Pho at Home

Since I first discovered Pho, the anise and cinnamon scented beef soup found at every Vietnamese Restaurant up and down University Avenue in St. Paul, I have wanted to make it at home. Looking at recipes, however, led me to believe that the process necessarily involved copious amounts of gnarly beef parts and was really only feasible if one was prepared the make several gallons of stock.

A recent recipe in Gourmet magazine, combined with a trip to United Noodles gave me new found confidence that I could accomplish this feat. What follows is my adaptation of the recipe, along with some pictures of the finished product. I can’t vouch for it’s authenticity, but I can say it tasted an awful lot like the real thing.

Nick’s Pho at Home – serves 2 (Vietnamese style in big bowls)


1.5 lbs Oxtail (I got this at United Noodles, on the cheap)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium white onion, sliced
1″ piece of peeled ginger, smashed
3 scallions, white parts only, chopped
2 garlic cloves, smashed
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 star anise
2″ cinnamon stick
2 cloves
1 qt water + 1/2 cup

Heat the oil in a soup pot and brown the meat on all sides. Remove to a bowl. Add the onion, garlic, ginger and scallion to the oil and cook over medium-low heat until onions are soft and brown (10 minutes or so). Return the meat to the pan along with the spices, add the water and fish sauce, and simmer, covered, for at least 2 hours, skimming off impurities as needed.

I want to note here a technique I saw in another recipe but did not try. Another cook suggests covering the oxtails in cold water and bringing it to a boil. At the same time, boil an equal amount of water in another pot. As soon as the first pot comes to a boil, drain the oxtails and transfer them to the already boiling water in the second pot. This technique is supposed to eliminate the skimming of foam and impurities that is required in my method.

Once the broth is done, strain it, chill it and skim off the fat. I use a gravy separator for this. One of my favorite esoteric kitchen tools. Adjust the broth to taste with salt and/or more fish sauce.

When you are ready to prepare the rest of the soup, bring the strained defatted broth back to a boil and keep it at a simmer, covered.

7 oz medium flat rice stick noodles
1/2-3/4 lb eye of round or top round steak, sliced very thin (it helps if the steak is partially frozen before slicing)
1/2 thinly sliced small white onion
3 scallions, green parts only, sliced (convenient, isn’t it)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Remove from heat and add the noodles. Drain when soft, 5-10 minutes. Divide noodles into two large bowls. Add sliced beef, scallions, and onions to bowl, and pour 2 cups boiling hot broth over each bowl. The broth will cook the beef instantly. Serve with garnish.

Mung bean sprouts
Thai basil sprigs
Lime wedges
Thinly sliced jalapeno peppers
Cilantro sprigs
Fish Sauce, Hoisin Sauce, and Sriracha Sauce




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