It took a while for my head to adjust to hot soup in a hot climate first thing in the morning – but it makes a lot of sense. The best joints open at 6 am and are closed by 11 am. There’s a little spot in the alley next to St Joseph’s Cathedral in Hanoi. If you get there early you’ll see the crowds of happy locals. The meat is fresh from the markets and consumed immediately and the delicious, complex Phở broth gives you extra liquid to sweat off and stamina to last until lunchtime and your next gastronomic adventure.
Timing: 4 1/2 hours
- 4-inch section ginger, unpeeled
- 1 lb or 500kg yellow onion, unpeeled
- 6lbs or 3kg beef marrow, knuckle, oz tail, and/or neck bones, parboiled and rinsed
- 5½ quarts or 5 litres water
- 5 star anise
- 6 whole cloves
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 1 x 3-inch cinnamon stick
- 1½ lbs or 700g boneless beef brisket, chuck or cross-rib roast, cut into 2 pieces
- ½ oz Chinese yellow rock sugar
- 1½ tablespoons fine sea salt
- About ¼ cup fish sauce
- For assembly
- 6 to 8 servings pho noodles
- 1lb/500kg beef flank steak, sliced thinly against the grain
- 2 to 3 cups mixed herbs (cilantro, basil, and mint)
- 2 to 3 cups trimmed bean sprouts
- 1/2 cup sliced scallions
- Thinly sliced Thai chilis
- 2 limes, each cut into 4 wedges
- Hoisin sauce and Sriracha
- In a bit of vegetable oil caramelize onions and ginger turning occasionally, until deeply brown on all sides, about 10 minutes total.
- Combine beef shins, marrow, knuckles, oxtail, chuck, and brisket in a large stockpot. Cover with cool water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Boil for 15 minutes, then dump water and meat into sink. When cool enough to handle, rince parts under cool running tap water, carefully scrubbing debris from off of any bones and out of cracks in the meat, then return them to the pot. Cover with cool water.
- Add charred onions, ginger, anise, cinnamon, fennel, cloves, coriander, fish sauce, sugar, and 1 tablespoon salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a bare simmer, and cook, skimming occasionally, until brisket and chuck are tender but not falling apart, about 1 1/2 hours. Transfer brisket and chuck to a small bowl and cover with cold water. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
- Continue simmering broth for a further 4 hours, topping up with water as necessary. Strain broth through a fine mesh strainer. If desired, pick meat and connective tissue from oxtails and beef shins. Discard bones and aromatics. You should end up with about 4 quarts broth. Dilute with water or reduce as necessary to reach 4 quarts. Keep hot.
- Carefully skim fat off of surface of broth and discard. Season broth to taste with additional fish sauce, salt, and/or sugar. It should be highly seasoned. Slice cooked beef into thin slices or rough chunks.
- Prepare pho noodles according to package directions. To serve, place re-hydrated noodles in individual noodle bowls. Pour hot broth over noodles. Serve immediately, allowing guests to top with cooked meat and slices of raw flank steak, herbs, aromatics, lime, and sauce as they wish.
Place in the bowls before ladling out the soup
1 1/2-2 lbs/ 750gm-1kg small (1/8-inch wide) dried or fresh banh pho noodles (“rice sticks” or Thaichantaboon)
1/2 lb/250gm raw eye of round, sirloin, London broil or tri-tip steak, thinly sliced across the grain (1/16 inch thick; freeze for 15 minutes to make it easier to slice)
1 medium yellow onion, sliced paper-thin, left to soak for 30 minutes in a bowl of cold water
3 or 4 scallions, green part only, cut into thin rings
1/3 cup chopped cilantro (ngo)
Ground black pepper
Optional garnishes arranged on a plate and placed at the table
Sprigs of spearmint (hung lui) and Asian/Thai basil (hung que), Leaves of coriander (ngo gai), mint, the Vietnamese use a shiso-like leaf and lots of green herbs that I don’t know the name of, Bean sprouts (about 1/ pound) Red hot chillis (every Pho we’ve had in Vietnam uses different chillis with vastly different flavours and heat) , thinly sliced, Lime wedges