Beef Pho

by Ann Marie Michaels on March 9, 2012

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Beef pho

I have always loved Vietnamese noodle soup. It’s called pho (pronounced “fuh”). You can get it with chicken or beef or pork — or any number of other varieties (even ostrich and clam). But beef pho is a classic.

Pho is said to have originated a century ago in northern Vietnam, originally sold only by street vendors (their version of our New York hot dogs). Of course, most of the pho you find in restaurants these days is made with MSG instead of real bone broth.

Which is why I had to figure out how to make it at home. Traditional beef pho is made with beef broth including bone marrow. If you can, make homemade beef broth including marrow bones, so the marrow is incorporated into the stock. This is the most traditional, most delicious and most nutritious way of making beef pho. And what better way to get your ration of bone marrow?

Recipe Notes

I adapted this recipe from one I found in Cook’s Illustrated. You really don’t need to serve anything with this soup — it’s such a nourishing meal all by itself.

If you don’t like spicy, you can skip the jalapenos. However, don’t skip the fresh herbs. Cilantro and mint and basil are what make this soup truly fresh and fabulous.

Beef Pho

Things to do ahead:

1.Make the chicken or beef stock, 24-48 hours ahead
2.Optional: Soak and dry the peanuts to make “crispy nuts” (see Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions for instructions)


Homemade beef or chicken stock (5 cups)
Garlic cloves (4)
Ginger, fresh (2-inch piece)
Cinnamon (2 sticks, 3 inches long) — where to buy cinnamon
Fish sauce, without MSG, available at the health food store or Asian market — I use Thai Kitchen brand (2 TBS)
Soy or Tamari sauce, organic & naturally fermented (1 TBS)
Sucanat, palm sugar, or raw honey (1 TBS) — where to buy sucanat
Optional: Star anise, whole (2)where to buy star anise

Bean sprouts (2 cups)
Jalapeno pepper (1)
Scallions (2 stalks)
Thai basil leaves, organic if poss., or plain basil if you can’t get Thai basil (1 bunch)
Mint leaves, fresh, organic if poss. (1 bunch)
Cilantro leaves, fresh, organic if possible (1 bunch)
Lime, organic (1)
Peanuts, ideally soaked and dehydrated (2TBS) — For instructions on how to soak nuts, see Sally Fallon Morell’s cookbook, Nourishing Traditions — we are not using a lot of nuts here, so it is optional to soak and dry them. — where to buy nuts

Filtered water
Brown rice stick noodles, or white rice stick noodles if you can’t find brown rice noodles (8 oz) — where to buy brown rice

Sirloin steak, grass-fed (12 ounces)
Black pepper, freshly ground — where to buy black pepper
Sea salt — where to buy sea salt
Tallow, lard, palm oil, or expeller-pressed
unrefined coconut oil (1 TBS) — where to buy coconut oil


Rubber Gloves
Small Serving Bowl for garnishes (or one large platter)


1. In a medium saucepan, allow the homemade stock to come to boil over medium-high heat.
2. Peel and smash the garlic cloves and add to the saucepan.
3. Peel the ginger, cut into 1/8-inch rounds, and smash with the back of a chef’s knife to help release the flavor. Add to the pan.
4. Add both the cinnamon sticks and the optional star anise into the saucepan.
5. Add the fish sauce, soy sauce and the rapadura to the saucepan.
6. Stir and reduce heat to low. Simmer,partially covered to blend flavors, about 20 minutes.
7. Remove solids with a slotted spoon and discard. Cover and keep hot over low-heat until ready to serve.

1. Wearing rubber gloves, de-seed and then thinly slice the jalapeno pepper. (Don’t attempt to do this without rubber gloves– I tried once and ended up in pain. If you do end up getting burned, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer — this is the only thing I found that works.) Add to a small serving bowl or platter.
2. Thinly slice the scallions, using both the white and green part. Add to small serving bowl or platter.
3. Rinse and dry the fresh herbs and tear the basil and mint leaves in half, if they are large. Coarsely chop the cilantro to release its flavor. Add to small serving bowl or platter.
4. Wash and slice the lime into wedges. Add to small serving bowl or platter.
5. Toast the peanuts in a small, dry skillet over low heat. Stir constantly until golden and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Set aside to cool.
6. Coarsely chop peanuts (an easy way to do chop them is to add to a freezer bag, seal and very lightly bash with a hammer). Add to small serving bowl or platter.

1. Bring 4 quarts of filtered water to a boil in a large pot.
2. Remove from the heat, add the rice noodles, stir well and let sit until tender, about 10-15 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.
3. Distribute among 4 serving bowls.

1. Slice the steak crosswise into 1/4- to 1/2- inch strips. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Sear the strips until well browned in small batches, about 1-2 minutes on each side. Set aside.
3. Add the bean sprouts to the noodles in the serving bowls. Add the steak strips to the bowls and ladle on the broth.
4. Serve hot, along with small bowls or platter of garnishes.

Photo Credit pelican, on Flickr
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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Tricia March 9, 2012 at 7:02 AM

I will try to make this thanks for sharing all the tips..


Sarah Jones March 9, 2012 at 9:55 AM

I’ve attempted pho before but have gotten sidetracked with too much creative license. I know what we’ll be making for next Monday night dinner!


D March 9, 2012 at 10:09 AM

Traditionally you put thin sliced raw meat into the hot broth and it cooks itself. Freeze meat and use an electric knife to slice very thin, then thaw. You can also buy the pre packaged herbs in muslin bags to throw into the simmering broth at the Asian market. Just herbs not the instant pho mixes. Also buy the fresh rice noodles and you don’t have to cook them separately. Just put the noodles in your bowl and pour the hot broth on top. Add meat and veg, Voila!


Anna March 9, 2012 at 10:12 AM

We discovered a local place which makes its own beef bone broth. It is amazing! :-)


waggie March 9, 2012 at 11:28 AM

My family eats Pho almost once a week. To get a VERY rich and wonderful flavor to your beef stock add tendons with the bones. It really improves the flavor of the Pho (and is traditionally used). To save money I use meat balls (also the kids like the meat balls better). I just put the previously made and frozen meat balls in the soup. Or I’ll save any meat pieces from making stock. And if you don’t have time to add all the seasonings you suggest just put chinese five spice and white pepper. We also like to put Red Rooster sauce and Hoisin sauce on the table for people to use as they want. (need to make a fermented hot sauce) Also other garnishes we use are bean sprouts (mung), young pea greens, bok choy, and thinly sliced carrots. We also buy the fresh noodles although we have also used dried buckwheat noodles, which is also good.


Linda March 9, 2012 at 12:34 PM

Hi Ann Marie… thought you might enjoy the post I did for our blog on Pho. I used oxtails for the bone broth.


Gina A. March 9, 2012 at 4:23 PM

While this version looks delicious, it’s not authentic enough for my taste. Star anise is not optional, it’s a must! And where’s the fennel seed, coriander seeds, cardamom and cloves?
I highly recommend this recipe, not just for the authentic flavors, but it also calls for boiling the bones shortly before making the stock, in order to remove excess fat, blood, and other impurities that cloud up the stock. It’s truly amazing!


Kat March 10, 2012 at 3:56 AM

I am Vietnamese and I agree with Gina. The spices are a must as is parboiling the bones so that you have a clear broth. And the flavor is absolutely not right unless you char the onions & ginger first. Traditionally, no matter what all the recipes online say, a beef pho broth is usually cooked for a few days.

My kids love the broth with soft cooked eggs in it for breakfast.


Stephanie March 10, 2012 at 8:00 AM

Yummmm. I love pho. Must try this recipe. Thanks so much for sharing.


Jessica March 12, 2012 at 2:16 PM

Oxtails! What a great idea. I have a pound of pastured oxtail in the freezer but wasn’t sure what to do with it. Not enough for a full stockpot of bone broth but I wanted to do something different from our usual soups.

We love pho!


Erin March 14, 2012 at 3:33 PM

One of my newest favorite obsessions. I go to the student union building at my work to order it almost three times a week until I thought about the MSG factor. I just started making it at my house and am in love :) Thanks for sharing!!


Nutrition by Nature March 15, 2012 at 8:29 PM

Yum! I’ve just gotten back from spending three weeks in Vietnam practically living on traditionally prepared pho, broths, congee and fresh fruit. I expected to feel terrible on this kind of diet (having spent most of the last year avoiding grains and fruits, total low-carb overkill) but I felt AMAZING. It’s made me totally reassess my diet, funnily enough.
My favourite thing in Vietnam was having pho for breakfast (and sometimes lunch and dinner too!), there’s something so deeply nourishing about it when made with the proper bone broth and loads of amazing spices and herbs.
Thanks for the recipe! I’m looking forward to recreating it in my kitchen at home.


Olivia Scott @ Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Healthiness March 17, 2012 at 4:58 PM

Oh YUM! it is so cold and rainy here in oregon…I’ve been craving a delicious and nutritious warm soup. Thanks!


Jude March 17, 2012 at 9:29 PM

Thank you for sharing this recipe! My husband LOVES Pho, but I really try to avoid us eating it because he has a sensitivity to MSG. This recipe actually looks doable.

One question – are there any Pho restaurants out there that do not use MSG? If so, how does one find them? I have read that it is impossible to avoid MSG when buying this dish. If anyone has suggestions on how to find it with no MSG, I would greatly appreciate it. I live in the Seattle area. Thanks!


Esther March 18, 2012 at 2:02 PM

Yum! I will have to try this once I have the herbs growing in my garden. :) It looks delicious (although quite involved!). I might take some of the advice from the other recipe link below and add those steps to this one. :) Thanks.


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