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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Beef noodle soup (Pho). A pho-nomenal Vietnamese noodle soup

Vietnamese have an love affair with Pho, you can say we are pho-natics. It's without a doubt, the most popular and most devoured noodle soup in Vietnam. Enjoyed by the millions each day, for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

What makes this noodle soup so special you ask? Well Lets take a closer look.

It all starts with the legendary beef broth. Ginger and onions are char grilled and blacken to release a sweeter flavour. Spices are toasted to maximise the aroma. A selection of bones and meats are use to create an intense beefy flavoured broth. Is then all simmered together for at least 4 hours, continuously skimming off impurities to produce a clear aromatic broth.

A selection of meats, (including slices of raw beef, beef balls, briskest, beef tendons and tripe) are arranged on a bed of the freshest rice noodles. Hot aromatic broth is poured over slivers of raw beef, cooking it to perfection.

Hmmm... are you hungry yet? But wait there is more, onto the accompaniments. A selection of the freshest herbs, crunchy bean sprouts and zesty lime adds an additional dimension in flavour and texture. Finally, a side of dipping sauce of hoisine and sirracha chilli sauce to finish off. Enjoy!

This recipe is courtesy of my MIL, an extraordinary and exceptional cook. My mentor who regularly contributes to many of my recipes. Her Knowledge and understanding of Vietnamese cuisine is remarkable. It's through her that I'm able to keep many of these treasured recipe alive and share it with you. It is my mission and attempt to keep alive many of these traditional family treasure recipes. Further down, I will post a series of recipes under the banner of MIL recipes. Be sure to keep an eye out for it!

Beef noodle soup (Pho)- by foodaffairvietnam


2 kg (4 lb 8 oz) oxtails (ask your butcher to chop it into 3 cm/11/4 inch pieces)
1 kg beef leg bones
4 tbsp salt
4 large onions
150g size ginger
1 packet of Pho spice pouch
3/4 cup fish sauce
80g cup rock sugar or white sugar
1.6 kg fresh rice noodles (you will need about 200 g per person)
400 g (14 oz) flank, rump or eye of round, thinly sliced
200 g bag of beef balls


4 spring onions, roughly sliced
1 small bunch Coriander, roughly sliced
1 small bunch of sawtooth coriander, (Ngo Gai) roughly sliced
1 bag of bean sprouts
1 bunch Asian basil, (Rau Que)
2 bird’s eye chillies, sliced
1 lemon, cut into wedges

Hoisin sauce
Sriracha hot sauce

Spice pouch

1/2 tbsp coriander seeds
1/2 tbsp cumin
1/2 tbsp fennel seeds
8 whole cloves
5 star anise
2 cassia bark,
1 tbsp whole black peppercorns
40 cm square piece muslin cloth


1. Submerge the oxtail and leg bones in cold water, add 3 tablespoons of the salt and soak for 1 hour, then drain. I like to do this in the kitchen sink, it's much more convenient and save a bit of cleaning. Always a bonus.

2. Meanwhile, char gill the unpeeled onions and ginger evenly until all sides are slighty blackened. Now peel the blackened skins and discard them. This way, the onion and ginger becomes sweet and fragrant, releasing more flavour into the stock. cut the ginger into large thick slices leaving the onion whole.

3. Put the oxtail, leg bones with 6 litres of cold water in a large stockpot and bring to the boil. While the stock is boiling, constantly skim any impurities off the surface for 15 minutes. By doing this, will result in a clean and clear broth.

4. Reduce the heat to a low simmer. Add the fish sauce, remaining salt, rock sugar, onions, ginger and spice pouch. Cover and simmer for 4 hours, frequently skim off any impurities.

5. Meanwhile, clean and prepare all the herbs and table accompaniments.

6. Finally skim any impurities and excess fat off the suface. Taste for seasoning and adjust to your liking.

7. Add the beef balls into the stock 5 minutes prior to serving, cut in half if they are larger in size.

To serve

1. Blanch each portion of noodles in boiling water for 30 seconds. Drain, then transfer to a serving bowl.

2.Place 5 or 6 slices of raw beef on top of the noodles. Pour the hot stock onto raw beef and enough to cover the noodles. I like enjoy my beef medium rare but if you prefer well done, blanch it in the stock for a little longer. Portion the beef balls and oxtail to each bowl.

2. Garnish with spring onion and coriander to each bowl. Enjoy with choice of accompaniments (hoisine sauce, chilli sauce, fresh chilli, bean sprouts, basil and a squeeze of lemon).

To make the spice pouch

Dry roast each ingredient separately in a frying pan over medium heat until fragrant. Cool, then add the spices to the muslin square and tie up tightly in a knot. For convienience, store bought Pho spice pouch is available at most Asian supermarket.

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