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?
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.
Things to do ahead:
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
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
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.