I love Pho Tai – Vietnamese rare beef and noodles in soup. But I’m too often disappointed by the unauthentic, MSG and chicken broth, cheap imitations that most restaurants serve. So I finally decided to try making it myself. I can’t even describe how excited I was when I tried the Pho recipe from the cookbook, Into the Vietnamese Kitchen by Andrea Nguyen. I could tell from the smell of the broth, even before I tasted it, that I had found the perfect recipe. This is an authentic, delicious, and easy to make broth that is so good, that I’ll never be compelled to order Pho from a restaurant again. If you have leftover daikon radish, see here for a list of other recipes.
Pho Tai Recipe (Vietnamese Rare Beef Noodle Soup)
serves 8, adapted from Into the Vietnamese Kitchen by Andrea Nguyen
for the broth
2 onions, peeled
2″ long nub of ginger
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 lbs of good beef bones and ox tail, preferably leg and knuckle
6 quarts of water
1 large daikon radish, cut into large pieces (optional)
1 package of Pho Spices [1 cinnamon stick, 1 tbsp coriander seeds, 1 tbsp fennel seeds, 5 star anise, 1 cardamom pod, 6 whole cloves – in a mesh bag]
1 1/2 tbsp salt
1/4 cup fish sauce (Note: my favourite brand is ‘Three Crabs’; the darker the colour, the worse the quality; it should be the colour of brewed tea)
1 to 2 inch chunk of yellow rock sugar or more to taste (Note: Some restaurants make their broth quite sweet. I prefer my broth to be more salty than sweet. I only add enough sugar to cut the salt and round out the flavours.)
for the bowls
1/2 lb flank or sirloin sliced as thinly as possible (Note: I buy frozen packages of thinly sliced beef that are meant for hot pot or you can freeze the meat for 15 minutes prior to slicing with a good knife)
1 1/2 to 2 lbs dried rice noodles (Note: I prefer thinner rice noodles for this dish, ie. stick rice noodles)
2 big handfuls of bean sprouts
big handful of cilantro and thai basil (Note: there should be mint as well but I prefer to leave it out)
2 limes, cut into wedges
sriracha hot sauce
Place the bones into a large stock pot and add enough water to cover them. Cover the pot with its lid. Bring the water to a boil over high heat and boil for 8 to 10 minutes. Drain, rinse the bones and clean the pot. Refill the pot with the bones and 6 qts of cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat and then lower the heat to a simmer. Using a ladle or a fine mesh strainer, remove any scum or foam that rises to the top.
The original recipe suggests slightly charring the onion halves and ginger nub halves over an open flame or grill. Alternatively, you could roast them until just start to char in the oven under a preheated broiler. It is important to brown the onions and ginger in order to get the beautiful brown coloured broth. If you’re not making this for company, a simpler method is to heat oil over high heat in a frying pan and fry the onion (cut into large chunks) and ginger (sliced) until brown.
Add the onions and ginger to the broth. Using a clean frying pan, over medium heat, heat up the coriander seeds, cloves and star anise and toast until fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Immediately remove the spices to avoid burning and place them into the mesh bag with the rest of the spices. Add the spice packet, daikon radish if using, sugar, fish sauce, and salt to the broth and simmer uncovered for 1 1/2 hours. Then simmer the broth covered for another 1 1/2 hours. Remove foam from the top regularly and stir occasionally. Strain the broth and return the broth along with the daikon radish if using to the pot.
Prepare the rice noodles as per the directions on the package of noodles. Bring your broth back to a boil. Fill large bowls with the noodles and arrange the rest of the ingredients in the bowls (see picture above). As soon as the broth comes back to a boil, ladle it into each bowl. The hot broth will cook your raw beef slices. Your guests should also mix the rare beef with the noodles and the hot broth in their bowls. Serve immediately with a wedge of lime and hot sauce on the side.