Ultimate Beef Pho

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Five years ago, I posted my first Beef Pho recipe on No Limit Cooking.  Over the past five years, I’ve researched tons of delicious Pho recipes, made a few dozen pots of Pho for the girls, tried out various Pho techniques like making it in an Instant Pot, experimented and tested different combination of spice blends, played with the salt and fish sauce ratio, tried different cuts of tasty beef, and modified my recipe multiple times and watched it evolve over the past few years.

I’ve made a few bad pots of Pho and many delicious pots that were family-approved.  I take countless mental notes of what I like and didn’t like each time.  Over time, it just keeps getting better.  Because of what I’ve learned and gained through my experiences, I wanted to create a special post to update my Pho recipe and detail how I make Pho in the No Limit Kitchenz and share all the tips and tricks I’ve learned to create what I think is the ultimate bowl of Pho.

Living in San Jose, California, I’m fortunate to be surrounded by so many amazing Pho restaurants for me to enjoy the perfect bowl of Pho.  It literally inspires me every day.  Of all the places I’ve traveled in my life, from Vietnam to Orange County, to San Diego, to Houston, to Chicago, to New York, I still honestly believe that San Jose has the best Pho in the whole world!  The quality of the ingredients is incomparable anywhere else and the taste is in a league of its own!

When making homemade Pho, I pick and choose all the things I love about my favorite restaurant’s Pho and incorporate those elements into my ultimate bowl of Pho.  For example, I love the cinnamon notes that stand out to me in Pho 90’s Pho broth, so I like to add a bit more cinnamon spice to my broth.  I also love the chopped beef tenderloin option from Bun Bo Hue An Nam, so chopped beef tenderloin is one of the favorite protein choices in our ultimate bowl of Pho. Finally, I absolutely love the clear and balanced broth from Pho Papa so I strive to make the most well-balanced bowl of Pho each time.

There are so many different components to making a great homemade bowl of Pho.  Like…What type of rice noodles do you use? What kind of cuts of beef do you use? What fresh veggies and herbs do you use? To help you answer these questions, close your eyes and think about the Pho from your favorite Pho Restaurant.  What is it about the Pho that keeps you coming back?  What do you like about the broth?  What tastes stand out to you? What protein choices do you regularly choose? What garnishes and herbs do you add to enhance your Pho experience? If you are unsure, just follow the recipe as is, but as you get more experience and more comfortable, play around with the ingredients to make the Pho making experience your own and adapt and adjust the wonderful flavors as needed to suit you and your family’s taste.

In the ingredients list section, I provided sections for rice noodle options, protein options, fresh herbs, and veggies options, and dipping sauce options and listed all the options I can think of.  Besides the broth, all the other ingredients are super flexible and customizable based on your preference and liking and most importantly availability of those ingredients from your local store.  For instance, if you are not a fan of beef meatballs or bean sprouts, please don’t waste your money buying bean sprouts and having it go to waste. Spend money on the ingredients you like, ya know?  I used to think that you can only get all the Pho ingredients from an Asian grocery store, but I’ve been able to make Pho purchasing all the ingredients from Sprouts. It is a little more expensive, but you can expect higher quality ingredients.

I hope you enjoy this updated Ultimate Pho Recipe and find some time to give it a try.  It is a lot of work and will take some time, but… it will be worth it, it will be a fun cooking adventure, you will be loved by family and friends and they will give you many positive compliments, and you will get to enjoy the fruits of your labor at the end. Hopefully, you will have leftovers for the next day and the day after that.  The broth freezes very well and  will last months in an airtight container. Check out the tips section below for other tips I have for making the ultimate Pho. Before getting into the ingredients list, below are the things that I’m doing differently today than from my original post:

  •  I add 1 tablespoon of white distilled vinegar and 1 tablespoon of salt to the boiling water during the parboiling process.   I learned this technique from Eddie Huang.  It helps clean the bones better and produce a clearer broth, he said, so I have been doing this ever since. DO NOT SKIP the bone parboiling process.
  • I use purified water for the broth.  I feel like it produces a better quality beef broth for me.
  • I add daikon radishes to the broth for enhanced natural sweetness.  I do this with other noodle soups and it never fails.
  • I use only beef bones.
  • I use only star anise, cloves, and cinnamon sticks. I try keeping it simple and focusing on the spices I like.  Plus, I save myself some money not buying tons of additional spices. I am no longer using coriander seeds, fennel seeds, cardamom pods. Asian grocery stores and Amazon sells prepackaged Pho spices that you can buy if you don’t want to play around with the spices.
  • I enjoy adding Lao Gan Ma spicy chili crisp or sate chili sauce to my hoisin sauce and sriracha dipping sauce with a squeeze of lime juice at the end before mixing it.
  • After the Pho broth is done, I remove all the bones and veggies in the broth and strain the broth into another large stockpot.  This removes any residual residue from the simmering process and produces the clearest possible broth.
  • Before discarding the cooked beef bones, I remove extra meat and other gelatinous goodies from the bones and set it aside.  I add it to the Pho bowl for extra texture and taste.
  • I prefer roughly chopped beef tenderloin over thinly sliced top round beef from the supermarket.   I buy beef tenderloin from the store, slice, and roughly chop.  It ends up being super tender and delicious!

Ingredients:

Beef Broth Ingredients (Good for ~10 bowls):
6 quarts water, purified water preferred
6-7 pounds beef bones
3-4 pounds beef brisket, fatty (point) brisket preferred
1/4 cup star anise
1/2 tablespoon cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
2 medium yellow onions, halved lengthwise
6 ounces daikon, peeled and cut in two-inch pieces
1 4-inch piece ginger
1/4 cup Fish Sauce
2 tablespoons Salt
2 piece of Chinese yellow rock sugar

Rice Noodle Options:
Fresh rice stick noodles
Dried rice stick noodles (size medium or large)
Fresh soft rice noodles

Protein Options:
Beef tenderloin, roughly chopped
Bo Vien (Vietnamese beef meatballs with tendon), halved
Beef top round, thinly sliced
Tendon from the bones

Fresh Herbs and Veggies Options:
6 green onions, finely chopped
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 bunch Thai basil, leaves part only
1 bunch sawtooth herb (ngo gai)
8 ounces bean sprouts
2 jalapenos, thinly sliced
3 limes, cut into wedges
cracked black pepper

Dipping Sauce Options:
Hoisin sauce
Sriracha hot sauce
Lao Gan Ma spicy chili crisp or sate chili sauce
Lime juice

Steps:

Char Onions, Ginger, and Daikon – Sear onions, ginger, and daikon over medium-high heat on a cast iron skillet until the exterior is charred. Rotate as needed until all the sides are charred. Set aside and let it cool.

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Toast spices –  Add star anise, cloves, and broken up cinnamon sticks to a small frying pan and toast over medium-low heat until fragrant. Add toasted spices in a tea ball or filtered tea bag and set aside.

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Parboil Bones – Fill a large stockpot with water. Add 1 tablespoon of vinegar, 1 tablespoon of salt, beef bones, and brisket in the stockpot and bring to a boil. Boil vigorously for ten minutes. After ten minutes, dump the beef bones and brisket into a clean sink and wash and scrub all the scum and impurities off the bones and brisket.

Make Broth –  Fill a large 12-quart+ stockpot with 6 quarts of water. Bring to a boil.  Gently add beef bones, beef brisket, onion, ginger, daikon, fish sauce, salt, and rock sugar to the stockpot, and bring to a boil.  After putting all the broth ingredients into the stockpot, add extra water to fill up the stockpot and add toasted spices. Lower heat to medium-low heat and simmer. After simmering the broth for three hours, remove the beef brisket and continue to simmer for another 2 hours. ~5 hours in total.

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Prepare Cooked Brisket – After simmering beef brisket in the beef broth for three hours, remove the beef brisket from the beef broth and place it into a medium bowl of iced water for 15 minutes.  After 15 minutes, pat dry and set aside.  When cooled, slice beef brisket thinly against the grain (ALWAYS AGAINST THE GRAIN) and set aside.

Prepare Fresh Veggies – Wash, prepare, and organize all the fresh veggies in separate bowls and/or plates and set aside.

Strain Broth – After simmering the broth on medium-low heat for ~5 hours, carefully remove the beef bones and veggies from the stockpot and place the beef bones and veggies into a large bowl.  Strain the Pho broth through a strainer into another large stockpot.  Adjust seasonings to taste.

Make Dipping Sauce – In a small dipping bowl, add equal parts hoisin sauce, sriracha sauce, sate sauce, and a squeeze of fresh lime.  Mix well.

Assemble Pho Bowls – Add 6 ounces of cooked rice noodles and 6 ounces of protein to a large soup bowl. Top with sliced onions and green onions. Bring strained Pho broth to a boil on high heat.  Ladle in 3 cups of boiling Pho broth into the bowl.  Top the Pho bowl with fresh herbs, veggies, and additional garnishes.  Squeeze a bit of lime juice and add fresh cracked black pepper.  Serve hot.

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Tips:

  • The No Limit Family’s preferred Pho rice noodles are fresh Sincere Orient Food Rice Stick Noodle.  This can be found in the refrigerated noodle section at a local Asian grocery store.
  • There are different varieties of rice stick noodles you can use.  Fresh or dried.  Make sure it says Rick Stick Noodles or have the word Pho on it.  It also comes in different sizes.  Follow the package instructions to cook the noodles to preferred doneness. Andrea Nguyen has a Vietnamese Noodles 101: Banh Pho Flat Rice Noodles page on her Viet World Kitchen website that gives an excellent breakdown of all the different types of available Pho noodles.
  • You can char the onions, ginger, and daikon in the oven on the broil setting or grill it over fire, if you don’t want to sear it on a skillet.
  • If you don’t have a tea ball, you can put it in a cheesecloth or make a foil packet and pierce a few holes in the foil packet.  If you don’t have any of that, just put the spices directly into the pot, but make sure you strain the pot at the end of the cook.
  • Line a strainer with a coffee filter before straining the Pho broth for an even clearer broth.
  • While the Pho broth is simmering, continue to scoop out the impurities that float to the top.
  • Towards the end of the simmering process, you can scoop out some of the layers of fat (or not) that float to the top if you don’t want the broth too fatty.
  • To prevent the Pho broth from getting too concentrated and salty, ladle some Pho broth into a medium saucepan before bringing the broth to a boil and pouring the portioned broth over the noodles.
  • It’s important to give your boiled brisket or other meats an iced-cold water bath after simmering in the pot for three hours.  This helps stop the cooking process but most importantly, it doesn’t darken and shrivel your meat and make it look ugly!
  • DO NOT SKIP THE PARBOILING PROCESS!!!

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