Friday, February 27, 2009

Faux Pho - Rhymes with D'oh - Spicy Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup

This video recipe is my fairly weak attempt at the famous Vietnamese spicy beef noodle soup, Pho. As I shopped for the ingredients, I had a nice package of beef oxtail in my hand, but since I was just making a small batch, and I already had two beautiful beef shanks in the basket, I decided to not get them. That was a mistake.

While this beef noodle soup wasn't bad, it wasn't spectacularly great w
hich is what Pho should be. The signature of this soup is a very rich, deeply flavored, collagen-infused beef broth. I overestimated the beef shanks, and it was lacking exactly what the oxtails would have added.

Also, to add to this Pho's fauxness, I went pretty light on the spices. Real Pho has more of the aromatic spices you'll see in the video. I also didn’t add the extra sliced beef that is traditional, like brisket, flank, and thinly sliced, rare filet mignon. I also didn’t char the ginger, which is recommended. I also didn't pronouce Pho correctly - I say, "Pho," when it's actually more like, "Fuh." Despite all this, I still had a pretty nice beef soup, but it really made me crave a real Pho.

Don’t get me wrong, I encourage you to make this recipe - the technique you'll see is fairly accurate, but I advise yo
u to add a couple pounds of oxtails, and maybe twice the spices. Also, for homework, find the nearest Vietnamese restaurant and order a bowl of Pho so you can see what we are trying to do here. Enjoy!

Ingredients: (these are not what I used in the video, but what I wish I did):
2 beef shanks, and 2 lbs oxtails
1 tbsp oil
1 onion
2 whole cloves
6 clove garlic
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp whole coriander
1 cardamom pod
6 whole star anise
6-inch piece ginger sliced, (browned with the beef)
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp fish sauce
3 quarts water (some will evaporate, you'll have about 2 quarts strained)

In the bowl:
rice noodles, prepped
bean sprouts
sliced jalapenos
sambal chili sauce
fresh lime
fresh herbs - basil, mint and/or cilantro
optional: thinly sliced raw beef tenderloin

Some of my favorite soup video recipes:
Wonton Soup
Bumblebee Soup - A Hearty Bacon, Black Bean and Corn Chowder
French Onion Soup
Spicy Sausage and Kale Soup
Brodo di Manzo with Tortellini and Greens

* Please help support free video recipes, and visit my new sponsor, MOZO Shoes. Find out why chefs (like me) are buzzing about their great shoes!


Anonymous said...

Love soup. This is something I will make. Could you have used half water and half beef broth to get the flavor you were looking for? Me thinks you are going to insist on those oxtails.

Chef John said...

that would have been better, but yes, you can't sub for sticky rich oxtails

Anonymous said...

FYI, Only the Japanese consider the slurping of soup to be a compliment to the chef. For other Asians its considered rude table manners, similar to how westerns view it. Great soup btw!

Chef John said...

I reserve the right, as owner of the blog, to make stuff up, as well as give inaccurate cultural information that I just guess at. ;-)

Greg said...

As an American you also have the right to mangle any foreign word you choose. It says so right in the Constitution.

Mercy Buckets!

Unknown said...

yes there's no replacement for oxtail. Btw you could add tripe as toppings too

An Ng. said...

Well, as a Vietnamese who is well familiar with this national dish, I could tell that you got the spices -- which is the main part -- quite right. Like you said, the broth is often made with oxtail, and there actually is no meat in the broth itself. Thin slices of tenderloins are arranged on top when served. You could also season with a little bit hoisin sauce.

Two additional cultural notes here: Pho (or Phở) does not rhyme with d'oh. It's pronounced roughly 'fuh.' And slurping is only acceptable in Japan and Korea (I think). In Vietnam, it is considered very impolite.

All that said, very nice try!

Unknown said...

I usually throw in a tbsp of hoisin sauce and some sriracha with my pho. I'm going to have to try this one day.

Anonymous said...

In regards to "Pho", it's actually pronounced as "Fuh."

Think of the word Fuh as in Elmer Fudd without the "d." Just helping out a fellow chef ;)

Anonymous said...

I made a very similar soup just yesterday, but mine didn't involve boiling the beef with the soup, just adding it at the end.

My mistake was that I used the wrong kind of beef, so it got a bit chewy. The soup taste was great though!

Live and learn, right? ;)

Anonymous said...

Pho is a weekly lunch outing for me. My local place uses small chopped green onions as a topper in the bowl, and I like to add thin slices of beef eye round. Sriracha hot sauce (rooster on the bottle) is a nice sub for the chili paste.

Chef John said...

yes, thanks...that's what I said in the post. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Speaking of inaccurate cultural information, the pronunciation of Pho is not what it looks like.

I also thought it was "fo" until someone pointed out to me that it is actually "fu" (as in "fudge".)

Although using that pronunciation would ruin the "Faux Pho" rhyme, it would open up jokes about spilling Faux-Pho on the So-fa.

Nitpicking aside, thanks for the video - I have yet to find a decent asian soup recipe and this one looks delicious.

Chef John said...

If I may quote mayself from the text... " I also didn't pronounce Pho correctly - I say, "Pho," when it's actually more like, "Fuh." Are some of you just reading this blog for the pictures (and video)?

An Ng. said...

Ha ha, sorry. I saw Pho and was just too excitedly jumped to the video. When I came back and read the post, the comment has already been made, so...

Unknown said...

Chef John, haha good job on your version of "pho" lolol i have pho at least once a week! its the best thing to eat after a night out of yea... LOL sobers me up instantly! lol
again Kudos Chef john i love your videos

dsowerg said...

Many years ago I was waiting for a bowl of pho at a Hanoi roadside stall with my friends. As if in slow motion, we watched the seller take a big spoonful of MSG (those Chinese spoons you used in the video, mind you), and dumped it on the noodles.

We still ate the noodles, but had to drink bottles of water after that.

The meat in our pho was so tough that we wondered if it was buffalo meat.

I always pronounce it as "fur" with a rising tone. What you made was Pho Bo. And someone mentioned it before - do not slurp while drinking your soup. It's considered very rude and uncouth (unless you're in a Japanese ramen shop).

Lely said...

Hi, Chef John! Greeting from Indonesia :)

This is my 1st comment eventho I’ve been reading your blog for this past 6 months, and i love it. I tried couple of recipe and they were superb, so thanks a bunch, tho some didn't end up as well as yours :P

I just check the Asian section and found that you haven’t put any Indonesian food at all. Mind if I give you some recipe? I watch this video, and find the recipe is a bit similar with my favorite soup. If you're any interested, give me a word, and I’ll write down the recipe for you. I would love to share some Indonesian recipe for you.

Love your blog, your recipe, and your jokes :D

Chef John said...

thanks! what recipe are u referring to?

Lely said...

oh, that was quick :)
i'm referring to this recipe; Faux Pho - Spicy Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup.

Chef John said...

yes, i meant what recipe are you asking about.

Lely said...

oh, my mistake :P. and a little bit misunderstanding, i think.
what i meant was, i just want to share Indonesian recipe with you, maybe if you're interested. so, i'm not exactly wish some food. in the contrary, i want to share this one particular recipe called "Banjar Soup"

but, since you're asking, can you give some easy cheesecake recipe? :D

And might as well i put down the "Banjar Soup" recipe here. I haven't convert some of the measurement, i hope it's ok. Btw, pardon my english. i'm not very good in cooking vocabulary :P

1. Whole chicken cuts into 4 pieces
2. 1500 ml chicken stock
3. 5 cm of cinnamon
4. 4 whole cloves
5. 3 pieces of cardamom (peeled)
6. 4 stem of green onion, chopped
7. 2 stem of celery, chopped.
8. Oil to saute
9. Salt as needed.

Smashed ingredients:
1. 10 pieces of shallots
2. 5 cloves of garlic
3. ½ of whole nutmeg
4. ½ tsp of pepper

How to cook:
1. Boil chicken to tender. After the meat is tender, pick up and cut into pieces.
2. Saute smashed ingredients in a pan with oil.
3. Pour in the chicken stock.
4. Add the green onion, cinnamon, clove, cardamom, celery and salt.
5. Boil the soup.

Optional additional:
- Vermicelli
- Boiled egg, cut into 4 pieces
- Potato croquette
- Sweet soy sauce
- Fresh lime wedges
- Sambal chili sauce

In the bowl:
- White rice
- Sliced chicken
- Vermicelli
- Boiled egg
- Potato croquette
- Pour in the soup

This soup taste very spicy. I hope you like it. And if you already know and try this recipe, well... do you like it? :D
If you intend to do some modification on this recipe, i would like to know it. Who knows it will taste beyond great :D

Thanks, Chef. I'll wait the cheesecake recipe :)

Minh "Sa" Chau said...

Pho is my favorite food of all time, not just because I am Vietnamese and Laotian, My family makes it once in a while, and I always get excited when that delicious beef aroma comes into the air.

Chef John said...

one of my favs too!

Linh Nguyen said...

Your Pho looks so delicious but it isn't real Pho. There aren't any fennel seeds and soya sauce. Pho was originate from the North of Vietnam. So the traditional Pho doesn't have bean spouts. But if you go to the South, people always add bean sprouts into Pho. I think if you want to try the real Pho, shouldn't add any bean sprouts or eat with fresh herbs because Pho has only soft ingredients and doesn't include any crispy things. Maybe where u live they have only restaurants which are established by Southern people. However, I really enjoyed your videos, especially the directions how to make cakes. Easy to follow and understand. Thank you for sharing. Have a nice day Chef John :X

Chef John said...


Anonymous said...

Hello Chef John,

Can I use pressure cooker to cut down cooking time? Just for the broth part of course.

busy busy busy mom

Chef John said...

sure. i dont have one, so cant say how.

Anonymous said...

Hi Chef John,

I used oxtails, beef shanks, and thin beef. 3 quarts of water wasn't quite enough with all that meat. Salt is not mentioned in the recipe; however, it needed a lot, and more soya sauce than the recipe called for.

Still, my 16-year-old said it was the best soup ever:) Thanks, Anna

Chef John said...

thanks! all soup seasoning is "to taste" always! :-)

Anonymous said...

"Faux"? I don't know, it's pretty darn close to the real thing!

Anonymous said...

@sky peace

nope rude in korea too LOL
probably why we get looks wen we go to japan and eat noodles hahahha

Anonymous said...

Hi Chef John, At the Vietnamese restaurant I work at, their secret to a great Pho is putting the onions in whole, they don't use any chunks of meat just marrow bones, and at the early frying stage they fry these marrow bones along with the ginger, cassia bark, cloves, and - secret ingredient totally unfamiliar to me until now - dried flattened mini squids ( - yep these look like something from alien, but they impart a flavour that is absolutely amazing). You fry all this together until browned and then add your water, season, and strain. The beef for Pho Bo (or chicken if you are making Pho Ga) is sliced thin and put raw on top of the noodles, been sprouts and lots of vietnamese mint, then the hot soup ladeled on top cooks the meat. For Pho Bo, it's garnished with a lemon wedge, sliced red chilli, a small squirt of hoisin sauce, and a small squirt of very hot chilli sauce ( For Pho Ga, you just garnish with the cut chilli and lemon wedge. Absolutely delicious! :) Thanks for your website, I love your videos!

Anonymous said...

And yes, as someone else has said, MSG is always used liberally to flavor the stock. I don't think they need it to be honest, but it is widely used throughout Asia in the belief it balances the flavors.

Anonymous said...

Oops, and lots of fresh coriander to garnish at the end too along with the mint! :)

Chef John said...

No it doesn't work that way. I'd have to experient to give u a time, but will NOT be 1/5th the time. Will be just a bit less.

Anonymous said...

I can't wait to try this! I feel dumb for asking, but i really don't know. Do you skim any foam off the top when making this stock, like you would with chicken?

Thank you so much, Chef John. I've been teaching myself how to cook for 10 years, but my talent has exploded these past year and a half when I discovered your site! I've learned so many techniques and ideas, I can't thank you enough :)

Chef John said...

You can always skim foam no matter what the meat. Thanks!!

Phuong said...


I'm a Vietnamese and it's interesting to see your attempt at making our favorite traditional food. I've got to say that making homemade pho is difficult even for Vietnamese. It would take several failures until you could get the hang of it. I myself had to research a tons of resources before I could make pho that I believe is the closest to the pho I had in Vietnam. The determining factor of good pho is the broth. Most of the time the pho we make goes wrong is due to the broth not properly made. Also there is difference between the northern and pho and the southern pho. I come from the north and prefer northern pho since I don't really like the sweetness in southern pho, which is typical of southern cuisine.

shtank said...

Hi Chef John. I really want to make this recipe, but I can't get kosher fish sauce (I am Jewish and only eat kosher. Besides, for most jews, even kosher fish sauce would be a problem in this recipe since we generally don't mix fish with meat) Is there any remotely acceptable substitute and how much of it would I need? I have never had real pho to even compare but I would like to try this recipe.

Chef John said...

Sorry, but there's nothing like it! You'll just have to add a little more salt. I would juts cheat and try it. Who'll know!? ;)

shtank said...

God? :)

Unknown said...

i see u writte about Vietnamese food so exciting awnn :)

Jeannie said...

I love pho, and although I know it is pronounced fuh, I still pronounce it pho – it may be wrong, but I like the way it rolls off my tongue more. So in my small family (3 of us) we say it wrong. I have to add that I love thinly sliced yellow onion added to my bowl at the same time as the noodles - the slight crunchiness of the onion in an occasional bite is wonderful. I don’t like my soup spicy but that is a personal thing. When I have my chopsticks loaded with the noodles, my favorite part is squeezing lime juice on that bite. Not the same as squeezing the lime juice into the broth. Chopsticks in one hand, lime in the other, juice on almost every bite. Everyone thinks I’m crazy, but I love it. When I made pho, my house smelled like a Vietnamese restaurant for days. At first it was welcoming and I loved it, but by the end of 2nd day I figured it would be a while before I would want pho again. But I was wrong. Pho is just so comforting it would be hard to not want it every week. I have been on a soup kick lately, and I would like to say thank you for your great videos.

IRefuse said...

As a Vietnamese person who eats this at least once every two weeks, thanks to my mother, I have to say Hoisin sauce is a must for a delicious somewhat sweet broth. Please try it with hoisin sauce next time. I guarantee the hoisin sauce will make the biggest difference!

Unknown said...

Seven times I have attempted to make pho with an identical recipe as you have given here. Seven times it has been passably good, but hardly great when compared to the soup that I have eaten in several Vietnamese restaurants. Until one day...
I went to my favorite Vietnamese restaurant here in Tampa. Of course I ordered pho. I like extra vegetables in mine, so I ordered them. I prepared my soup just as I have prepared it each and every time that I eat it. A little of this, a little of that. Chopsticks in one hand, spoon in the other. And I take a BIG bite. And I am shocked at what I am eating. "Why, this doesn't taste like pho", I said to myself. The server comes over and asks how my soup is. I say, "Well, quite honestly, it's terrible and watery and bland." She says, "You put too many vegetables in it." She takes it away and quickly brings it back. I know it's my soup because it has my vegetables in it that aren't supposed to be served with this soup. I taste it and it's the pho that I know and have loved for years.
Then I got to thinking...the cook/chef forgot to put something in it. I gasp! Could there be a pho base that they put in a basic broth that they use for many other soups?
I go my wonderful Asian market and discover, "Why yes! As a matter of fact there is. Not only is there a pho base,but there are bases for EVERYTHING Asian!"
So I go home and I make my pho for the 8th time. Same instructions, same ingredients, same everything. I add the pho base, take a taste, and omg...THIS is IT!!!

Unknown said...

Chef, the whole procedure is so wrong. We do not cook Pho like this. That's one of the reason why you did not get the taste. Let me fix it for you to the correct way.

For the soup:
1. You can use oxtail but only oxtail will not give you the soup flavor. Must use oxtail and beef bone at the same time. The more bone you use, the richer the soup with get. Perfect soup color will be very clear but rich and sweet (from the bone) However, here is the step:
a. Soak the beef bone into cold water and wait for the bone to come out all the dirt and blood. Afterward, change the water again and again until you see the water clear. Your beef bone is ready.
b. For oxtail: please boil it one time to get all the dirt and blood out. Afterward, please clean it with clean water.
c. Wrap the onion, cinnamon stick, star anise, whole coriander, ginger sticks into the metal foil and grill them on the fire until you get the aroma. Clean them with water.
d. Put the bone, oxtail, onion, cinamon stick, star anise, whole coriander, fennel seeds, cardamom pod into the pot with cold water. Add some salt. (please no garlic, we don't put garlic into the beef soup) You simmer them about 6 hours.
e. After 6 hours of simmering, now you can add some fish sauce and sugar. No soy sauce please.

If you want to boil the beef shank, remember to boil it once before you put it into the soup pot. You can boil it in the last simmering hour of the soup. Afterward, cool it down and slide the beef into thin pieces. Don't chop

All other steps, you probably can review this video.

Hope you can try to cook Pho one more time. To be honest, Pho is something that very difficult to cook and have the right taste because Vietnamese people from different provinces cook Pho differently. Everyone has his/her own secret on the recipe. Every suggestive ideas I give to you is basic steps to cook Pho. Maybe over time you can invent other way to make the soup taste better.

sirabc said...

Pho is a favorite of mine, but I ran across a video of Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup and had to try making it. Many of the spices are the same in Pho. The variation i tried had tomato. I'd like to a Chef John version.