Phở bò – Ken Brown’s Beef Noodle Soup

by on October 21, 2012
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Main Ingredients:

  • 16 oz bánh phở fresh rice stick noodles, quickly blanched (10 sec), drained
  • 1 large brown onion, very thinly sliced
  • ½ lb raw lean beef or water buffalo eye of round, sirloin, tenderloin, or other fat-marbled meats, sliced paper-thin, or, in a pinch, even shaved rare roast beef from the deli
  • ½ lb other cooked meats – leftover pot roast, VN meatballs, tripe, boiled beef tendon, etc.

Instructions Preparation:

  1. Slice the raw meat very thinly, “deli”-style. Beaucoup meat is needed. Partial freezing makes the task easier, as does a mandolin slicer. Set aside to come to room temperature.
  2. Briefly toast the dry spices in a large (about 4-qt) saucepan to bring up their aroma. Then combine the first twelve (12) broth ingredients, and bring to a boil. A tied cheesecloth or coffee filter bundle is recommended to contain the spices. Lower the heat (to reduce turbidity – we want a clear, delicate broth) and simmer the stock for ½ hour, or long enough to infuse the spices’ fragrance into the broth. (I’ve even microwaved it for Very Phast Phở!)
  3. Add the fish sauce last. The nước mắm provides saltiness as well as subtle, Southeast Asian background flavor. Check for seasoning. The broth should seem strong and slightly salty, since the noodles & herbs aren’t seasoned, but dilute with water if desired.
  4. On a platter, arrange the bean sprouts, chiles, limes, & herbs, family-style, and set out the three bottles of sauce.
  5. Divide the pasta among the four (4) 1½-quart-sized soup bowls. Layer in the sliced onion & meats, and ladle in the boiling broth to cover, plus 1 to 2 inches or so. Garnish with the green onion. Then, at the table, let each diner toss in some bean sprouts & torn-up herbs, add condiments as desired, stir it all up, and imagine dining in an exotic café in Hồ Chí Minh City!
  6. By the way, don’t forget the beer, French wine or champagne, and Vietnamese Iced Coffee!
  7. P.S. Once you fall in love with the beef/buffalo (bò) version, experiment with pork broth and Chinese roast pork, red BBQ pork, sausages, chitterlings, etc. or chicken broth and fowl meats, such as chicken, turkey, duck, etc. or seafood broth and shrimp, squid, cuttlefish, octopus, scallops, mussels, clams, crab, lobster, fishballs, etc. Just don’t forget nước mắm! It’ll be great!

Phở Bò Broth:

2½ qts beef stock, canned low-sodium beef broth or consommé, or Phở-in-a- can
4 tbsp sugar or brown sugar
1 pc ginger, 4”, unpeeled, microwaved on high for 4 min, then well crushed
2 medium white onions, microwaved on high for 4 min, then quartered
4 garlic cloves, microwaved on high for 2 min, then crushed
1 small cinnamon stick, broken
4 star anise, broken
8 whole cloves, crushed
1 tbsp whole black and/or white peppercorns, crushed
1 tbsp coriander seeds, crushed (optional)
1 bay leaf (optional)
2 pods cardamom, crushed, or 1/8 tsp seeds (optional)
¼ cup nước mắm or more, but be careful – depending on the brand, it can be salty!

Garnishes & Condiments:

4 finely sliced green onions
½ lb bean sprouts (Essential!)
+ sweet or Thai basil (Essential!) Sold by the bunch
+ fresh coriander/cilantro sprigs (Essential!) Sold by the bunch
+ other VN herbs, such as spearmint, sawtooth (culantro), purple perilla (shiso), etc.
2 Thai bird, serrano, or Jalapeño chiles – red or green, thinly sliced
2 limes, large, quartered into wedges
+ Chinese Hoisin sauce (bottled)
+ Sriracha or other hot red chili sauce (bottled)
+ nước mắm, to taste (bottled) (Yep, it’s Essential!)

Notes From an eMail recipe exhange from Ken Brown.

“I’m the Will Rogers of VN (or SE Asian or Korean) restaurants. I’m so glad to to get it, that I’ve never met a dish I didn’t like. I recall when Phoenix was a culinary desert in the 70’s. I have tested it and tweaked it many times, I’ve simplified the traditional dish over the years, so it’s a good starting point for those who want to jump into the Pho and experiment!

Notes This ethnic dish will certainly become both a family favorite and a great way to “wow” guests! The many Phở variations ensure recipe longevity though your improvisation!

Phở (~pronounced “fah” or “fəh”) is the quintessential breakfast meal in Vietnam, but it’s great any time! It’s nearly addictive! While it starts out as a basic bowl of pasta, around Sài Gòn, elegantly brightened by fresh herbs, the fragrant, spicy broth has emerged as the real star!

Get fresh Phở noodles from the many local Vietnamese (VN) or Asian markets, along with the Hoisin, chili, and fish sauces. Pre-cooked dry bánh phở is okay, too. Any other thin oriental noodles, or even linguine, can substitute in a pinch.

The fish sauce is essential! Use VN nước mắm, but others, such as Thai nam pla, will work well. If it sounds unappetizing, think again. Its sublime, je ne sais quoi, anchovy flavor is a key constituent of Worcestershire and most bottled brown meat sauces, such as A-1, Heinz, & HP. Start with some in the broth, allowing diners to kick it up at the table. It traditionally replaces soy sauce.

To present Phở as a main course, place the pasta in extra-large, individual serving bowls, add the meats & onion, and ladle in the hot spicy broth, which quickly cooks the raw beef & onion.

Then, at the diners’ discretion, a generous portion of garnishes can be added. Dumping in the sprouts and tearing up the herbs is half the fun! Enjoy with a large soup spoon in one hand and chopsticks in the other to slurp up the noodles! The Hoisin, chili, and fish sauces can be added by the diner directly to each bowl or, better yet, put in individual small bowls for dipping solid morsels fished out of the broth with chopsticks or a fork.


Phở bò – Traditional

Beef Broth:
3 lbs beef bones (ask your butcher to cut them into managable pieces)
1.5 lbs beef short ribs or beef brisket
16 c water (4 quarts)
1 large yellow onion, peeled and quartered
2 large pieces ginger, split horizontally, not peeled
10-12 whole star anise
6-8 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
2 tbs salt
1/4 c fish sauce
2 tbs sugar
Thinly sliced raw sirloin beef, if desired


  1. Bring water to a simmer, add bones and beef, simmer with onion, ginger, fish sauce and sugar for 1.5 to 2 hours. Strain foam and fat frequently, but be careful to not stir too much as you don’t want to cloud the broth.
  2. Remove brisket/short ribs, shred meat and set aside for service. Add anise, cloves and cinnamon stick in a cheesecloth or spice bag.
  3. Simmer broth with spices for another 30-45 minutes. Remove spice bag, onion and ginger. Strain broth well, keep boiling hot.
  4. Place all accompaniments out on a platter, serve alongside Phở.

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