"Real Deal" Beef Pho Noodle Soup is my attempt to replicate the rich, savory broth that is the hallmark of authentic Vietnamese pho.
I'll be honest.
This is very likely the most complicated recipe on the blog.
If you follow my Instagram feed, you'll know that I'm obsessed with pho. You could say that I have a phobsession. Ba damp bamp.
I have been on a years-long quest to replicate the delicious, rich beef broth that I've enjoyed in pho joints all over the U.S. Through that research, I think I've come pretty close to nailing an authentic beef pho broth flavor. Granted, the ultimate test will be when I go to Vietnam and taste the pho straight from the source. I'll keep you posted on what I find!
This recipe lends itself to a weekend project because you really need a long slow-cook to get that rich, flavorful pho broth. The good news is that most of the cook time is hands-off.
How do I make authentic beef broth for pho?
Meat and bones
You need beef bones. About 5 pounds' worth. I spoke with some Vietnamese chefs and learned that a mix of oxtails, beef back ribs, and shanks gives the best results. Knuckle bones are also good.
I also add a good piece of chuck roast, but you can also use brisket. Then, I pull it out after about 8 hours of cooking and then add it back to the final soup.
Aromatics, herbs, and spices
Charred aromatics are key to building a complex pho broth. Slice a section of ginger root in half and put it on a cookie sheet along with some slices of onion. Then, set them under the broiler until a nice char develops.
I like to add anise, bay leaf, black peppercorns, cinnamon stick, and fennel seed to the broth. Before adding, I give them a light toast in a dry skillet until fragrant.
Other flavor-building additions
A couple of tablespoons of palm sugar boosts the flavor of the beef pho broth.
I've learned from my chef conversations that the secret ingredient may just be some MSG (monosodium glutamate). However, I prefer to add fish sauce and/or Maggi seasoning sauce, which contains natural glutamates from yeast fermentation. It's umami dynamite.
Making authentic Beef Pho Noodle Soup
I'm a big fan of doing this entire soup production in the Instant Pot. The saute and slow-cooker functions mean that I can do it all in the same vessel.
Pre-boiling the bones and meat
First, it's important to boil the bones and chuck roast for about 20 minutes to remove impurities (using the saute function on high). You'll understand why when you see the scum that forms on the surface. It's gross. And it will ruin the flavor of your broth.
After the 20-minute boil, rinse the bones well and wipe or scrape off any nasty goobers you find. Next, rinse and wipe out the Instant Pot insert and replace in the cooker.
Finally, discard the boiling liquid—this was simply prep for the real broth.
Slow-cooking the bone broth
To make the broth, first add the cleaned bones and chuck roast back to the Instant Pot. Cover with water. Next, add the charred aromatics, the herbs and spices, sugar, and fish sauce and/or Maggi seasoning sauce.
Then, close up the Instant Pot and slow cook on low for 20 hours. Remove the chuck roast after 8 hours. Keep it in an airtight container covered in water and a splash (½ tbsp) of rice vinegar.
After the 20 hour slow-cook, set a colander into a bowl. Next, using a skimmer, remove the solids and place them in the colander. Then, rinse them with a few cups of water (e.g., 4 cups maximum—the purpose is to get every last bit of goodness from the solids). Finally, add the runnings (rinsing liquid) to the broth in the Instant Pot.
For the fully authentic beef pho experience, pull the meat and tendon off of the bones. Reserve in the refrigerator with the chuck roast.
Finishing the pho broth
The cheffy way to strain bone broth is to run it through some cheesecloth set into a strainer. Several times. Personally, I find it much easier—and perfectly acceptable—to hold a fine-mesh skimmer over my fat separator. I run a ladle at a time of bone broth through the skimmer and into the fat separator (see #8 in the collage below, or watch my video!). Then I repeat until I've strained and degreased all the broth (discard the fat.)
Simmering and finishing the beef pho
After giving the insert of the Instant Pot another rinse, add the broth back and use the saute function to simmer the broth. Add in sliced onions and mushrooms along with cilantro stems (unless you're a genetic cilantro hater). Finally, during the last 5 minutes, add sliced straw mushrooms (optional).
Remove your chuck roast from the refrigerator, along with any tendon or meat from the simmered bones. Slice the chuck roast across the grain ~¼" thick.
We add thin slices of good sirloin steak or even ribeye to the final soup. Because you want the meat sliced very thin (you want the hot broth to cook it to medium-rare), I recommend freezing it for about 20 minutes. Then, slice it across the grain about ⅛" thick.
Alternatively, this would be an excellent way to use up leftovers from Date Night Prime Rib!
While the soup simmers, prepare your garnishes. Basil is a must: preferably Thai basil (though regular will work in a pinch). Simply wash the basil and gently pull the whole leaves off the stem. Sliced scallions, sliced jalapeños, mung bean sprouts, and lime wedges are also all traditional garnishes. These all continuously flavor the pho broth as you eat—like a scrumptious tea!
I'd also recommend my Quick Nuoc Cham Sauce. Arrange the garnishes on a platter next to the sauces: in addition to nuoc cham, we like to add sriracha and hoisin sauce.
Finally, prepare the noodles according to the package directions. You want dried rice stick noodles (I prefer medium width; also called banh pho). You can usually find these in your supermarket's ethnic foods aisle and definitely at an Asian grocery.
Assembling the bowls of beef pho noodle soup
Into each bowl, add some cooked and drained noodles, chuck roast, raw, sliced steak, and reserved tendon and meat (if using) as you like.
Next, ladle the hot broth directly over the raw steak: you should see it turning opaque. (The steak will cook rare to medium rare depending on the thickness of your slices. You can check out the standard menu warning about consuming undercooked meat here.)
If you don't feel comfortable using raw steak, simply cook it part way through in a skillet with some vegetable oil before adding it to your bowl.
Then, continue adding as much broth as you like (you'll probably fill your bowl at about 2 cups).
Tear basil leaves right into your bowl. Add additional garnishes as you like. Finally, squeeze some lime juice over the top and finish with nuoc cham, sriracha, and hoisin sauce. Enjoy!
Be sure to check out my other pho recipes: Instant Pot Vegetable Pho Noodle Soup, Slow-Cooker Duck Pho, Slow-Cooker Rotisserie Chicken Pho Ga, and Pressure-Cooker Pho Ga (Chicken Pho). Also stay tuned for an easy version of beef pho!
Stay safe. Stay well.
FOR THE BROTH
- 6 lbs. beef bones (see Recipe Note #1)
- 1.5 lb chuck roast
- ginger, 3-inch segment sliced in half lengthwise
- 1 large sweet onion, sliced into rings
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tbsp fennel seeds
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 5 star anise pods
- ¼ cup dried mushrooms (e.g., shiitake or wood ear)
- 2 tbsp palm sugar
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tsp Maggi seasoning sauce
- 1 tbsp rice vinegar
FOR THE SOUP
- 8 oz shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, cleaned, and sliced
- 1 cup sweet onion, thinly sliced into quarter rings
- 2 tbsp cilantro stems, chopped (optional)
- 15-oz can straw mushrooms, drained, rinsed, and sliced in half lengthwise
- 1 lb banh pho noodles (a.k.a. rice stick)
- 1 lb ribeye, sirloin, or eye round steak, raw, sliced very thinly across the grain (see Recipe Note #3)
- Sliced scallions
- Thai basil
- Thinly sliced jalapeños
- Chopped cilantro
- Lime wedges
- Nuoc cham
- Hoisin sauce
- Boil bones and chuck roast for 20 minutes using the saute function of the Instant Pot. (See Recipe Note #1) Skim off any scum that forms on the surface and discard.
- Meanwhile, broil the ginger and onion slices until slightly charred. LIghtly toast the cinnamon, fennel seeds, peppercorns, and anise pods in a dry skillet (until fragrant).
- After 20 minutes of boiling, drain the bones and rinse thoroughly.
- After rinsing and wiping out the Instant Pot insert, add the bones and roast back, along with the charred ginger and onion, dried mushrooms, toasted spices, bay leaves, fish sauce, sugar, and Maggi seasoning sauce. Add sufficient water to cover the bones and meat (~5 quarts; take care not to overfill the Instant Pot).
- Lid the Instant Pot and set to slow cook for 20 hours on low. Remove the chuck roast after 8 hours. Keep refrigerated in an airtight container covered with water and the rice vinegar.
- Set a colander into a large bowl. Fish the solids out of the Instant Pot with a skimmer.
- Rinse the solids with ~4 cups of water; add the runnings back to the Instant Pot. If you like, pick tendons and meat from the bones; reserve for later. Discard remaining solids.
- Ladle the broth through a fine-mesh skimmer and into a fat separator. Degrease the broth, reserving in a large bowl.
- Rinse the Instant Pot insert and return the broth. Add sliced mushrooms, onions, and cilantro stems (if using). Simmer for 20 minutes using the saute function (set to high to bring to a simmer, then reduce to medium or low to keep the broth from boiling).
- While the soup simmers, prepare garnishes, slice the chuck roast ¼–½" thick across the grain (discard fat), and boil noodles.
- To serve: for each bowl, add ½ cup of cooked, drained noodles, ½ cup of chuck roast, ½ cup of thinly sliced, raw steak, and ¼ cup of reserved tendon and meat from the bones (if using). Add about 2 cups of hot broth, pouring directly onto the steak (see Recipe Note #2). Serve garnished to taste.
- I've learned from Vietnamese chefs that the best combination for beef pho broth includes oxtails, beef back ribs, and knuckles.
- You will have to cancel and re-start the saute cycle, as it only lasts 30 minutes. (It will take some time to bring the liquid to a boil.)
- The steak should be sliced a maximum of ⅛" thick. The scalding broth will cook the steak rare to medium rare.* If you'd prefer, briefly sear the steak in a skillet with 1 tsp of olive oil before adding to your bowl.
- You can use brisket instead of chuck roast, or do half of each. Remove brisket after 8 hours of simmering.
*Note the usual warning about consuming undercooked meat, here.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 6 Serving Size: 2 cups
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 700Total Fat: 25gSaturated Fat: 51gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 61gCholesterol: 583mgSodium: 600mgCarbohydrates: 36gFiber: 6gSugar: 13gProtein: 186g
Nutrition data provided here is only an estimate: if you are tracking this information for medical purposes, please consult a trusted external source. Thanks!