Pho is Vietnamese beef noodle soup. But…wait. That’s like saying Picasso was a painter. Pho seems simple. A beef broth, full of warm spices, covers rice noodles and slices of beef. There’s a plate of vegetation to add in as you please – lime wedges, cilantro and basil, bean sprouts and hot peppers. The result is a complex melody. The spices in the broth combine with the herbs; the soft noodles play off the chewy beef and the crunchy sprouts; the fiery peppers add to the warmth of the soup.
And, while I’m at it…Pho is pronounced “fuh” (rhymes with duh), not “faux” (rhymes with sew, a needle pulling thread). Here’s an entertaining video explaining the difference.
When it comes to cooking, Pho really is as simple as it seems. The complexity comes from the combination of the ingredients; if you have a good beef broth, the rest of Pho is easy. If you have a pressure cooker, it doesn’t even take that much time.
Recipe: Pressure Cooker Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)
Inspired by Jeffrey Alford, Naomi Duguid Hot Sour Salty Sweet: A Culinary Journey Through Southeast Asia
- 8 to 12 quart Pressure Cooker (I use this one: Kuhn Rikon 12-Quart Family Stockpot Pressure Cooker)
Pressure Cooker Pho Bo – Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup, made quickly by pressure cooking the broth.
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 4 pounds meaty beef shanks and oxtails
- 1 large onion, trimmed, peeled, and sliced thin
- 2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced thin
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 dried star anise pods
- Cinnamon stick (about 3-4 inches long)
- 4 whole cloves
- 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 1/4 cup Thai fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon table salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 1/2 pounds beef brisket
- 10 cups of water, or a little more to cover the ingredients
- 1 pound thin rice noodles, cooked according to package directions
Condiments and add-ins
- 2 cups sprouts (bean sprouts are traditional; I went with mixed sprouts)
- 1 cup cilantro leaves (I pull a handful from the head of the bunch)
- 1/2 cup basil leaves (Thai basil is best, but any basil will work)
- 2 large shallots, trimmed, peeled, and sliced thin
- 2-3 serrano chilies, stemmed and sliced thin (Thai bird chilies if you can find them)
- Limes, cut into wedges
- Sriracha hot sauce (or other asian hot sauce)
- Thai fish sauce
- Soy sauce
- Brown the beef in two batches: Heat the vegetable oil in the pressure cooker pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add half the shanks and oxtails and sear for 3 minutes per side, or until well browned. Remove the to a bowl, add the second batch of oxtails and shanks, and brown for 3 minutes per side. Add to the bowl with the rest of the beef.
- Saute the aromatics: Add the onions and ginger to the pot and saute for 8 minutes, or until the onions are browning around their edges.
- Add the rest of the ingredients: Increase the heat to high, add 1/2 cup of water, and scraping the bottom of the pot to loosen any browned bits. Add the browned beef and any juices in the bowl, then the star anise, cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns, fish sauce, soy sauce, salt and sugar. Stir to combine, then put the beef brisket on the top. Pour in the 10 cups of water, which should just cover the beef.
- Pressure cook the stock: Lock the lid on the pressure cooker and bring the cooker up to high pressure. Lower the heat to maintain the pressure, and cook on high pressure for 50 minutes in a stovetop PC or 60 minutes in an electric PC. Remove the pot from the heat and allow the pressure to release naturally, about 20 minutes.
- Strain the stock and slice the beef: Open the pressure cooker, and remove the beef brisket, beef shanks, and any oxtails with a lot of meat on them to a carving board. Strain the stock into another pot through a fine mesh strainer and cheesecloth Slice the brisket crosswise, against the grain, into thin slices. Pull and shred the meat from the shanks and oxtails, removing any big hunks of fat and gristle.
- Serving: In individual soup bowls, put some of the rice noodles, top with some shredded and sliced beef, and cover with the strained beef stock. Serve with the condiments and add-ins at the table so people can build their own soup.
See my Pressure Cooker Beef Stock for the basic technique behind this recipe.
- Make ahead version: If you have the time, finish the recipe through step 5, then refrigerate the broth and beef separately. Up to 2 days later, de-fat the stock as I described in my beef stock recipe, then reheat the stock by bringing it back up to a boil. Continue with the serving step; the hot broth will re-heat the beef.
- If you have leftover broth, freeze it. It will last for months, and you can make a very good Pho in as long as it takes to thaw the stock and cook the noodles..
- Don’t have a pressure cooker? Make stock in your oven for a long, slow, even simmer. Use the ingredients from this recipe with the following oven-simmering technique: Turkey Stock Done Right. Simmer in the oven for 5 hours, then continue with step 5.
- According to the folks at Mustard Seed Market (my local health food store), bean sprouts are extremely perishable. They can’t keep them in stock because they go bad so quickly. That’s why I substituted random sprouts.
|Toppings for the soup, ready to go|
Questions? Comments? Other ideas? Favorite places to find Pho in your neighborhood?* Leave them in the comments section below.
*Mine is not exactly in my neighborhood: Superior Pho in Cleveland. It’s a half hour drive away…but I make the trip whenever I can.
Jeffrey Alford, Naomi Duguid Hot Sour Salty Sweet: A Culinary Journey Through Southeast Asia
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