This is an authentic pho recipe from the turn of the century, introduced to me by my Executive Sous Chef, Victor Coi Min Tran.
1900AD that is, not Y2K!
It's an heirloom recipe from Hanoi, and the method for enriching the broth uses a very traditional flavour enhancement – dried marine worms from Vietnam's far North coast.
In modern times, factory produced seasonings and the search for economy of both time and money has led to salt, sugar, MSG and stock powders.
In the old days, natural ingredients were used to produce a superior tasting, better-textured broth.
This page goes through every step required to make a perfect authentic Pho recipe.
Soaking, Blanching, simmering, re-infusing, and following up with how to serve and garnish.
If you prefer the modern, 'non-heritage' version, don;t worry about the sa sung worms, and adjust the taste with sugar and MSG (or Knorr chicken/pork powder)
Ingredients for classic Pho Stock
3000g Beef Bones, blanched, rinsed
1100g Beef brisket & beef shin
500g Beef tendon, cleaned
15g Cardamom pods, local, toasted
25g Cinnamon sticks, toasted
5g Star Anise, toasted
160g Onion, brown, charred
45g Ginger root, charred
7000g Water, warm/room temp
30g Rock salt
25g Fish sauce, Vietnamese
350g Shallots, red, peeled
*If not using natural sa sung worms, (see below), then add 20g of yellow lump rock sugar or sugar, and 25g MSG (or Knorr chicken powder)
*See preparation method below the following 4 photos
The classic method for an authentic pho recipe
- Cover the bones with cold water and soak for 1 to 3 hours.
- Empty soaking water, cover with fresh water in a pot, bring to a rapid boil for 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat, discard all water, then rinse bones well in clean cold water
- Cover cleaned bones with cold water, then add the rinsed brisket, tendon and shin. Slowly bring to a gentle simmer over a low flame. Skim to remove impurities and fat as they float.
- Toast the spices in a pan until lightly smoking
- Char the ginger and onion over an open flame on a wire rack. They should be charred pretty dark.
- Cut/smash the charred ginger & onion & add them into the stock with toasted spices
- Add shallots and 2/3 of the seasonings. Keep 1/3 seasonings to adjust when finished
- Simmer very gently for 4-6 hours. It should only be moving slightly, NOT boiling. When meat is cooked tender (around 3 hours), remove, and cool covered in some broth.
- Skim regularly to remove excess fat and scum from the surface
- Strain the stock through a tammy cloth or muslin – don't force through a sieve or push the solids to strain liquid out. The perfect Pho stock is balanced, aromatic and totally clear, An almost white transparent broth with a rich aroma. Hanoi Pho
The secret to the clarity is the initial blanching/boiling, and the ongoing skimming and removal of fat and scum. Starting the cleaned bones in cold water, and bringing them very slowly to a simmer also helps to keep the stock clear.
The final point is not stirring, agitating or straining the solids and liquids after cooking. Ladle or pour off, gently and with care.
Now your pho stock is ready, and your meat is cooked through and ready to serve.
Always check the braised beef. The shin and the brisket should be SO tender, with no chew at all.
It shouldn't fall apart, but it should be effortless to cut, chew and swallow.
Cool the meat covered with some pho broth so it doesn't dry out.
To serve the Pho, we'll use some sliced braised beef, some braised tendon, and some fresh raw tenderloin which will turn in to rare beef as we ladle the simmering stock over it (next step – see below)
Pho stock – the second seasoning
6500g basic pho stock
1g Mandarin skin, dried
70g Spring onion
170g Onion, brown, grilled black, then peeled
150g Ginger root, grilled balck, then peeled
4g Licorice (cam thao), dried
8g Cinnamon stick
15g Cardamom pods, local
10g Sa Sung, dried sea worms - toasted in a dry pan
We normally give Pho a 'second infusion' just to lift and fine tune the broth. This can be done in the last hour of cooking if you like, to re-balance the spices. The pho stock should be clean, beefy, aromatic and clear – with the combined ingredients harmonious and balanced.
Sa sung worms, pictured above, are traditionally used to give the Pho stock a rich, lip-smacking texture and deep umami taste.
They are marine worms that live on the beaches of Northern Vietnam and China.
The worms are cleaned, dried, then chopped and toasted.
When you use sa sung, there is really no need for MSG and sugar. The immediate impact will be sweetness, a sticky richness to the broth, and a noticeably increased depth of flavour.
Sa Sung is not generally available outside Vietnam and China, so if you're visiting here, take some home with you.
They're dried, and cost around $60 a kilo. They are very light.
To use, simply toaste them by tossing in a dry pan until crispy and starting to colour. Then chop roughly into segments, shake out any sand, and add to a muslin bag with aromats, and infuse in simmering pho stock for the last hour.
To serve (4 portions)
160g Slow braised beef brisket
100g Slow braised beef tendon
160g Fresh beef tenderloin, raw
800g Pho noodles
50g Spring onion
30g Basil, local
100g Bean sprouts, cleaned, blanched
1800g Heirloom pho stock
35g Ngo gai leaf
80g Lime wedge
- Heat the fresh pho noodles in simmering water. Drain well for at least 10 seconds and a few shakes – there should be no excess water to dilute the stoock. Divide into the warm Pho bowls.
- Slice the tender, moist, slow-braised brisket and tendon and place on top of the noodles
- Semi freeze beef tenderloin to make it firmer and easier to slice. Slice thinly and put raw beef on top of the cooked
- Ladle simmering Pho stock over, and serve garnished with braised spring onion.
- The Pho may be topped with many things. In Hanoi it can be very Spartan. Noodles, raw beef, stock, spring onion and a pair of chopsticks.
In Saigon and overseas it can have so many garnishes you lose count.
Here in Central Vietnam we normally serve Pho with local basil, Culantro (sawtooth coriander), cleaned blanched bean sprouts, and some chilli sauce. But more on that in a later post.
Questions and feedback welcome.
Where is your favourite Pho shop in Saigon? How about Hanoi? How about regional Vietnam?
In Danang City Vietnam, our favourite Pho shop is Pho Bac 63 on Dong Da Street in the city centre. Tasty and consistent.