I’ve been experimenting with homemade pho broth for about seven months now. Initially, I starting experimenting to try to cut down on our dining out budget, but when our local pho restaurant decided to close down early this summer, I felt a renewed sense of urgency.
There are many pho recipes on the interwebs and combing through them was leaving me with often weak, flavorless broths. Squid, the fantastic face of our local butcher shop, Blue Valley Meats, helped explain why my broth lacked taste bud luster. One of my failed experiments, I fell prey to feeling time constrained on my beef stock base, and only did a 12 hour simmer, then skimmed everything and added the spices. This broth was too weak. To get a true, restaurant quality pho broth, you really need to invest the simmer time to a 36-hour stock. This ensures that all the marrow, all the delicious beefiness, and minerals from your veggies and beef bones infuse into your stock. 12 hour stock truly does not compare to 36 hour beef stock.
My second failed attempt: I did a 36 hour stock, but I added all the pho spices in at the beginning. I thought the longer the spices simmered with the stock, the better. Wrong. The broth was beefy, but lacked all the delicious, bright, aromatic notes typical of good pho broth. Squid explained that by adding the spices in the beginning, the delicious essential oils from the pho spices actually gets trapped in the fat rises to the surface of your stock. When you skim the fat off, you remove most of the flavor…and trust me, you do want to skim the fat off.
So Squid from Blue Valley Meats helped me find my golden pho equation that is 90% up to restaurant quality. I think I’ll be able to dial it in even further in the next two months, but I think it is now good enough to share with you, my friends and readers.
First, make a typical 36 hour beef stock. My favorite recipe for beef stock, which has always been fool proof is Sally Fallon’s beef stock recipe from her cookbook Nourishing Traditions. Beef Stock Recipe Link
Follow the recipe. The one addition I have to the recipe link, is that after I remove the fat and strain the stock, I will put it back on the stove, bring it to a boil, and add one bunch of parsley. I’ll do a low boil with the parsley for 10 minutes to add addition nutrients to the stock, fish it out and then I have beef stock.
Sidenote: I like to make large quantities in one go, so I make my stock in a large stockpot on the stove. I make about 44 cups of stock each time. It makes the 36 + hour process seem more rewarding to me. I often start with 9 pounds of bones and 6 pounds of meaty neck or rib bones or oxtail. Feel free to playing around with doubling the recipe. I highly recommend getting a large stock pot for future stock endeavors.
Turning it into pho stock:
Now that you have removed the parsley, you’ll have a pretty clear, but dark beef stock. If you have made a 36 hour broth, you will now be left with about 1/2 of the volume of water you started with. Refill up to roughly where the water was with all the veggies and bones in the stock pot. (This is almost adding 1/3 the volume that you currently have). Add your pho spices. Bring to a low boil and simmer for 2-4 hours to infuse your delicious, nutritious broth with all the umph and brightness of pho. Taste test it at 2 hours and decide if it needs longer or if it is perfect.
If you are aiming for 44 cups of stock like I do, then you’ll want to add the following spices:
- 20 Star anise
- 6 inches of fresh ginger, chopped (for extra flavor, you can char these on a baking pan in the oven at 350 for 15 minutes)
- 12 whole cloves
- 10 cinnamon sticks
- 16 ounces of fish sauce
- 2 Tablespoons raw sugar or rock sugar
Like I said above, it is 90% to my ideal pho recipe. There is no MSG in it, so it will never quite taste like some pho restaurants in the Seattle and Portland area.
Now why go to all the effort to make pho stock for home? One: it is delicious! Two: once you have the broth made, making pho for dinner only takes 10 minutes, so the hours of simmering 1x a month or less means you will have many super-fast, delicious dinners on a busy night. Three: it actually saves you money over the long haul. Eleven boxes/tetrapacks (44 cups) of beef stock that is less nutritious than your homemade stuff, cost nearly double what the same number of servings costs in ingredients for homemade broth. Plus you get to feel super badass for cooking with gnarly bones all weekend. Finally: it’s delicious!
Making the final product of pho for dinner:
When I go to the butcher for bones, I also like to get 1 pound of top round or sirloin that I have the butcher freeze for a few hours, and then slice for me, into paper thin slices of beef. When I take them home, I freeze them in single serving batches. This usually makes about 8-9 single serving batches in the freezer. If you prefer, chicken pho, get a whole chicken from the rotisserie, shred it, and freeze it in single serving batches.
Day of Pho:
When I plan to have pho for dinner, I’ll pull out a mason jar of frozen pho broth in the morning and leave it to defrost on the counter over the day. I’ll also pull out the desired number of meat portions from the freezer and put in the fridge to defrost.
I like to use zoodles or zucchini noodles for my pho, instead of rice noodles. 1) it takes less time/prep, and two I love to sneak extra vegetables into my diet.
Night of pho: Place the defrosted broth in a saucepan on high heat. Bring to a roiling boil. Meanwhile, assemble your pho bowls.
- 1 zucchini per person if using zucchini noodles, or already boiled rice noodles for each bowl. zoodles are made by julienning the zucchini into the bowl.
- 1/4 cup julienned carrots per bowl
- 1/8 cup, paper thin sliced sweet or yellow onion in each bowl
- optional: paper thin sliced red cabbage, sauteed shiitake mushrooms in each bowl
- Your desired meat. If using the paper-thin sliced beef, just defrost it, and put into the bowl raw.
Prepare your garnishes: mung bean sprouts, lime slices to squeeze over the soup, roughly chopped cilantro, and Thai Basil. You will also want to have some Sriracha or other hot chili sauce, and hoisin sauce to doctor up your pho.
Once the stock is boiling, pour it over each bowl. The boiling broth will cook the paper thin beef slices and the zucchini noodles for you. Then garnish how you like it and enjoy this aromatic, nutritious dish!