Quest for Pho

If you follow me on Twitter, you might have seen a recent flurry of Tweets regarding my attempt to make homemade pho. I had a lot of responses-people wanting to know where I got my recipe, what it tastes like compared to restaurant pho, how I made the broth-it was surprising!

If you aren't familiar with pho, you should immediately find a phone book (if they still exist), look up your nearest Vietnamese restaurant and go get yourself a bowl.  Pho is a hearty soup of rice noodles and very thinly sliced raw steak, all drowned in a deep, deliciously spiced beef broth hot enough to cook the raw steak to perfection.  Upon sitting down at most pho restaurants, you are presented with a plate full of aromatic fresh herbs, crunchy bean sprouts, slices of lime, and slices of fresh green chili pepper, all of which you can tear apart with your hands and add to your pho, depending on your taste.  Sriracha and hoisin sauce are both traditional pho staples, to be added to your soup depending on how spicy or sweet you like it.  

The particular pho recipe I decided upon for my first homemade attempt is from Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes: Recipes from a Modern Kitchen Garden, by Jeanne Kelley. If you don't have this cookbook, might I suggest you look into it? The food is gorgeously photographed, the recipes I have used are all delicious and fairly simple, and as one might figure from the title, a lot of the special ingredients could be grown in a small kitchen garden.

The night I made our pho, our kitchen turned into a mini cooking show, as we were both critiquing every single flavor and ingredient added to the mix, simply because we really really wanted this to work out.  While we both enjoyed our homemade pho immensely, we also agreed there were definite flaws in the flavor of this broth and the wrong type of noodles were suggested.  I am the type of person who likes to follow a recipe as written, to the exact teaspoon, the very first time I make it.  Then if I feel things need tweaking, I save that for the next preparation.  This one definitely needed tweaking.

Since our first quest for pho two weeks ago I have been experimenting with the broth, although not in the same capacity...I decided it might be easier to eliminate the meat and just use Top Ramen from the pantry and tweak the broth a bit before I cook the noodles. And golly gee, I think it's working!

I figure since most of you might be curious how we made it the first time, I will go ahead and share.  But I also want to share my little changes with you, so I am alternately listing those in red.  You can see that this quest is definitely a work in progress...

Quest for Pho
Serves: 6 (But the two of us ate it...all.)
2 quarts beef broth (It is suggested you may use homemade, low-salt, or Better than Boullion brand base)  
I used Better than Boullion beef stock base. This was my first time using it and it was incredibly dark and flavorful. I would suggest eliminating the beef bones called for below if you do use this particular base
1 1/4 lbs beef neck or shank bones
8 green onions  
I'm not quite sure why the author chose to use whole green onions in the broth, I am sure she had good reason, but for me it threw off the entire flavor of the broth (not to mention gave me a bit of a stomachache).  I would replace 4 of the green onions with half of a white onion, thinly sliced, and still keep the other 4 green onions to use as garnish
2-inch piece fresh ginger, sliced (No need to peel!)
3 large whole star anise
Salt and pepper  
Again, if you use the particularly branded beef stock base mentioned above, neither salt nor pepper is necessary
1 (6-ounce) package dried rice stick noodles (maifun)  
These were the completely wrong type of noodles to use in pho and as I haven't yet done my supermarket research, I'm not sure what kind to suggest.  But a flat, narrow rice noodle (opposed to round) is the correct size and shape you normally get in pho
2 cups fresh mung bean sprouts
1 bunch cilantro, trimmed
1 bunch mint, trimmed  
Mint is not usually present on your garnish plate, but I must say, it was quite a delicious addition
1 bunch basil (preferably Thai, but sweet basil will also do), trimmed
2 serrano chiles, thinly sliced
Lime wedges
3/4 lb rib-eye steak, fat trimmed, very thinly sliced
I failed to mention that our quest for pho was spurred by the need to use a frozen tri-tip roast we had hanging out in our freezer.  I thawed it in and out of the refrigerator (as it was sort of large) but cutting off the fat and slicing the meat so thinly was actually aided by the meat's slightly frozen state when I handled it.  I say get whatever type of beef you would like to use, make sure most of the fat is trimmed, and pop it into the freezer just long enough for it to get a bit icy-your knife will thank you. 

In a large soup pot, combine your beef broth, bones (if using), 4 whole green onions (or sliced white onion), ginger, and star anise. 
Bring to a boil. 
Knock the heat down, cover your pot, and gently simmer your broth for 3 hours.
When you are starting to get hungry, remove the bones (if using) and green onions (if using) from your broth.
If you are using white onions, leave them in your broth-they are delicious! 
My recipe doesn't mention anything about removing the ginger slices or star anise, but I figured they might get in the way of my spoon, so go ahead and remove those as well.

If using maifun, place your noodles in a large bowl, cover with boiling water, and let sit for 3 minutes. 
If using a different type of noodle, follow the cooking directions on the package.
You ultimately want your noodles to be cooked (not in the pot of broth), drained, divided into your serving bowls, and ready to be topped with meat and broth, so prepare your noodles however you need to get them to this point.

Place your mint, cilantro, basil, bean sprouts, chiles, lime wedges, and sliced green onion on a large plate or cute opal Pyrex pie dish.
Bring your broth back to a boil over medium-high heat.
If there are two of you, get out two Pyrex 403 mixing bowls of coordinating colors.
Place the desired amount of noodles (lots!) in your bowl and top with your desired amount of raw steak.
This is the point at which you make sure your broth is definitely boiling.
Ladle enough broth into your bowl to sufficiently cover the noodles and steak.
Watch your steak cook before your eyes...

Add your desired toppings and condiments.
Stir it all about.
And enjoy a deliciously huge bowl of pho.

Have any of you good people made pho at home?  Do you have any tips or suggestions?  I would love to know if any of you are inspired to make your own pho after reading all of share!


  1. I have never enjoyed this Pho you speak of...looks yummy

  2. For the last couple of weeks I've been hooked on Pho. It started when I got a cold and wanted some hot HOT soup. And then I couldn't get enough. I'm glad to see that IF I wanted to try to cook it at home that it's possible.


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