Pho (Beef Noodle Soup – Vietnamese)

You may be getting the sense by now that I have quite a varied diet, dipping into many cultures for inspiration. Well, here’s another goodie.

Vietnamese Pho is a rice noodle soup that relies on a sumptuous beef stock to blow it out of the park. The stock really is the biggest source of flavour in this dish, so the more time and care you invest into it, the better this bowl of nutritious goodness will be.

Homemade stock, or broth as it is sometimes called, has many nutritional benefits all on its own. It’s a rich source of gelatin, which does many amazing things for your body, such as promote skin health (gelatin contains both glycine and proline – two amino acids which are both used in the production of collagen), and joint health. Not to mention, it’s rich in all sorts of vitamins and minerals, including calcium. Using the bones of an animal to make stock also promotes ‘nose to tail’ eating, something which is becoming increasingly rare in today’s society, which focuses primarily on muscle meats. In my opinion, eating only muscle meats doesn’t show the animal the respect it deserves (it gave its life so that you may have better health), and is just purely wasteful. Traditionally, this soup also makes use of beef tendons, which are again an excellent source of gelatin.

So now that I’ve finished my big rant about beef broth, I have to confess that I am not using beef broth for this dish! I have a large jar of chicken stock left over from last weekend’s borscht that needs to be used, so I will be using that instead. However, the same nutritional benefits hold true, and the same steps need to be followed.

Stock

I store my stock in a 2 litre glass jar that has a rubber ring and a latch. This prevents it leaking in the freezer.

Next weekend I will post my actual ‘recipe’ for stock (even though I generally make it up as I go along), but for now all you need to know is this: a good stock is simmered for about 8-12 hours, and contains aromatics such as onion and garlic, and bay leaves. I also tend to snap a few carrots in half and throw them in, along with a good portion of salt, whole black peppercorns, and a sploosh of apple cider vinegar. The salt and vinegar help to draw the vitamins and minerals – and thus, the flavour! – out of the bones. Don’t forget them!

For me, this soup is just as much about the herbs as it is about the stock. Coriander and mint are essential – don’t leave them out, or your dish will be sorely lacking. I’m not even the biggest fan of coriander, but Pho without coriander feels incomplete.

If your stock is pre-made, as mine was, this dish should take you no more than about 40 mins to make. For the purposes of this recipe, I’m going to assume you’ve already pre-made your basic stock, so we’ll be starting with the infusion of the Vietnamese spices.

Prepare your spices

From top clockwise: ginger, cinnamon, star anise, cloves and peppercorns, bird’s eye chilies.

Disclaimer: I’m not going to pretend that this recipe is ‘authentic.’ I have never been to Vietnam, nor been shown this recipe by a Vietnamese person. This is my personal interpretation of multiple recipes and televised cooking shows (such as Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey).

Ingredients (serves 3-4):

Stock:

2 litres beef stock (or chicken, in a pinch)
2 inch piece of fresh ginger, cut into chunks
2 full star anise
6 whole cloves
12 whole black peppercorns
1 stick of cinnamon, snapped in half
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tsp palm sugar

3-4 portions of rice noodles – medium width

Topping:

500g beef, thinly sliced (a cheap cut works, such as chuck or rump)
Bean sprouts, washed
Bunch fresh coriander, roughly chopped
Bunch fresh mint, roughly chopped
1-2 spring onions, thinly sliced
1-2 bird’s eye chillis, thinly sliced

Optional Garnishes:

Deep fried shallots
Thai basil
Sriracha
More fish sauce
Lime juice

Directions:

1. Place the stock in a large pot, and bring to the boil. Once you have a rolling boil, throw in the cinnamon stick, cloves, peppercorns, ginger, star anise, fish sauce and palm sugar. Leave to infuse for about 20-30 mins.

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I threw the root ends of my spring onions in, too.

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Fish sauce adds an ‘umami’ flavour that can’t be replaced by anything else in this dish (although I suppose soy sauce would be a very loose approximation in a pinch). I use Golden Boy fish sauce, and it’s cheap as chips.

2. While the stock simmers, slice your meat and veges. The meat should be sliced as thinly as possible as it will only be cooked by the boiling stock.

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From top clockwise: Spring onions, bean sprouts, bird’s eye chilies, mint, lime, coriander.

Make sure you run your knife through the mint and coriander once only – otherwise you’ll bruise the herbs.

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The beef needs to be as thin as you can get it. This helps it to cook, and to maintain tenderness. Remember – it’s a cheap cut of meat – so it needs all the help it can get!

3. Boil another pot of water with a little salt. When you’ve got a rolling boil, drop in your rice noodles.

When al dente, drain, and arrange in the bottom of 3-4 bowls.

Arrange the noodles 

My rice noodles come tied up in bunches with bamboo – how cute!

Boil the noodles

4. Once the noodles are arranged in the bottom of the bowl, lay the beef over the top in a single layer.

Add the beef

5. Turn the heat off the stock, and ladle the stock over the beef until the fluid covers the noodles.

Add the boiling stock

The stock begins to cook the beef.

6. Now, add the toppings to your taste. As you can see, my personal preference is a LOT of herbs. I’ve also squeezed 1/2 a lime over the top for some added zing. You could add sriracha, or more fish sauce.

Pho - Sriracha & Fish Sauce

Pho - Finished Product

Bon appetite!

Paleo-ize It! Omit the palm sugar, and make your own sriracha. Serve with zoodles (zucchini peeled into ribbons), or Korean sweet potato noodles instead.

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