I've had many bowls of pho in my life, and then I had the one that blew everything else out of the water. It was made by Aunty Jacqueline, my mother in law's childhood friend from Vietnam where the two of them grew up together. Her beef pho (pho bo) recipe was so much richer, more flavourful and fragrant than everything I've had from a Vietnamese restaurant here.
Now in her 70's, Auntry Jacqueline has been known for her pho bo for decades, but she was the only person who knew how to make it; so I knew I had to preserve it. To my delight, she was happy to share ... and so I present to you, "Aunty Jacqueline's legendary beef pho" recipe!
Pho: Traditional Vietnamese Noodle Soup
Pho is a noodle soup that is arguably the "national dish" of Vietnam; or at least it is the most well known dish from the cuisine. While you can make pho with different kinds of meat, the classic version is made with beef, or phở bò.
The version I'm sharing here uses a few different kinds of beef, but the one that makes a real difference is oxtail. Rich in bone marrow and connective tissue, oxtail is responsible for the ultra rich beef broth. You can omit it, of course, but do follow my suggestions for substitutions to make sure you're not missing out on the richness!
There are two main components to making pho: the beef broth, and all the stuff that goes into your bowl. For amounts and full instructions, see the recipe card below.
Pho Broth Ingredients
- Beef bones: joint or marrow bones preferred, as cartilage and marrow make for a rich, full-bodied broth. I get my beef bones from a Korean grocery store; and in general Korean stores have a good supply of beef cuts and bones.
- Stewing beef: such as brisket or chuck, which will be stewed until tender right in the broth.
- Oxtail: aside from the marrow and connective tissue that results in a delicious broth, oxtail meat is also one of the best cuts for stew. If omitting, use more bones and more stew beef.
- Fresh ginger
- Daikon: I add daikon to all the stocks I make because it makes the soup naturally sweet. It's a must-have veg in Thailand when making any stock or broth!
- Cinnamon stick
- Green cardamom
- Star anise
- Coriander seeds
- Black cardamom: these look like oversized green cardamom pods, but the smell couldn't be any more different. It has an aroma reminiscent of leather and smoke. A little goes a long way, and it is beautiful when done right. We also use black cardamom in Thai khao soi!
- Rock sugar: this is the traditional sugar used, but granulated sugar will work just fine and will not make a difference in this recipe (they are the same sugar compound, just in different forms!)
- Beef stock powder: a little bit of "fairy dust" that makes this extra special. Aunty Jacqueline swears by Dasida brand which she's been using for over 10 years, but other brands are also okay I'm sure. If you're anti-MSG, you can leave it out and add a little more fish sauce and sugar, but to be honest pho just won't taste like pho without a little MSG magic 😉
- Fish sauce: See my post on choosing a good fish sauce
Pho Bowl Ingredients
- Dry rice noodles: I use Erawan brand, size small. They need to be rehydrated for 20-30 minutes in room temp water until they turn an opaque white and are fully pliable. Drain after soaking as you don't want to over soak them! Size medium will also work if needed, but they will take up to an hour to soak.
- Bean sprouts
- Raw beef slices: (Pictured under the broth ingredients by mistake) This will be added raw to your pho bowl, and it will cook from the heat of the broth. Because the beef needs to be very thin, I recommend buying pre-sliced beef which you can get from Asian supermarkets in the "hot pot" section. If you're going to manually slice, do it when the beef is partially frozen as it'll be easier. Choose any cut of beef that fits your budget here; if it's sliced thin enough it won't be chewy. I used rib eye in my video but sirloin steak also works fine.
- Asian style beef meatballs (optional): (not pictured) I didn't use this in my bowl, but they're a classic if you like them. Buy them frozen or fresh at Asian supermarkets, or here's a homemade Asian pork meatballs recipe where you can simply substitute beef instead.
- Lime wedges: Technically optional but I think a little bit of acidity really makes a difference!
- White or yellow onion, thinly sliced: Soak the sliced onion in cold water and it'll soften their pungency and make them crisper.
- Fresh herbs - choose any of the following: green onions, cilantro, Thai basil, sawtooth coriander.
- Hoisin sauce and/or sriracha hot sauce: I don't think these are traditional and I don't add them, but wanted to mention them, as in N. America they are standard pho condiments. The hoisin sauce is used to dip your meat in, and the sriracha can be used as a dip or can be added to your bowl for a little heat.
There are a few tools you'll need to make pho:
- Large stock pot - a minimum of 7 qt in volume; 8 quart is better
- Noodle strainer or a metal sieve for cooking the noodles
- Soup infusion bags or cheesecloth to wrap the toasted spices
- Fine mesh skimmer for skimming scum
How to Make Beef Pho
Here's a bird's eye view of the process, for full instructions, see the recipe card below; and if it's your first time I highly recommend watching the video tutorial first as it'll make a lot more sense once you see it put together!
- Wash the bones and meat and place in the stock pot. Cover with 4L of water and bring to a simmer.
- Broil the onion and ginger for about 10 minutes, or until the onions are charred. Slice the broiled ginger into a few pieces.
- Toast the cinnamon stick, star anise, black cardamom, and green cardamom in a dry skillet over medium-high heat until the green cardamom pods brown slightly. Crush the cardamom pods until they break open.
- Reduce the heat to medium and toast the coriander seeds.
- Place all the spices in a soup infusion bag or wrap them in cheesecloth.
- Add the salt, sugar and beef stock powder to the broth. Simmer gently (don’t let it boil) for 1 hour.
- Skim off the scum and fat once a bunch has collected on the surface.
- Add the onion, ginger, spice bag, and daikon. Simmer for at least 2-2.5 more hours, or however long it takes for the largest piece of meat or oxtail to be fork tender.
- Soak noodles in room temp water for 20-30 minutes until fully pliable (don't over soak). Drain and separate into portions and place each portion into their own serving bowl.
- Once the broth is done, remove the spice bag, ginger, onion, and bones and discard. Pick off any meat or tendon attached to the bones as they're delicious!
- Final seasoning - add all of the fish sauce, then taste and add hot water as needed until it is no longer too salty. If you find that it actually needs more fish sauce, go ahead and add more fish sauce. You can also add more sugar.
- Slice the brisket into thin slices. Cut the daikon into smaller pieces. Leave the oxtail in the broth.
- Blanch the bean sprouts in boiling water for 5 seconds and fish them out with a slotted spoon or skimmer and place on a serving plate.
- Bring the water back to a rolling boil, place a portion of noodles in the noodle strainer and wiggle it in the water for 5 seconds. Place into serving bowl.
- Top the noodles with the raw beef slices. Make sure the broth is boiling and ladle it over the beef until the noodles are submerged.
- Top the noodles with the oxtail and whatever toppings you like and enjoy immediately!
Is it necessary to blanch the bones for pho broth?
Traditionally the beef bones and all of the stewing beef are first parboiled in water for a few minutes. The water is then discarded, the pot scrubbed clean, and you start making the broth with fresh water. It's a hassle to be sure, but people do it in order to remove "impurities" (a term I take issue with...but that's for another day) and achieve a clearer broth. A clear broth is a desired characteristic of traditional pho.
I have always been skeptical of this practice because having made all kinds of stock all my life, including during my time at Le Cordon Bleu ... and I've never done this. And I always felt my stocks were fine.
So it was a sign of relief when Aunty Jacqueline told me ...
I used to blanch the bones, but it was a hassle, so I wondered if it was necessary! So I tried not doing it, and simply washed my bones and meat under hot tap water, and my broth turned out fine. I couldn't tell the difference. So I haven't done it that way for years.
There is my confirmation. Yay. I took it a step further though and I don't even use hot water because a brief shower of hot tap water isn't going to draw out anything that room temp or warm water doesn't. But let me explain why blanching is not necessary, and why this might have been necessary back in the day.
Achieving Clear Pho Broth
When you boil bones and meats, you'll notice that there is a lot of scum that floats to the top of the broth. These "impurities" are basically coagulated proteins from the beef juices. It's totally edible, but it doesn't make for an appetizing bowl of pho. The parboiling or blanching of the bones and beef removes much of this scum.
The thing is...you can also just skim off the scum. A fine mesh skimmer makes a few minutes' work of this. Not to mention, even with the parboiling, you'll still have some skimming to do, so it doesn't really save you any steps. And you gotta wonder how much flavour is lost with that initial boil ... maybe it's nothing significant ... but maybe it is?
As you can see in the video, my broth is pretty darn clear by the end of it, so I don't see any reason to make this any more work than it already is to achieve something purely aesthetic.
You might notice that there are some bits of coagulated beef juice floating in the broth that didn't float to the top. This might have been reduced with the blanching step, but if these bits bother you (they don't bother me) you can run the broth through a fine mesh strainer after you're done, and it'll still be more convenient than blanching.
Why blanching might have been needed in the past (my theory)
Traditional cooking methods are rarely done without a good reason, but those reasons may no longer be applicable today. In Thai cuisine, I see other recipes that call for cooking beef in water first before putting it in a final dish. But Western stock recipes never call for this step ... so something is going on here.
My theory is that back in the day, without refrigeration in a hot tropical climate, by the time people get around to cooking beef, (a large animal that takes a long time to butcher and consume), it might eventually have started to smell a bit "off". I know this, because in rural parts of Thailand today meats are still sold without being refrigerated, and I have experienced this "off" smell personally. It hasn't gone bad to the point of making people sick; but it's not smelling fresh anymore.
So the blanching was likely key in getting rid of the "off" smell, which is mostly on the surface of the beef. This smell also would've affected the flavor of the broth, so this step was important. The impurities (the scum) that were removed in the process was a bonus, but because it is the visible part, it came to represent the "bad stuff" that needed to be removed.
Nowadays with refrigeration our beef no longer smells, but you can still SEE the scum, so the practice stuck. Again, this is my theory, but a pretty sound one if you ask me!
Tips for Advanced Prep
After having made this all in one go for the filming of the YouTube video ... I don't recommend doing it this way! It's much easier to spread the work out over a day, or even a couple of days. Here are some things you can do in advance:
- Soak the noodles in advance. Drain and keep the noodles in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 3 days. After draining, place the noodles on a tea towel to absorb excess water; you do not want the noodles sitting in a pool of water in the container.
- Prepare all of your toppings on a platter the day before or the morning of, so you don't have to mess with a million little things while you're trying to finish your broth. (But don't blanch the bean sprouts until serving time.)
- Make the broth in advance and it'll keep for up to 7 days in the fridge. The broth and the beef can also be frozen.
Yes, though experience with other stocks tells me that broths made stovetop vs in an Instant Pot never taste the same, so I prefer stovetop broths. However, it's possible, but I would suggest following an Instant Pot pho recipe as a guide for instructions, and you can use my mix of seasonings and spices instead. I would use slightly less water to account for the lack of evaporation, start with 3 L instead of 4.
You might have seen bags of fresh rice noodles at the refrigerated section of Asian grocery stores. They're usually vacuum sealed in clear plastic bags. This is what noodle vendors would use so they are perfect. Treat them like pre-soaked dried noodles, so you skip the soaking and go straight to blanching. 5 seconds in boiling water should do it, at least to start, and you can adjust as needed.
If you have rice noodles that are already fully cooked (they usually come tossed in oil), a 2 second dunk-and-wiggle in hot water just to warm them up and remove any oil will suffice. These overcook easily so don't let them linger!
If you want to leave out the oxtail, increase the amount of bones and stewing beef by about 30%.
Aunty's Signature Beef Pho Recipe
- 1 Large stock pot 7 quart minimum
- 1 Noodle strainer or a metal sieve
- 1 Soup infusion bag or cheesecloth
- 1 Fine mesh skimmer for skimming scum
- 1.5 lb beef bones, joint or marrow bones preferred
- 1 lb brisket or chuck, if using chuck, cut into 1-inch thick slabs
- 1.5 lb oxtail, optional, see note
- 4 L water
- 5 inches ginger
- 1 large onion, halved through the root end and peeled
- ¾ lb daikon, peeled and cut into 1-inch thick slices
- 1 pod black cardamom, aka tsaoko
- 6 inches cinnamon stick
- 3 pods green cardamom
- 2 pieces star anise
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 2 teaspoon fine grain salt
- 2 tablespoon sugar, or 30 g rock sugar
- 2 tablespoon beef stock powder, Dasida brand
- 4 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 lb dry rice noodles, size small
- ¼ white or yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 7 oz beansprouts, or more to taste
- ¾ lb thinly sliced hotpot-style beef, cut of your choice
- 10 pieces Asian style beef meatballs, optional
- 1 lime, cut into wedges
- Any of these fresh herbs to your liking: green onions, Thai basil, cilantro, sawtooth coriander
FULL VIDEO TUTORIAL
All my recipes come with step-by-step video tutorials with extra tips not mentioned in the blog post, so make sure you watch the video to ensure success. If you enjoy them, consider subscribing to the YouTube Channel to not miss an episode. Thank you!Subscribe to my YouTube Channel
- Wash the bones, oxtail and stewing beef thoroughly under tap water and place into the stock pot. Cover with 4L of water and bring to a simmer. (If the water doesn’t fit in your pot, you can top it up later after it has reduced.)1.5 lb beef bones, 1 lb brisket or chuck, 1.5 lb oxtail, 4 L water
- Place the ginger and the onion halves, cut side up, on a baking sheet, and place under the broiler for about 10 minutes, or until the onions are slightly charred. Slice the broiled ginger lengthwise into a few pieces, or smash it with a pestle until broken.5 inches ginger, 1 large onion
- Toast the spices: Add the cinnamon stick, star anise, black cardamom, and green cardamom into a dry skillet and toast over high heat for a few minutes, moving the pan constantly, until the green cardamom browns slightly. Remove from the pan, then reduce the heat to medium and add the coriander seeds. Move the pan constantly until they darken slightly - this should take less than a minute. Remove from the pan.1 pod black cardamom, 6 inches cinnamon stick, 3 pods green cardamom, 2 pieces star anise, 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- Crush the black and green cardamom pod with a pestle or something heavy until they break open, then place all the spices in a soup infusion bag or wrap them in cheesecloth.
- By this time your water should be close to simmering. Add the salt, sugar and beef stock powder and stir briefly. Let the broth simmer gently (don’t let it boil) for 1 hour, skimming off the scum after you see a bunch collected on the surface.2 teaspoon fine grain salt, 2 tablespoon sugar, 2 tablespoon beef stock powder
- After 1 hour of simmering, do a final skim of the scum, then add the onion, ginger, spice bag, and the daikon. Simmer for at least 2-2.5 more hours, or however long it takes for the largest piece of meat or oxtail to be fork tender. As the broth simmers, top it up with just enough water to keep everything submerged; do not add too much water however or you will dilute the broth.¾ lb daikon
- While the broth is simmering, prepare your pho bowl supplies. Soak noodles in room temp water for 20-30 minutes or until they turn an opaque white and are fully pliable; drain well. Prepare all your other toppings: cut the lime, soak the onion in cold water, and pick your herbs. Keep everything in the fridge until ready to use, and be sure the noodles are in an airtight container so they don't dry out.1 lb dry rice noodles, ¼ white or yellow onion, 1 lime, Any of these fresh herbs to your liking: green onions, Thai basil, cilantro, sawtooth coriander
- Once the broth is done, remove the spice bag, ginger and onion and discard. Remove the bones, and if you see any meat or tendon attached to them, pick them off before you discard the bones as they are delicious!
- Remove the brisket, and if serving right away, slice into thin pieces once it’s cool enough to handle then place on a serving platter. If not serving right away, soak it in cold water for 5 minutes to cool it down then refrigerate in a covered container; this will prevent it from drying and turning dark.
- Remove the daikon and cut them into smaller pieces and place on the same serving platter as the brisket. Leave the oxtail in the broth.
- Final seasoning of the broth: Add all of the fish sauce, and then taste the broth and add more hot water as needed until it is no longer too salty. If you find that it needs more fish sauce rather than more water, go ahead and add more fish sauce or salt. The broth should taste a little too strong right now, because it will be diluted once it goes over the noodles. You can also add a little more sugar if you think it needs it.4 tablespoon fish sauce
- When ready to serve, bring a large pot of water to a boil for blanching the noodles and beansprouts. At the same time, bring the broth to a boil. If serving meatballs, cut them in half and put them in the broth so they can heat up together.Meanwhile, separate the soaked noodles into portions and put these into their own serving bowls. Set out all the toppings for people to garnish their own bowl - that is the lime wedges, Thai basil, onion, green onions and any other herbs.7 oz beansprouts, 10 pieces Asian style beef meatballs
- Blanch the bean sprouts in boiling water for 5 seconds and use a slotted spoon or skimmer to fish them out and place on a serving plate. Put them out with the rest of the toppings.
- Bring the water back to a boil, then cook the noodles. (I recommend watching the video to view the technique). Place a portion of noodles in the strainer and wiggle it in the boiling water for 5 seconds. Lift the noodles out, and to heat the serving bowl, use it to catch the dripping water, then swirl the water around and pour it back out. Put the noodles into the bowl. Repeat with all portions.
- Top the noodles with the raw thin-sliced beef, making sure they are not on top of each other. Ladle boiling hot broth over the beef until the noodles are submerged. Place a piece of oxtail and meatballs (if you used them) in the bowl, and then at this point I hand the bowls over to people and let them put their own toppings on. This is so that the noodles don’t have to sit and swell for too long in the kitchen while you garnish everyone’s bowls. It’s also more fun for everyone!¾ lb thinly sliced hotpot-style beef
Hi, thank you very much for posting this recipe and similar to a previous comment, I'm having some difficulty with finding the Dasida beef stock powder. I've tried to find it at both T&T and H Mart but unfortunately, was not successful. Would you be able to advise where in Metro Vancouver we could find the item? Thank you.
H Mart should have it...I'm very surprised they don't. May just be out of stock! I got mine from Kim's Mart in Vancouver. You can try another brand such as Knorr, or whatever you can find. Should still be good!
What do you or Aunty J say about Vietnamese restaurants that boast and pride theirselves on soup stock that has been simmered for 20+ hours? Do you think it makes a drastic difference when compared to Aunty J's recipe? Anyway, can't wait to make this recipe!! Thanks so much (:
The longer you simmer the richer the broth in theory, yes. However, when making at home because your pot isn't a gigantic vat like in restaurants, you will have to be topping it up constantly with water which is going to be a hassle. I definitely think 20+ hours is overkill but you can definitely go for 5-6 hours, just be sure to remove the meat earlier otherwise they will turn into cat food!
What about roasting the bones for extra flavour (after washing)?
What does Aunty say about that?
Thank you so much for your recipe and all the details!!
Sounds like a good idea. It will be more work and I never try that.
You certainly can, and that would be the French way. But in Asia we don't use ovens so it's naturally not part of the repertoire of cooking methods. PS that was aunty J responding to you directly 😉
Can I prepare the broth and save until ready to make the pho?
Absolutely! It'll last a week in the fridge and can be frozen.
Thank you for your detailed, step-by-step recipe for a dish that I long to be able to cook at home. Please give your Auntie a BIG hug and a kiss for her willingness to share. She is so thoughtful!
I want to confirm something with you. You say the "scum" is edible. I have dogs and cats that surround me when I'm cooking. I never thought of adding the cooking scum from anything to their bowls, but after your comment, I'm thinking that what we call scum is actually a great flavor enhancer for our pet's dry or wet food. Do you agree?
Hi Barbara, oh absolutely! The "scum" is actually high in protein and iron also and I'm sure they'd love it. But it'll also be quite fatty because you'll be skimming fat along with it, so I'm not sure how that would factor into your consideration for pets (I have no pets so I don't know).
Just a little personal experience over the "scum" from the meat.....
But first ... your website and videos are very educational and well presented. Fork and spoon forever.
There are proteins in the meat ( all meat, not just beef ) that change their form when heated above a temperature just before boiling point ---- you will have to consult a food scientist over the exact temperature, but it is around 205F to 210F in old money, 96C to 98C in new money.
This is what causes the cloudiness and the scum.
When making pho or any other soup, only have the water get no hotter than 190F ( or 88C ) when cooking. This will result in very little, if any scum, and a clear stock. No need to clarify as the top notch chefs do in mega-star restaurants.
For example, when making winter grade chicken soup:
Bring a pot of water to the boil.
Turn down the heat to mid-low.
As you get used to this method, you will be able to go by experience, but initially a thermometer might be useful to keep the cooking temperature at or just below 190F ( 88C ).
A few minutes later, add in the chicken parts ( skin on, bone-in )
Simmer until done.
Remove meat to cool.
There might be some scum --- typically 1 teaspoon worth in my kitchen. Any black stuff will be cooked blood. Strain for really clear stock.
Add in root vegetables....do not go over the 190F temp when cooking.
Once the meat is cool enough to handle, remove meat from the skin and bones. The root vegetable will almost be done by then.
Chop/shred/pull apart the meat as desired. Add back to broth plus any softer vegetables. Season as appropriate for your home.
Once soft vegetable are done, final taste test-adjustment.
Thank you so much for sharing this!
I didn’t try the receipt yet, but my level or respect to you and your receipts is very high so I am sure that it would be great.
I want to add that it's very traditional and super tasty to add garlic vinegar to the plate.
Thank you! Noted about the garlic and vinegar!
I made this Sunday. I ended up making a double batch because the oxtail I found was three pounds. I wanted to follow the recipe exactly, but I couldn't find all the individual spices at our Asian market. I found a pack of seasoning that was specifically for Pho, but it also had fennel seed and cloves. Long story short, it is absolutely delicious. I am looking forward to having the booth portioned in my freezer for a cold day. Thank you for sharing.
SO glad to hear that!! Thank you for sharing!