavour, deceptively beefy, savoury, complex, has the tiniest hint of richness and is filled with beautiful spices like cinnamon.
It is, without question, one of The Best Soups in the whole world!
Surprisingly straightforward to make!
While you’ll need to man handle a considerable mound of bones and beef, I think you might be surprised how straightforward it actually is to make pho. It’s more time than anything – and a very big pot!
- Quick boil – Remove impurities from beef with a 5 minute boil, it’s the path to a beautiful clear soup;
- Scum – be amazed at all the icky stuff that comes out;
- Wash the bones to get all the icky scum off;
- Simmer for 3 hours – bones, beef, water, onion, ginger and spices (cinnamon, cardamom, coriander, star anise);
- Remove brisket – some is used for Pho topping, see below recipe for ways to use remainder;
- Simmer 40 minutes further with just bones;
- Strain; then
- Ladle into bowls over noodles and pile on Toppings!
Best beef for Pho soup
The ONLY way to get enough beef flavour into the broth is to use a combination of meat AND bones. You will NOT get enough flavour into the broth using just bones – trust me, we tried multiple times. And it distresses me to see so many recipes online using just bones!😢
The single most important thing in a pho recipe is using the right beef and bones – and most recipes get it wrong.
Here’s the combination of beef and bones I find yields the best Pho soup flavour:
- 1.5kg / 3 lb brisket – the beef of choice with pho vendors in Vietnam, for its beefy flavour and it holds up to hours of simmering without fall apart (like chuck and rib). Other slow cooking cuts like chuck and gravy beef are also less “beefy”. See below recipe for amazing ways to use leftover cooked brisket!
- 1kg / 2 lb meaty bones – bones with decent amount of meat on them, for beef flavour and some richness. Best sub: oxtail bones, more brisket or chuck beef (same amount). Next best sub: any beef bones.
- 1kg / 2 lb marrow bones – bones like leg, shin and knuckle, with less meat on them but are quite big and are cut to reveal some of the marrow inside so it can leach into the broth. This provides the least flavour but it adds that essential hint of richness in Pho broth. Best sub: more meaty bones – lose a bit of richness but still super good.
None of these are difficult to find nowadays though perhaps not all at your local supermarket. I get everything either from my butchers or from Asian butchers (extremely good value). You’ll find brisket and meaty “soup bones” at large supermarkets. And marrow bones are now widely available at butchers and also the freezer section of Asian stores.
Beef aside, the rest of the ingredients in the broth are surprisingly straight forward!
The spices are toasted to bring out the flavour before adding into the pot. And the ginger and onion are charred to add a subtle smokey flavour into the broth – a secret little step that adds that extra something something to make this pho recipe just like the real deal!
How to serve Pho
The classic way to serve Pho is with:
- rice noodles – fresh or dry
- thinly sliced raw beef that cooks to a perfect medium rare when the hot broth is ladled over
- piles of bean sprouts, Thai basil and coriander/cilantro on the side – help yourself as you eat the pho
- lime wedges
- hoisin sauce and sriracha (or other chilli sauce)
Typically, the bowls come out with just noodles, beef and broth, then everything else is served on the side.
Thinly sliced raw beef – best cut
I like to use beef tenderloin for the raw beef slices. You only need about 30 g / 1 oz per serving so a bit goes a long way!
TIP: To thinly slice the beef, just partly freeze the beef – makes it so much easier.
↓↓↓The beef is pink because pouring the broth over raw beef slices cooks it to medium rare, which is how it’s traditionally served and how I love it.
But if the thought of pink beef in your soup is off-putting, it’s an easy fix – just dunk the beef into the pot of hot broth first, it will cook in 10 seconds!
I say this is a straight forward recipe because there’s no tricky techniques involved. But it does involve handling mounds of meat and bones, a big pot of broth and lots of patience as it simmers away on the stove, working its magic.
So why make Pho at home?
- If you love Pho as much as I do but don’t live in reasonable proximity to a (good) Pho restaurant;
- If you’re wanting to impress at a gathering with something different. This recipe will serve 6 as a full meal, or 10 to 12 smaller bowls as part of a larger banquet. Add some Vietnamese Rice Paper Rolls, Lemongrass Chicken, Bun Cha (Vietnamese Pork Meatballs) or the famous Vietnamese Caramel Pork!
- To save money – you’d pay $60+ for 6 bowls of Pho in the city;
- You feel smug with a stash of extra special things in the freezer – this broth keeps for months; or
- Your idea of a leisurely Sunday involves pottering around in the kitchen (Pho is a great Sunday pottering project!)
My situation is mainly #5. Because I am one of those crazy foodies who will drive 1 hour to Vietnamese neighbourhoods for a Pho fix! – Nagi x
PS I’m also #4. Because yes, I’m that immature at heart. 😂
Vietnamese Pho recipe
Watch how to make it
- 2 large onions , halved
- 150g / 5oz ginger , sliced down the centre
- 10 star anise
- 4 cinnamon quills
- 4 cardamon pods
- 3 cloves (the spice cloves!)
- 1.5 tbsp coriander seeds
Beef bones (Note 1):
- 1.5kg / 3lb beef brisket
- 1kg / 2lb meaty beef bones
- 1kg / 2lb marrow bones (leg, knuckle), cut to reveal marrow
- 3.5 litres / 3.75 quarts water (15 cups)
- 2 tbsp white sugar
- 1 tbsp salt
- 40 ml / 3 tbsp fish sauce (Note 2)
Noodle Soup - PER BOWL:
- 50g / 1.5 oz dried rice sticks (or 120g/4oz fresh) (Note 3)
- 30g / 1 oz beef tenderloin, raw, very thinly sliced (Note 4)
- 3 - 5 brisket slices (used for broth)
- Beansprouts, handful
- Thai basil, 3 - 5 sprigs
- Coriander/cilantro, 3 - 5 sprigs (or more basil)
- Lime wedges*
- Finely sliced red chilli*
- Hoisin sauce*
- Sriracha* (for spiciness)
- Heat a heavy based skillet over high heat (no oil) until smoking.
- Place onion and ginger in pan cut side down. Cook for a few minutes until it's charred, then turn. Remove and set aside.
- Toast Spices lightly in a dry skillet over medium high heat for 3 minutes.
- Rinse bones & brisket then cover with water in large stock pot.
- Boil for 5 minutes, then drain.
- Rinse each bone and brisket under tap water.
- Wipe pot clean, bring 3.5 litres / 3.75 quarts water to boil.
- Add bones and brisket, onion, ginger, Spices
- Add onion, ginger, Spices, sugar and salt - water should just barely cover everything.
- Cover with lid, simmer 3 hours.
- Remove brisket (should be fall-apart tender), cool then refrigerate for later.
- Simmer remaining soup UNCOVERED for 40 minutes.
- Strain broth into another pot, discard bones and spices. Should be about 2.5 litres / 2.65 quarts (10 cups), if loads more, reduce.
- Add fish sauce, adjust salt and sugar if needed. Broth should be beefy, fragrant with spices, savoury and barely sweet.
- Prepare rice noodles per packet, just prior to serving.
- Place noodles in bowl. Top with raw beef and brisket.
- Ladle over about 400 / 14 oz hot broth - will cook beef to medium rare.
- Serve with Toppings on the side!
- Brisket - don't skip this, adds way more flavour into broth than any bones and other beef cuts like chuck (brisket has intense beef flavour). If omitted, broth is weak. Leftovers not wasted - see in post for easy, really terrific ways to use up. Also FREEZES for months.
- Brisket sub - boneless beef short ribs
- Leftover cooked beef - see below recipe card for uses, also this Vietnamese Shredded Beef I shared specifically to use the leftover cooked beef!
- Marrow bones add richness to the broth but not as much flavour. Use leg bones, knuckle, anything that is cut in a way so you can SEE some of the marrow (so it can leach out).
- Marrow bones can be subbed with more meaty beef bones but soup may lack richness.
- Australia - meaty bones used are called "soup bones" at supermarkets. Brisket and marrow bones from butcher.
Ways to use leftover brisket
The pho broth calls for a considerable piece of brisket to ensure the broth gets enough flavour. Once slow cooked for hours, it’s fall apart tender and much of the flavour has been sucked out into the broth.
While a few thin slices are used for the Pho topping, I always end up with 500g/1lb leftover and I’ve share this Caramelised Vietnamese Shredded Beef recipe which I created especially to use up the remaining brisket. Those golden crispy edges are amazing!!!
Life of Dozer
I have no issues with the way he sprawls across doorways like this. EXCEPT in the middle of the night when I need to go to the bathroom……
You’d think he’d learn. Or that I’d learn.
But no. The trip/curse/yelp routine happens almost every night.