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How To Make Pho

how to make pho recipe If you want to learn how to make the traditional Vietnamese dish of beef pho (pho bo) then you might find yourself thinking that a pool guy is a strange place to get that recipe from...let me explain. Regular readers of my website about pools and spas will already know that I enjoy teaching and I try to be as articulate as possible to help present complicated or difficult technical processes. Combine this with the fact that I am a die-hard "foodie" and rule my kitchen with an iron fist and you might start to see how this makes sense. Finally, while I am clearly not a little old Vietnamese grandmother, I did go to Vietnam with the intention of learning how to make this unique and aromatic soup. This is a pretty serious dedication to beef noodle soup some would say...and they would be right. I could not possibly pick a favorite food - but if I made a short list pho would be on it. Are you ready to learn about pho yet because I am about to start dropping some knowledge on you here. Check out this little pearl of wisdom:

Pho does not rhyme with toe, you know. Pho rhymes with fuh. A lot of people struggle to say the name of this iconic soup even after hearing a description of the difference or seeing "fuh" written down. Simply pretend you are having trouble making a decision while you are reading a dinner menu and you are saying "uhh" and now add an "F" to the start of it. FUH - like "fun" but without the "N".

Who cares if you say "foe" or "fuh" anyway? Most Vietnamese people probably do since "fuh" is how you say the name of the iconic bowl of soup and "foe" is how you say prostitute in Vietnamese. This is an appreciable difference but you go ahead and order a bowl of whatever you want. I am not here to be your moral compass.

What Is Pho?

traditional Vietnamese Pho For the uninitiated, pho is a simple broth and noodle soup often topped with a handful of fresh herbs. While this may sound fairly simple, and in ways it is, this is also a vastly complicated dish with layers of flavors all in an equilibrium like balance. If you are a food oriented person then that probably makes sense to you already. If your diet comes mostly with fries on the side then you might not exactly get what I mean.

First, as a Canadian, I find that the flavor profile of pho to be foreign. The choice of spices are not something that I was exposed to in my home cooking growing up, nor any local restaurants, that is until I moved to Chinatown in Vancouver anyway. So right away there is something exotic about pho to my taste buds. As an example the star anise in the soup has hints of black licorice. I actually despise black licorice but as a layer in the flavor profile it is just perfect. The balance of sweet, salty, sour and hot in this soup is just incredible. To describe this balance further basically the soup is so salty it is almost too salty, but the sourness from the fresh limes balances the saltiness. But then the soup is almost too sour from the fresh limes squeezed into it, but it is not, because the sweetness of the rock sugar and heat from the black pepper (and chillies if you add them) help to level everything out. I believe it is this balancing act of flavors that makes pho so amazing...and worth the effort.

Despite being just a broth based soup, pho is the single most complicated recipe that I know how to make.

Pho can not be rushed. The secret to a good pho versus a bad one is time and also the care you need to put in to make it just right. When I set out to make pho at home it takes at minimum eight hours of cooking time. While much of this time will be hands-off simmering, there will need to be near steady interaction in the way of adding ingredients at certain time intervals, skimming and scooping off foam from the beef marrow, or prepping the next set of ingredients that you will need. If you want to make a quick pho I am sure that you could and it would be OK but if you want to experience the real deal you need to be willing to put in the time.

How To Learn To Make Pho

trip to Vietnam to learn how to make pho If you are like me and can not get enough pho in your life then you need to learn how to make it yourself. I am extremely picky with my food and the hit-or-miss trips to local pho restaurants left me wishing that I could just make this dish for myself. I am fairly accomplished in the kitchen. I can, and do, cook turkey dinners, roasts, fall off the bone ribs and all sorts of dishes which require technical precision to have turn out well. I can bake pretty much anything, and I have developed over a lifetime what I consider to be the worlds greatest chocolate chip cookie recipe (future blog post coming). I make all of my own sauces like BBQ sauce, mayonnaise, salsa etc so how hard could it be to make a broth soup? Well, like I said, making pho is the single hardest recipe I know. You can probably cut all kinds of corners and make something decent...but I wanted to learn the real deal as closely as I could.

So I left my house in the GTA area in Ontario Canada and flew to New Jersey. From there I caught a 16 hour and 45 minute flight to Hong Kong. From Hong Kong I flew to Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) which is in the southern area of Vietnam. Next I flew all the way to the north end of Vietnam to the city of Hanoi, capitol city of Vietnam, one of the oldest cities in the world, and home to over 10 million people. Finally I flew to the central area of Vietnam and made my way from Da Nang airport to Hoi An, a riverside community surrounded by farmland perhaps only 30 minutes inland from the ocean. In Hoi An I ventured into "ancient town" to find a local guide that I could learn to cook from. You see, pho is prepared and served differently depending on where you are and who is making it. Pho in the south of Vietnam is fancy with herbs and accompaniments, where pho in the northern areas of Vietnam is rather plain looking by comparison. I ate pho all along my trip in both the southern areas as well as the north before finally making my way to the center of Vietnam. I figured Hoi An would be a good place to learn to cook pho since it would not be too heavily biased in one direction or the other in terms of north versus south preparation styles. Fortunately Hoi An thrives on travelers and there are many, many cooking classes to be had. I took the time to speak with other tourists, read reviews and finally spoke with a few locals whom I had befriended in order to find the best and most authentic cooking instruction I could find. I had literally traveled to the other side of the world so I wanted to be sure I was getting the most true representation of what I was there to learn. The day of the first cooking class I took was quite an experience.

Pho Cooking Classes In Vietnam

pho cooking class in Vietnam I was up and out the door by 5:30am for this first cooking class. It is unbearably hot in Vietnam and I was there during the hottest part of the year. Everything happens early or late as the mid-day sun is dangerously powerful. How hot could it be you might wonder...well, I saw an Australian guy pass out from the staggering heat on one of the outings I took to the ancient ruins of My-Son (Mee-Son). If Australian dudes are passing out from the heat...it's hot buddy.

From my hotel I took a taxi to ancient town. From there we boarded a boat that would not pass a safety inspection anywhere in the world that takes the time to inspect boats. I am a very strong swimmer but the water was deep muddy brown and the chances of the boat going down were enough to pay attention to. There are lots of warnings in Vietnam travel guides about boating and water safety. Many people in Vietnam can not swim, and there are essentially no safety regulations for things like boat capacity or life jackets. It was with these warnings in mind that I tentatively boarded this boat. There were perhaps a dozen of us on this boat, including the guide, and we motored at about five knots for well over an hour. When we arrived at a boat dock we were greeted by a transporter van...one of the giant 15 person vans and we all piled in for a very bumpy 30 minute drive. At one point our van was too large for the road when another vehicle came the opposite way and we ended up backing up for about five minutes until there was an area big enough for the other vehicle to squeeze by.

boat trip to cooking class Arriving at the next destination we were again met with another boat trip. This time the boat was not powered, but instead like a large canoe. We took these little boats and paddled through a mangrove swamp (not sure about the mangrove part but the imagery fits) and after about 20 minutes of winding through maze like water channels through tall foliage on all sides we arrived at a large grass hut, open on all sides, with a thatched roof to keep the already overbearing sun off of us while we learned to cook.

The grass hut was surrounded by gardens thick with food in all stages of growth. There was another group of people already there and cooking by the time my group arrived. The person teaching my cooking class was, conservatively, 250 years old. She spoke through an interpreter (our guide) who relayed the cooking instructions from the impossibly old lady to us. If you want to try a recipe for pho that you find online at least you can be reasonably confident that I went to great lengths to get the most authentic version that I could and that is the recipe that you are reading right now.

Traditional Pho Recipe

traditional pho The origins of pho are traced back to The Capitol city of Vietnam, Hanoi, around the year 1908 to 1910. Beef, which at the time was not consumed locally, was in demand by the French who occupied Vietnam from the mid 1880's to the mid 1950's. The bones and off cuts left by the French were scavenged by the locals and sold in butcher shops in Hanoi and in nearby communities. Soup and noodle vendors saw the opportunity to use the discounted beef bones (no locals wanted beef so it had to be specially priced to sell) and started adapting the beef bones into the broth they made. The rest, as they say, is history.

Before getting into this recipe you need to be aware that pho is actually a recipe that is prepared differently every place you go. This is actually one of the defining qualities about pho in that there are so many variations. There is no single, one way to cook pho. Of every bowl that I ate while I was in Vietnam each and every one was different. Some were light and clear, some were heavy and oily. Some came loaded with raw onions, while others did not. In some areas of Vietnam it is traditional to serve pho with heaping piles of bean sprouts and fresh herbs like cilantro...where in other areas of Vietnam the soup is served more plainly and with little accompaniment other than the onions and noodles. The recipe that I am showing on this page is not the only way to make pho. There are many variations and every person will make it slightly different than the next. At least you can be confident that this is a traditional pho recipe.

Where I live in Ontario Canada I had to search to find the ingredients that I needed for this recipe. Not every item can be found in exactly the same form that I found it in Vietnam and where substitutions have been made I will be sure to point this out to you in the recipe. Hopefully you will have better luck than I in sourcing traditional ingredients for pho local to you.

Traditional Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup (Pho Bo)
Use the biggest pot you own

3 - 6 lbs of beef bones
beef tenderloin steak
ginger root
tarragon root
fish sauce
garlic (optional)
green onions
bean sprouts
rice noodles
cinnamon sticks
star anise pods
whole cloves
coriander seeds
black cardamom pods
yellow rock sugar
chili peppers (optional)
hoison oyster sauce (optional)
sriracha sauce (optional)

There are a lot of steps involved with making this "simple" beef broth soup with noodles. It is these additional steps such as skimming the broth, toasting your onions, ginger and spices as well as simmering the beef bones for many hours that results in the best pho. The broth should be clear, not cloudy, and this is one of the most defining characteristics of a "good pho" versus a poor one. The broth should be almost overly salty, with minimal oil, and should have deep beefy flavors from the bones and marrow used in the stock.

Starting Pho Broth

pho stock bones The first step in making pho is to select beef bones that are rich in fat and marrow. You want a big pile of bones to make this stock from as this is the heart of the beef flavor for the broth. Beef knuckle bones are a good choice for the marrow and collagen that they have. I also like beef ribs for making the stock as they have a ton of beef flavor. If I make the pho with beef ribs instead of marrow bones and knuckles then I often skip the beef tenderloin added at the end and pull the meat from the beef ribs after they have been boiling for a few hours. This produces a little bit of a variation on the traditional pho presentation but the flavor and texture of the beef ribs is simply amazing. In this recipe I did not use beef ribs as I was able to get a good deal on 6lbs of knuckle and marrow bones from the Asian grocery store.

Boiling the bones - When you boil the beef bones the first step is actually kind of counterintuitive. Fill your largest stock pot with water and add the beef bones to the boiling water. Let the broth boil for about three to five minutes...and then throw it out. Wait, what? Yup, pour the stock through a strainer to capture all the bones but let the water that you blanched the bones in go. There are a lot of impurities on the inside of a cow...and boiling the bones for a few minutes will strip away the surface bacteria and scum that will otherwise cause your broth to be cloudy. Every good pho recipe requires this step in order to produce a finished broth that is clear. Rinse the bones off, refill the stock pot with water, add the bones and bring the water up to a boil.

pho charred onions and spices

Charring the spices & onions - Before you add the ginger, tarragon, onions, garlic or spices to your broth you want to toast them to bring out the oils and maximize their flavor potential. I did this on my BBQ but you can also do this in a heavy, dry (no oil) pan. The onions, ginger and tarragon will take the heat very well and you can basically try to burn them. The spices are not the same. The star anise, cinnamon and cloves will burn very quickly. You want to taste them...not burn them. It only takes a few seconds, maybe 60 to 90 seconds in a hot pan to toast the spices. Everything else you can char and simply remove any seriously burnt or charred spots by scraping with your knife before you throw them into the pot. Split the tarragon and ginger in half lengthwise and peel but leave the onions and garlic whole. DO NOT add any of the spices at this stage of the broth. Set them aside for use later in the process.

pho daikon, lobok or white radish

What the hell is a daikon? - Daikon, lobok or white radish are all names that you might find this product under in well stocked grocery stores or more likely Asian grocery stores. A daikon looks like a parsnip on steroids and cuts kind of like an apple. While it does have a radish like flavor it is much, much more mild than what a radish as you know it tastes like. Picture something that is 90% potato and 10% radish and that will get you pretty close to what a daikon tastes like. If you have ever had a banh-mi traditional Vietnamese sub sandwich you might have noticed some white slices along side the carrot slices. These white slices are daikon that has been quick pickled with rice vinegar and sugar.

If you have never had a traditional banh-mi sandwich then you need to get outside your bubble. Stand up from your computer right now, abandon this pho recipe completely, and tell your smartphone to direct you to the closest banh mi sandwich store. Both myself and Anthony Bourdain command you to do so. Once you are back from the banh mi store then go ahead and chop up your daikon and throw the whole thing into your boiling stock pot.

Fish Sauce & Seasoning For Pho

pho stock in pot
So now we have blanched and rinsed the beef bones. They are back in the stock pot filled with water and boiling. We charred the ginger, onions and tarragon and added them to the broth (the spices have been toasted but are currently set aside). You chopped up the daikon and added it to the broth also. At this point you want to add salt, pepper and fish sauce to the broth. You want to be heavy handed with both the salt and pepper, but especially the salt. The broth should not punch you in the face with salt at this point, but you definitely want it to be a little on the saltier side. Part of that will come from the fish sauce.

pho cock sauce Sauce made from fish...seriously? - I use one cup of fish sauce for the largest stock pot that I have...which is only one size down from a regulation sized witches' cauldron. Fish sauce is the ketchup of Vietnamese food. You will find fish sauce in every home in Vietnam and in almost every dish you eat that is Vietnamese in origin. Yes it is made from fish, and yes it does taste fishy...but when diluted into a large pot of pho broth it becomes an integral component in the flavor profile and absolutely one that should not be skipped. It will not be the same, or as good, without it. My only regret is that I can not educate you about the very deep world that is fish sauce. I can only tell you that there are many different kinds and a wide margin of quality. Try to buy your fish sauce in a glass bottle and if there are a few options always choose the more expensive one. The store that I went to for these ingredients only had two brands which were the same price and both in glass bottles. I picked this one because they are proudly advertising their affiliation to the "cock sauce" brand. That was a bold marketing strategy but in this case it paid off for them. Bravo cock sauce...well played sir.

pho simmering in pot Skimming the broth - You want to simmer your beef broth for many hours...basically the longer the better. I consider four hours of simmering bones to be about the absolute minimum I would do for pho but I prefer eight hours for a deeper and richer flavor. You do not want to simply outright boil the bones. Simmering allows for a better release of fats, marrow and collagen and the gentle simmer versus the full boil produces a better beef flavor. Keep the lid on, but cracked, and simmer the bones, ginger, onions, daikon, salt, pepper and fish sauce for as long as you can. Continually throughout the process you will develop scum, foam, floaties and all kinds of nasty bits from the bones. Use a fine mesh strainer to continually scoop and remove these impurities which will otherwise cloud the both and potentially taint the subtle flavors of the soup. This scooping is something that you could easily skip but a higher quality and better made pho broth needs the hovering and attention...constantly stirring and skimming and fussing about. This is the love component that you hear so many great cooks and chefs talk about. The love is in the care, the tasting, the seasoning, the stirring, the straining and skimming.

pho fat skimming with ladle

Cut the fat, Jack - Pho is supposed to be light and certainly NOT oily. This can pose a challenge since we loaded up the crock pot full of the fattiest, most delicious beef bones and marrow we could find. This, of course, results in a lot of oil coming to the surface of the simmering broth throughout the cooking process. The more you reduce the bones the more oil will come off them. You need to remove as much of this as you can.

If you are serving the soup right away this is harder to do since the oil is hot. Use a small ladle or large spoon and very carefully dip it into the broth in areas where the oil is pooling. Since oil sits on top of water you will be able to remove the vast majority of the oil with a little effort. If you will be refrigerating the soup then simply remove the congealed fat layer after the soup has cooled. A little bit of oil is OK as this is a beef soup but you need to remove at least, let's say, 90% or more of the fat that comes off the bones when making the stock.

Starting To Spice Up Your Pho

pho spices

Since you are going to have your beef bones simmering for many hours you do not want to add your spices at the same time as the ginger, onions and daikon. Adding the spices too early can result in a woody, or stalky flavor in the broth which is undesirable. I suspect, from what I know about wine making, that this undesirable effect might be from the tannins in the cinnamon and anise. In any case you want to add the spices once the broth has been boiling for many hours and you intend to let the broth only simmer for one hour more, perhaps two. I tend to let the spices go a little longer because I like bold flavors but from a technical perspective the toasted spices should be in the simmering broth for an hour or less.

Vietnamese cinnamon - A short course in cinnamon is that the stuff you buy in the grocery stores, either powdered or sticks, is far off from the better kinds of cinnamon that exist. There are multiple cinnamon types and oil contents which produce different flavors and our translator described Vietnamese cinnamon as being sweeter than what we might be used to. Where I am located buying any of the better forms of cinnamon is a challenge and I often am relegated to buying regular old cinnamon sticks. This certainly lowers the quality of the broth versus a better cinnamon source but if it is regular cinnamon sticks or nothing...use the cinnamon sticks. I used three sticks for this crock pot recipe.

Whole cloves - Whole cloves are an integral part of the flavor profile for pho broth and you should add a small handful, perhaps a dozen or more, of cloves to the broth. These also burn quickly so be sure to not crisp them too much when charring the spices.

Star Anise - Star anise has a distinctly black licorice aroma and flavor. As much as I do not care for black licorice flavor in the slightest, star anise enhances the flavor of the broth noticeably and should not be skipped when making pho. This spice burns the fastest of all of them so watch for wisps of smoke coming off of the star anise to tell when they are done toasting.

Coriander Seeds - Not all pho recipes call for coriander seeds so you can decide for yourself if you will be adding them. If you have some in your spice rack then for sure add a small handful to your spices that you toast.

Black Cardamom Pods - Black cardamom pods are dried whole over a fire which gives them a smoky flavor combined with something similar to cinnamon. The more common green cardamom can be used but the larger black cardamom pods have a stronger, smokier flavor.

Once you have been simmering your stock for many hours, and you want the stock to be finished in one or two hours, this is the time to add your spices. Adding them too early can cause some problems with the flavors so letting the beef bones and other ingredients simmer on their own for a while is a great idea before adding the spices. When you add the spices you can just toss them right into the stock or you can also use some sort of perforated vessel to hold them all in one place. If you don't mind straining your entire stock then it does not matter but sometimes I like to be able to remove the spices on their own. Having them in a loose leaf tea strainer works very well to allow their flavor to diffuse in the stock while still being able to remove them quickly and easily if you want.

Yellow rock sugar - Yellow rock sugar, lump sugar, raw lump sugar are all names I have seen this product sold under. More than just sweetness like refined white sugar, the yellow rock sugar adds additional flavor notes that compliment the broth over and above sweetness. For a large stock pot I would use the equivalent of two or three dice sized lumps. You will not likely find this product in your local grocery store and white sugar (and even brown sugar) are very poor replacement ingredients.

At this point you should be tasting your broth often to make sure that you have a bold salt and pepper flavor. You also want to continue to skim any foam or fat that surfaces in your crock pot. The flavors from your pho should be strong and you want the broth to finish almost too salty. Once you pour the broth over the meat, noodles and herbs you will need that bold flavor and saltiness to bring the dish together without being bland.

Getting The Pho Ready For The Table

Pho is not just about the deep flavor profile developed from hours of simmering your stock ingredients. A big part of the pho experience is the bright and colorful presentation of the dish. The difference from one pho bowl to the next start to become more evident when you start to discuss how to finish the dish. Some traditional recipes do not include much in the way of herbs, instead being mostly onion based, while others are brimming with fresh herbs that threaten to fall out of the overstuffed bowl. Northern Vietnam, where Hanoi is, would be more likely to serve a simple beef noodle soup with not much in the way of herbs. In the south of Vietnam in Ho Chi Minh City a pho bowl ordered would most likely come loaded with fresh herbs. For my money, I prefer the herbs with my pho. It adds a freshness to the dish that compliments the long aged stock magnificently. When it comes to herbs in your pho feel free to add, delete or substitute to your taste whichever herbs tickle your fancy.

pho herbs
Herbs for pho - Cilantro is a staple of pho, as is Thai basil, both of which you should have absolutely no trouble finding. Mint leaves are also usually used however finding Vietnamese mint can be very difficult. Mint as you know it has a much stronger and more bitter flavor when eaten raw as opposed to the Vietnamese mint which is milder, pepperier and less bitter. Cullantro is another popular herb found in pho bowls. It looks like a dandelion but tastes mostly like cilantro. It has a thicker stalk than the cilantro herb and adds a fresh crunch to the broth. Green onions are also an important part of the flavor of your pho however you would only be using the green tips and not the while root bulb for topping your pho with.

pho shallots
Shallots - Pho in Vietnam compared to anything I have had elsewhere is much more onion dense. The flavor comes from shallots which are served raw in the broth as a finishing accompaniment. I personally find the raw shallots to be overpowering and some of the pho bowls that I had while traveling were not all that palatable due to overwhelming raw onion. The secret to the appropriate level of onion flavor is to thinly slice your shallots in advance and soak them in cold water in the fridge. Change out the water once or twice and you will find the shallots still have the sharp onion flavor without overwhelming the subtle flavor layers of the broth.

pho sprouts

Bean sprouts - Bean sprouts do not last long in the fridge so be sure to pick some up as fresh as you can for your pho recipe. These will get blanched in the hot water that you heated your rice noodles in directly before the pho is served. The bean sprouts only need about 60 seconds maximum in the boiling water before you can add them to the bowl.

pho limes

Limes - Pho needs the sour note from freshly squeezed limes in order to balance the flavors. While calamansi is the fruit actually served with pho in Vietnam you will most likely not find that in any grocery store you go to no matter how well stocked it is. A calamansi looks like a tiny little lime, bit the fruit is orange on the inside. It is sour, but sweeter than a lime. The translator told me that they were called kumquats, which they certainly were not, and I have not been able to find a calamansi fruit in any store I have been in since coming back from Asia. Lime is a reasonably close substitute. Calamondin is another name that you might find the traditional fruit under if you happen to have good luck in your grocery store.

pho noodles

Rice noodles - You can get any size or shape of rice noodle that you like for you pho. In a traditional sense the rice noodles that come with pho in Vietnam would be about the size of a linguine noodle...perhaps a little smaller. I like the smaller vermicelli sized noodles because they cook almost instantly but this is smaller than traditional pho noodles. Just so long as they are rice noodles and not mung bean noodles then you are good to go.

pho tenderloin beef

Beef tenderloin - There is not much meat served in your average bowl of pho, or any traditional Vietnamese dish for that matter, so the meat that you do use you want to stand out. Beef tenderloin is the ideal cut to use in pho as the flavor and texture of the beef are a perfect compliment to the soup. You can use lesser cuts of beef but if you want the best pho recipe possible then this needs to include tenderloin. You want to thinly slice the beef so that the boiling broth will be just enough to cook it as you are serving it. If you partially freeze your tenderloin steak this will help you to get a nicer, consistently thin slice for your pho.

How To Serve Pho

scooping pho broth straining pho broth Scoop all of the bones, ginger, onions, daikon and spices out from your broth to prevent them from splashing when you strain your stock. It is helpful to have a second large pot that you can transfer the pho broth over to as the pot is very large and boiling hot at this stage. Use a fine mesh strainer to remove all of the other smaller particles left in your soup. Be sure to keep the pho broth piping how right up until you serve it as you will need the heat from the broth to cook the raw beef tenderloin you will be placing on top.

Bring a pot of water to a boil and when everything else is ready and waiting to be served you quickly flash boil the noodles. You do not want to cook the noodles in the broth directly as this will make your broth become cloudy. There is no sense in spending 8 hours scooping beef foam out of your broth to turn it opaque by cooking the noodles directly with the broth. The noodles will only take about 60 seconds or less in the boiling water and then you can transfer them directly to a large serving bowl.

building layers to a pho bowl
Once you have removed the rice noodles from the boiling water you then throw in a handful of bean sprouts to blanch. These also only take about 60 seconds at most to cook and then transfer them into the noodle dish as well. Working quickly to keep everything hot you can now add in your green onions, scallions, fresh herbs and finally layer the thinly sliced beef tenderloin over the top. Ladle in steaming hot broth over top of the beef and fill the bowl until the beef is sitting submerged in the broth. Squeeze a lime over the entire bowl, mix, and enjoy.

The traditional serving method is in a large bowl with chopsticks and usually a large spoon. You eat the noodles and herbs with the chopsticks and use a spoon for the broth. It could be argued that the use of a spoon is a westernized practice and the more traditional approach is to lift the bowl and slurp the broth up directly from bowl to mouth.

building layers to a pho bowl building layers to a pho bowl building layers to a pho bowl

pho hoison and sriracha sauce

Hoison sauce - Hoison sauce, or oyster sauce, is often served with pho. In the traditional northern Vietnamese version of pho you would be less likely to find this on your table however in southern Vietnam it would be much more common. Oyster sauce is thick and salty and is used to enhance pho broth if you find it to be not salty enough.

Sriracha sauce - Adding a little heat and flavor to your pho broth is pretty normal in Canada and the USA, and even in southern parts of Vietnam, however the heat from pho usually comes just from the heavy handed black pepper component. Even though red chilies are sometimes served with pho bowls they are usually not used in the actual broth making. If heat is all you want then simply add a chili pepper or two to your bowl and the oils from the chili will slowly diffuse into the bowl as you eat it.

While the addition of sriracha sauce and hoison sauce is considered normal for most people who eat pho outside of Vietnam, these are normally only used as a cover-up for hastily made or just poor pho broth. As you can see from this recipe there is quite a bit going on in such a "simple" beef noodle soup and there are a lot of ways you can cut corners. Missing spices, not enough or poor choice of beef bones, not enough salt, not enough simmering time can all lead to a broth that is thin, flat and watery. This is where the hoison and sriracha come into play. If you are making this recipe for yourself I would strongly encourage you to skip this two optional extras as they tend to be very heavy and cover most of the subtle flavors that have been developing in the stock for the past number of hours. Even if you are a dire-hard fan of sriracha and hoison at least consider trying each pho broth you eat on its own so that you can can appreciate the complexity of the flavors before you cover everything with hot sauce. With a well made pho stock, and one that was fussed over, skimmed and loved, you certainly should not need to add any extra flavorings in order to have one of the best bowls of pho you will ever have.

best bowl of pho

Thanks for reading - Who knew you could learn so much about traditional Vietnamese pho from your pool guy? If you liked this recipe then just wait until I get around to writing up blog posts for my fall-off-the-rib BBQ ribs with home made BBQ sauce, or the single best chocolate chip cookie recipe on the planet which I have been perfecting non-stop for over 20 years. Be sure to check back in soon! If you are impressed by this cooking tutorial for Vietnamese pho then you should definitely check out my blog and tutorials about swimming pool and hot tubs which is my true area of expertise!

Swimming Pool Steve

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