Aromatic Beef Broth with Rice Noodles, Shaved Onions, Lime Wedges and Fresh Herbs

Phở Bò


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Makes

    4 to 6

    bowls as a one-dish meal

Appears in

Southeast Asian Flavors: Adventures in Cooking the Foods of Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia & Singapore

Southeast Asian Flavors

By Robert Danhi

Published 2008

  • About

This one-dish meal is Vietnamese food culture in a bowl. Phở, pronounced as “fuh,” not “foe” pairs delicate rice noodles with broth scented with star anise, cardamom, cloves, cassia, charred ginger and onions. The beef may be slow-simmered gelatinous beef tendon, poached beef brisket shavings, or raw beef sliced so thin that it cooks almost instantly in the hot broth.

In keeping with the Vietnamese tradition of finishing dishes at the table, each diner adds his own garnishes. In Vietnam it is usually simply sliced chilies, basil and some lime wedges. In the United States there seems to be (as with most everything) a necessity to add even more. Piles of Asian basil, bean sprouts, green chili rings, fresh lime wedges adorn the tables. Why doesn’t the cook just add the vegetables to the soup? A couple reasons: First, it allows the guest to adjust the herbs, spices and seasonings that they want. Secondly, timing is everything. Vietnamese natives add bean sprouts and herbs to their Phở regularly over the course of the meal. This ensures that the sprouts are always crisp, and that the herbs don’t infuse the broth with too much of their flavor.

Phở is served with side sauces. In Vietnam a chili sauce (tưóg ớt/đõ) is at the ready to spice up the broth but in the US somehow two foreign sauces are always served. Hoisin sauce (from China) and Sriracha hot chili sauce (from Thailand). These can go directly to the broth with a squeeze of lime, or they can be used as dipping sauces for the dish’s slices of meat, vegetables and noodles (my preference is not to add these to the broth, they can demolish the nuances of flavor in the long simmered broth).


Beef Broth: Makes 3 Qts.

  • 2 medium Yellow onions, skin-on, root trimmed, cut in half through the root end
  • 4 inches Ginger
  • 4 lb. (1.8 kg.) Beef marrow bones
  • 2 lb. (.9 kg.) Beef Oxtails
  • 4 piece Star anise
  • 4 piece Cloves
  • 1 piece Cassia (cinnamon), 3-inch (7.5 cm.) length
  • 2 pods Black cardamom
  • 1 lb Beef brisket or chuck, cut into pieces about 2 inches (5 cm.) wide, 2 inches (5 cm.) thick by 4 inches (10 cm.) long
  • 1 tbsp. Kosher salt
  • ¼ cup Fish sauce
  • 1-inch (2.5 cm.) piece Rock sugar, about a 1-oz. (28 gm) piece


  1. Prepare Aromatics: Cut ginger and onions in half to create two flat sides. In a large skillet over high heat (cast iron works best), lightly char onions and ginger: place cut side down; cook until lightly blackened (onions about 5 to 8 minutes; ginger about 12 minutes). Heat a dry small sauté pan, over low heat; add star anise, cloves, cassia, and cardamom. Toast spices until fragrant and beginning to smoke; cool.
  2. Prepare the Beef Broth: In a stockpot over high heat, cover marrow bones and oxtails with water; bring to a boil. Drain and discard liquid, rinse bones and wash pan to remove residual impurities. In a stockpot over high heat, combine bones with charred onions, charred ginger, star anise, cloves, cassia, beef, and enough water to cover by 1 inch; bring up a gentle boil. Lower heat; simmer 1½ hours. Remove beef and check for doneness (this meat will be sliced and used in the soup). When meat is ready, plunge into iced water for 15 minutes. Wrap tightly to avoid a dry skin from forming; reserve in refrigerator.
  3. Simmer broth for 1½ to 2 hours more, adding water as needed to keep the bones barely covered. Skim fat and impurities from top as they collect. Taste for a rich flavorful stock.
  4. Strain broth through very fine mesh strainer (or cheesecloth lined sieve). Add salt, fish sauce and sugar. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. It should be salty then slightly sweet with aromatic background. The fish sauce should be understated, but subtly moving.

Assemble of the Dish

  1. Have six Asian soup bowls and all garnishes ready. Bring broth up to a near boil. Taste and adjust spiciness as needed. Make sure broth is very hot, almost a full boil.
  2. Bring a 1-gallon (4 L.) pot of water to a boil. Add softened noodles; cook for 15 seconds. Drain noodles, and distribute into bowls. Arrange the raw beef, cooked beef, onions, scallions, and cilantro atop the cooked noodles.
  3. Ladle about 1½ to 2 cups of broth into each bowl, making sure to pour some over the raw beef.
  4. Serve with the table salad and chili sauce.