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Pho Broth: The Soul of Vietnamese Pho

April 15, 2009

Updated 07-08-14. There are three elements that make up a bowl of Vietnamese pho: the broth, the rice noodles and the toppings (meat, garnishes, etc.) If you are a pho lover, you may be a fan of the noodles or of the way the meat, herbs and spices play together in your mouth as you slurp your pho to the last drop. There’s no denying that the pho broth is the most important element of Vietnamese pho. Pho broth is the soul of the dish. It is what makes the dish Vietnamese pho.

Pho note: This article on Pho Broth is both a how to make pho broth and a philosophical look at the meaning of the broth in pho. If you are looking for the nuts and bolts of making pho, please go directly to these 2 articles: Top Pho Bo and Pho Ga Recipes You Must Try Yourself and Quick Beef Pho Recipe with Quoc Viet Foods’ Pho Soup Base.

Giving Meaning to the Soul of Pho

1x1.trans Pho Broth: The Soul of Vietnamese PhoCan you imagine Vietnamese pho without its broth? It is probably impossible to do so. You may try to cook up all kinds of soups, pour it in the bowl and try to call it pho. You may resort to be creative with different meats and adding new herbs and garnishing to the mix, but it’s just not pho. The pho broth is what gives the soup its distinct character. There’s not necessarily only one way to make pho broth, but a good pho broth must follow certain rules and standards.

In fact, the key to a successful bowl of pho is the creation of a good pho broth. Pho lovers judge the bowl of pho served to them in a restaurant by sipping the broth first without putting in any seasoning or garnishing. If there’s any doubt about the quality of a bowl of pho, just take a sip of the broth to find out. If the pho broth is good, we feel immediately at home; the familiar, the warm, the good, the satisfying. But if the broth is not up to expectation, the pho eating experience becomes labored, beside the fact that one is wasting the time and money with this darn bowl of pho.

You’d be surprised, but it’s far too easy to make a bad bowl of pho. The only way to do it is to make the pho broth unpalatable. You can be forgiven for serving undercooked or overcooked banh pho (the pho noodle). You can be forgiven for not having all the right meat types or garnishing. But mess up the pho broth and your pho is ruined. Conversely, serving a great pho broth will make up for your other shortcomings many times over. There is no perfect technique for making it, but what technique is there must be done carefully to create the perfect broth, with the right taste.

How to Make Pho Broth

There is no single perfect technique for creating good pho broth. The Vietnamese always say that the best pho you will ever taste is the one cooked by your own mother (plus maybe one or two favorite restaurants), and she will have her own ideas of how good pho broth is made. These ideas, in turn, are ones that have been handed down to her by her own mother. Thus, no two bowls of pho made in two separate kitchens will ever taste the same.

1x1.trans Pho Broth: The Soul of Vietnamese PhoThe fact is, almost all pho recipes will have many common elements between them, from the ingredients that go into the broth to the length of time required in making it. Vietnamese culinary experts Andrea Nguyen‘s and Mai Pham‘s beef pho recipes call for the following ingredients:

  • Yellow onions
  • Ginger
  • Marrow-rich beef bones and beef knuckle bones
  • Additional beef chunks
  • Star anise
  • Cloves
  • Salt
  • Fish sauce
  • Yellow rock sugar

Here’s a generic process. Many recipes call for preparation using two stockpots of boiling water. The beef bones and chunks are parboiled in one pot in high heat for up to five minutes. This is to remove all the impurities on the outside of the beef. Andrea Nguyen recommends rinsing the bones in warm water before being transferred into the second stockpot, while Mai Pham says that it is fine to just transfer the bones and the chunks without rinsing. If you have room for 2 large pots, then use 2; it will save you a lot of time. But if you can use only one pot, then it will work too.

In any case, the second stockpot is kept at a simmer for an hour and a half, with any scum rising to the top skimmed out regularly. The spices are then added, either as they are or wrapped in cheesecloth. Before they are put into the broth, the onions and the ginger need to be charred in open flame. Mai Pham recommends toasting the star anise and the cloves lightly in a dry pan before they are put into the pot. Again techniques vary, but either roasting or charring will help release much more of spices’  fragrance.

After the hour and a half has passed, the boneless beef chunks are removed. The remaining broth is allowed to simmer for another hour and a half or so. The pho broth is then strained and seasoned with fish sauce, salt and rock sugar. At this point, the pho broth should look clear and free from impurities. It is perfectly acceptable for it to taste strong and even salty at this point as well because the taste will be toned down once the broth is poured over the unseasoned rice noodles and meat.

The recipe described above is the most generally accepted way of cooking pho broth. But no two bowls of pho made from two separate kitchens ever taste the same, and techniques on how to make the broth vary from kitchen to kitchen. Some cooks, for instance, do not put fish sauce in the broth but instead leave it up to the guest to season it as he or she pleases. Some cooks also skip on adding beef chunks into the simmering broth and rely solely on the flavor of the dissolved marrow.

Time Is Essential in Cooking Pho Broth

1x1.trans Pho Broth: The Soul of Vietnamese PhoPerhaps the one thing that turns people off from making their own pho at home is the amount of time it takes to create the pho broth. There are stories of people hailing from Vietnamese immigrant parents all over the Internet, which say that their own mothers have given up making pho because of the time needed to cook it. If they want pho, they all go to a restaurant that serves pho to fulfill their craving for the dish.

How long should it take for beef bones to simmer in order to come up with a good pho broth? Mai Pham and Andrea Nguyen both recommend at least three hours to simmer the broth, but there are other recipes that state that the beef bones must be boiled gently for six to eight hours. For restaurant-quality pho, the time required to simmer the broth can take up to 12 hours or more.

Why is it necessary for the boiling to take that long? The explanation is simple: It takes time for the marrow in the bones to dissolve into the water. You cannot force it with shorter but harder boiling because a hard boil distorts the flavor of the pho broth. The flavor of the marrow is the essence of the broth; it must be brought out gently and doing so takes time.

The time it takes to create pho broth is definitely worth it, though, and you will end up with a broth that is so tasty you will want to slurp up every last drop. Some people resort to buying so-called pho broth cubes or canned pho broth, but the taste is just not the same. It is thin and watery compared to homemade or restaurant-made pho broth. I know, I know. Those are just quick fixes for a quick pho but I just had to mention them.

Pho is not pho without its broth. The broth is the element that gives pho its life and soul. If you can enjoy the pho broth wholeheartedly, then the rest of the ingredients in the bowl will be enjoyable too.

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  • 1x1.trans Pho Broth: The Soul of Vietnamese Pho

{ 53 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jeff March 12, 2010 at 3:23 pm

This article is just dumb long. Please leave out unnecessary info and show simple detailed instructions on how to make the broth.

2 Cuong Huynh March 12, 2010 at 8:24 pm

Jeff: Thanks for your suggestion. Actually this article is not meant to teach people how to make pho broth. You may want to check out the recipes from this article:
Top Pho Bo and Pho Ga Recipes You Must Try Yourself.

3 Hung April 26, 2010 at 12:55 am

How come when i cook the bones to make the soup base, my soup turns ivory right? Not clear.. It’s like a white soup that i can’t see more than 1/2 inch down?
How do i acheieve the clear soup??

4 Cuong Huynh April 26, 2010 at 8:07 am

Hello Hung: The key to clear pho broth is the parboiling of the bones. To borrow Andrea Nguyen’s instructions on parboiling bones for pho,

“Parboil bones. Place bones in stockpot (minimum 12-quart capacity) and cover with cold water. Over high heat, bring to boil. Boil vigorously 2 to 3 minutes to allow impurities to be released. Dump bones and water into sink and rinse bones with warm water. Quickly scrub stockpot to remove any residue. Return bones to pot.”

I can’t explain your “white” or “ivory” soup but you do need to parboil to get a clear pho broth. Good luck.

5 Cuong Huynh April 26, 2010 at 10:25 am

Hi Hung: You said “… I did parboil the bone for 10-15 minutes.. very little residue. But as i boil the soup.. the water becomes milky…”

Without addition information, and the specifics of your pot’s content, I can only suggest the following:

Once you start with new water, first bring it to boil over high heat, then lower the flame to gently simmer. During this time, use a ladle to skim the scum on the surface. Once simmering, add the remaining broth ingredients and cook 1 1/2 hours, or however long your recipe calls for. Then do whatever else your according to your recipe.

Again without specific details, I suggest that after parboiling, you bring it to a boil, then simmer and skim the scums. If you’re already doing this, then I’m not sure what else I can suggest. You sure you don’t have any “secret” ingredients in there that you didn’t share with us? ;-)

6 Craig January 18, 2011 at 8:31 pm

Is it absolutely neccessary to have a clear broth? I ask because I’ve seen recipes that don’t require par-boiling the bones which makes for a more “murky” broth, or I assume? Will this affect the taste? Honestly, I’m just an average Joe that loves Pho and looks and esthetics aren’t on my top list of Pho greatness (compared to flavor and ingredients, which I care most about).

7 Cuong January 18, 2011 at 11:49 pm

Hi Craig: Yes there are many recipes that you can find online nowadays. That is not to say all of them are good and valid pho recipes. I would suggest you use recipes by the more respected food authors. But even so, do notice if the author really did describe his/her recipe as “fusion” or something similar, in which case the recipe is definitely not authentic.

I think most of us would agree that, regardless of how average you may be ;), food should be enjoyed with all your senses, right? For pho, the bowl served to you should meet certain standards to be considered good quality pho, and clear broth is one of those qualities. “Murky” broth has its place in the world of noodle dishes, but pho is not one of those dishes. Pho broth should be clear from the simmering pot.

Just like any other crafts, making pho requires certain skills to make it right, not just in your personal kitchen to serve a few, but in a commercial kitchen to serve many paying patrons, day in and day out. I think you should eat only pho with clear broth when served. This article may help: “Pho Broth: The Soul of Vietnamese Pho.”

8 jr March 27, 2011 at 4:21 pm

I think this article is PHENOMENAL!! I didn’t realize that one should take hours to simmer the beef bones. I think it’s very important to learn some history about this magnificent dish. Thank you so much, I absolutely love Pho after tasting it for the 1st time about 4yrs ago. Now I’d like to try it at home!

9 Cuong March 30, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Hi jr: For the best taste it is best to simmer the bones, but many people do not/cannot do this anymore. But that should not prevent you from making your own great tasting pho at home. If you have trouble making your own good pho broth at home, try the Quoc Viet option. Their products may help you. See my article “Quick Beef Pho Recipe with Quoc Viet Foods’ Pho Soup Base.” Good luck.

10 PT June 12, 2011 at 1:36 am

The cause of white or ivory broth is too high temperature during boiling. The high temp emulsifies the marrow causing the white color. Its like taking a blender to the marrow and broth.

You don’t want to actually boil the bones. You want to very gently simmer. VERY GENTLY.

11 Cuong June 18, 2011 at 9:08 am

Hello PT: I agree. It’s really simple for those starting out. I always suggest to people who have unclear broth problem: you need to parboil the bones and meat first, then wash and bring them to a boil again. After that, simmer and skim the scums.

12 Alexis July 1, 2011 at 6:05 pm

You say to char the garlic but I think you meant the ginger? There’s no garlic on your ingredients list!

13 Ann Do August 24, 2011 at 8:02 pm

I cannot believe that I can feel the smell of Pho in my room when I read your writing:) Yummy!

14 melody September 29, 2011 at 7:53 pm

hi i was wondering how long is pho broth good for, if you refrigerate it?

15 Cuong October 16, 2011 at 9:04 pm

Hi Alexis: Good catch, I did mean the ginger. It’s been changed. Thanks!

16 Cuong October 16, 2011 at 10:31 pm

Hi melody: If you refrigerate your broth immediately after it cools down, I think it should last for 7 days or more in the refrigerator. The drawback is you’ll lose the initial fresh fragrance of the spices over time, but this is a minor drawback; no big deal. Assuming you’re making a big batch of broth (who would go through the trouble and then make only a small amount?) you can also try portioning your broth into smaller portions and freeze those, leaving only what you’ll enjoy in the next few days in the refrigerator. This way you can reheat what you want, and the frozen broth can be kept a long long time.

17 Cuong October 16, 2011 at 10:33 pm

Hi Ann Do: Wow thank you for saying that! I would include pho fragrance with my website to all readers if there’s a technology to do that! ;)

18 Ellie March 15, 2012 at 8:28 pm

How do you make vegeterian pho?

19 Ellie March 15, 2012 at 8:28 pm

I am vegeterian, How do you make vegeterian pho?

20 Cuong March 17, 2012 at 10:13 am

Hi Ellie: Making vegan pho is quite easy, and much cheaper than either beef or chicken pho. You can read this article here: Top Pho Bo and Pho Ga Recipes You Must Try Yourself. Good luck.

21 Gene April 6, 2012 at 5:20 pm

I’ve been starting to try to make my own pho broth at home. I use beef leg bones, knuckles and eye of round meat. My question is this – should the broth become gelatinous when refrigerated? Everytime I’ve brought pho home from a restaurant, the broth remains a liquid when refrigerated.

22 Cuong April 6, 2012 at 8:44 pm

Hi Gene: A gelatinous broth when refrigerated is the sign of a very good and hearty broth, with good quality ingredients that can only be found in home-made broths and soups. So your broth is just fine. In fact that’s the way it should be. Your restaurant bought broth remains as a liquid because the restaurant probably did not use bone, marrow and cartilage in making it. Keep doing what you’re doing, it sounds tasty.

23 Gene April 7, 2012 at 10:47 am

Thanks Cuong for reassuring me. After several batches of pho broth, there still seems to be something missing from the all around flavor compared to my favorite restaurants. I would hate to think that it’s MSG!! Any thoughts?

24 Cuong April 12, 2012 at 4:05 pm

Gene: Do you have some good fish sauce in your recipe? If not try adding some. And how about sa sung as mentioned in an Andrea Nguyen’s post Pho Secret Ingredients: Dried Earthworms (Sa Sung)? Anyway in general, fish sauce, MGS, and a few others may get you the umami flavor you want.

25 h July 25, 2012 at 8:14 am

yeah i agree with some of the above comments no one wants to read the pointless bs just tell us how to make pho and keep the rest to yourself

26 Cuong July 25, 2012 at 8:26 am

Hello h: That’s what I like! The passion about pho and making pho yourself. You can’t wait to get to the meat and bone of it (pun intended) to get your pho fix. Well I apologize that this article does not meet your needs. I would refer you to my 2 other sources to make your own pho broth. They are Top Pho Bo and Pho Ga Recipes You Must Try Yourself and Quick Beef Pho Recipe with Quoc Viet Foods’ Pho Soup Base.
Let me know how you did. And thanks to your excellent and spot on comment, I’ve put a note at the top of this article to help future visitors go to the correct articles if making pho is all they want.

27 Mike October 8, 2012 at 4:25 am

Wow…thank you thank you thank you….wonderful website and exactly what I was looking for! My wife and I are foodies…travel for food and love learning new recipes.

I have long wondered how on earth they made this broth, I had ideas trying to deconstruct it, but I wasnt even close. Now I can finally do it the right way!

28 Cuong October 11, 2012 at 7:53 am

Mike: I’m glad you found information about Vietnamese pho broth you can use. I admire you for trying to deconstructing pho broth, a futile effort ;) but very deserving a big pat on the back, especially if you didn’t grow up in Vietnam where you may be more familiar with pho ingredients and their taste and function (I’m assuming you’re Caucasian; my apology if I’m wrong.) In any case, happy pho broth day to you Mike!

29 Mike October 30, 2012 at 3:30 pm

To make a clear broth follow these two steps;

1. Par-boil the boes for 5 minutes, rinse in cold water and then either wash your stock pot or place the bones in a second clean stock pot. Cover with cold water.

2. Bring to a simmer, not a full boil. A full boil will emulsify the bone marrow into the stock and make the stock coudy or milky. Especially if you are using the proper long marrow bones to make your stock.

30 Cuong October 30, 2012 at 4:04 pm

Agree with what Mike said about making clear broth. Full boil or frequent/aggressive stirring or mixing of the broth during simmering will have the same effect to emulsify the bone marrow or other solids into the stock. Of course for home cooking, it is really up to the home chef to cook the way he/she likes to enjoy with a few people. For commercial restaurants, there is no excuse for serving murky pho broth to customers.

31 J-DuB February 11, 2013 at 11:37 pm

When SIMMERING bones. knuckles/ cartilage/ etc… What you are looking for is the melting point of collagen: 160F and HOLD it at that temperature for as long as possible. This where the “good things” happen and you are rewarded with a rich and bodied broth.

Crank you heat to high and impurities start to leach out into your broth, possibly even dissolving the calcium. Good broths and stocks cannot be rushed. The L O N G E R it goes at a l o w e r temperature is absolutely best.

32 Dave February 21, 2013 at 11:52 am

Just my .02 cents, and as in brewing beer, in this soup
one of the main ingredients is the water. When I attempt
to make my Pho, I believe that I am going to utilize some
water that would similiarly brew the finest beer i.e. a
Light Pilsner where no flaws have room to hide….

33 J-DuB February 21, 2013 at 12:16 pm

@Dave

Absolutely TRUE! It is ideal to use at least filtered water (through a Brita or similar) and it DOES make a real difference. Also, one really should invest in stainless or stainless clad stock-pots. The best have a HEAVY diffusing disc of layered/ composite metal at the bottom and thinner walls; like the Italy Made Centurion line (not inexpensive but worth it).

34 Cuong February 21, 2013 at 1:31 pm

@J-DuB: You are way too technical for my grandma (and many Vietnamese) to understand or care ;), but what you shared is very helpful for many others, including newbies. From generation to generation and between family and friends, it’s always been “add this and cook that until this soft and add that and simmer the other for so and so hours until tender and until it tastes like this,” etc. But now that Vietnamese pho is “out of the bag” so to speak, many non-Viet start to take interest in pho and the way it’s done, so I’m glad that together we can bring this great comfort food to a much larger mass.

@Dave and @J-DuB: I understand your view, though I am not convinced filtered water will do much to pho broth, not the way it can do for beer anyway. In fact, if you don’t get the rest of the broth correct, filtered water will be a waste. In a restaurant, I’d rather they make the broth right, and I can drink the filtered water instead of the tap water they give me.

35 J-DuB February 21, 2013 at 2:04 pm

@Cuong: The whole idea with “filtered” is to just continue to use the best ingredients possible and realize the every ingredient; including the water you use or the pot you choose, makes a difference. Even if it’s very subtle in taste. As for technique; one wouldn’t necessarily have to even “boil/blanch bones/meats” first if you start your pot:

With COLD water, cover your ingredients and bring to simmer (160 F) and leave it at that for about as long as you want. So yes, one could even do this in a Crock Pot on LOW and let it go.

When making stocks/ broths, it’s very simple understanding of chemistry as well as a bit of physics.

Agitation and excessive heat… BAD. That’s why one ends up with cloudy stocks. When you heat up bones/ proteins/ connective tissue TOO much, you 1) break down the collagen too far and 2) you are dissolving other proteins that bind, say the calcium, in the bones and so leads to cloudy appearance as well as muddy flavor.

Once CAN clean up the broth by patient filtering through cheese-cloth. Then clarifying with; eggwhites whipped with Knox powdered geletan and some ground meat, but it’s a total pain in the ass.

Starting COLD, bringing up the target temperature s l o w l y, holding that target at 160F is a LOT easier than: Blanch and Wash and then make or trying to RUSH the process; taking the extra steps to correct.

Digital thermometers are CHEAP and very useful.

36 J-DuB February 21, 2013 at 2:10 pm

Oh and @Cuong… I LIKE your “pointless bs” and your “dumb long; unnecessary info”

37 Cuong February 21, 2013 at 4:11 pm

@J-DuB: Ok this is where we part way on agreement. Blanching the bones and meats quickly before the broth making process begins serves a very important purpose in pho broth, and it may not be necessary in making other broths or soups. If you understand pho and the importance of its broth, then you’ll want to understand the importance of keeping the broth clear, and this is achieved through a combination of blanching the bones and meats before the actual simmering begins. Blanching is needed to take off impurities, tissues and blood on the outside of the bones and meats which don’t contribute to flavors but also make the broth dirty. You may or may not know of this clear broth requirement, but if you do then you do want to blanch.

The rest of what you say, of course one can do at home whatever one wants to. But I’ll just put things in perspective here:

In Vietnam, hardly anyone makes pho at home, only restaurants and pho shops make pho. Pho is best made in very large quantities to serve large number of people, and is not normally made to personal portions. In the U.S. nowadays, the convenience and technologies and higher income levels allow many people the chance to make pho at home and experiment with it, but these are at best made to personal tastes to serve a few. The way to judge pho is the mass population who eat them at pho shops that produce large quantities. The good shops will survive and the mediocre ones will vanish, while the so-so will just linger. When you do not boil or blanch bones and meats before making pho broth, you’ll end up with a so-so pot of pho at best.

38 Cuong February 21, 2013 at 4:14 pm

@J-DuB: Not sure what you meant by this comment

I LIKE your “pointless bs” and your “dumb long; unnecessary info”

so I’ll assume you’re just trying to be funny. You come here to our site as a guest and I’m happy to have you as a guest. Otherwise if I have offended you in any way, then please let me know and I’ll have the issue corrected.

39 J-DuB February 21, 2013 at 4:37 pm

People above have made those comments. I was poking fun at the previous comments, not at you. Some of those previous comments are a little old and certainly did not mean to have it come across as “you have offended me” or I am trying to offend you”. I have respect for your blog/ articles.

I do know about “clear broth” and what it takes to achieve that. There are ways to simplify the process and still achieve a “clear broth”. The only thing one cannot do is: RUSH the simmering process.

Personally, I hope that people DO give a shot to making Pho at home, at least ONCE. The making of which helps to build good fundamental cooking skills and maybe people will be more “picky?” of what they eat.

40 Cuong February 21, 2013 at 6:01 pm

@J-DuB: I got your points now. Thanks for clarifying. And thank you for the point of the message.

With respect to making pho at home, no doubt I agree with you here. People should know that making pho at home is very easy especially if you live in the U.S. or metro area where decent Asian supermarkets exist. When there is no Asian/Viet food ingredients is when you will have to resort to substitute ingredients and end up with “fusion” pho; which is totally ok to get your pho fix. This was exactly what my family and many Viet families had to do circa 1975 -1980 when the only choices were Chinese markets in distant cities from where we ended up in the U.S.

By the way, my friend and founder Brian Nguyen at Quoc Viet Foods has the same goal to help people make pho at home, and he has turned it into a successful business. His approach is somewhat different, where he provides good quality broth bases to help those too impatient or less knowledgeable to make pho from scratch. Unlike other soup bases on the market, Brian’s stuff is high quality and gives authentic flavors. Another beautiful part of his concept is he literally takes the ingredient availability factor out of the equation and provides pretty much everything in one package. This ensures all important flavors are there even if one cannot find the correct ingredients and spices in his/her locality. Anyway, it’s another way to make pho yourself at home.

41 jenn March 20, 2013 at 7:35 pm

i shall try making.. I have made tons of bone soup.. the longer you boil it, regardless of par boiling first, the milkier it looks and leaves the clear zone. this is the bone breaking down and is quite good for us with glucosamine etc

42 mohan October 24, 2013 at 5:10 pm

Hi,

Is the broth can made without beef bones???

In pho 24 noodle shop the soup they serving with chicken is made of beef bones???

I am a hindu , I dont eat pork and beef. want to know exactly about the broth soup made in Pho 24 noodles shop. Is it contains beef as mentioned in the article???

Please reply.

Thanks.

43 Cuong October 24, 2013 at 8:07 pm

@mohan: If you order chicken pho (phở gà) then you should have 100% chicken in your pho. I cannot comment on how Pho 24 makes its chicken broth, but I do know many pho restaurants use beef broth in their chicken pho, which is really unacceptable. So it’s a possibility Pho 24 use beef broth on their chicken pho. If you have any doubt about Pho 24′s chicken pho then I’d recommend you ask them before ordering. Make sure you tell them clearly you do not eat beef or pork and you do not want beef broth in your chicken pho. If they can’t do this right for you then I think you can find a much better chicken pho elsewhere. Good luck to you.

44 Kon December 10, 2013 at 6:40 am

Hi!
I cooked bones and spices for 12 hours on low heat and I get slime jelly instead of soup…. Why? Can I do anything with this or it’s just junk?

45 Cuong December 10, 2013 at 11:48 am

@Kon: I think 12 hours is overkill! Did you keep adding water as you go, even at low heat? You must have lost all water from the broth and are left with just the fat and protein product. But I wouldn’t say it’s a total loss. Try adding water back to what your recipe called for, heat it up and see how it tastes. I hope you’ve already taken all the bones and other solids out.

46 MOONROCK January 6, 2014 at 7:22 am

so the brisket/flank is stored off and cooled at the end of the broth operation and then when the PHO is served portions are sliced and added back in ?

47 Dave January 11, 2014 at 11:15 am

I have a few questions for you.

1. I was wondering if you know what cut of meat at restaurants they call well done lean meat? Is it chuck? Sirloin? Eye of Round?

2. How much meat do you think is necessary in a bowl of pho assuming you use 20 ounces of broth and about 5 ounces of noodles? 3-4 ounces seems about right to me?

3. I have seen restaurants that simmer the meats in with the pho for up to 5 hours. Do you think it is better to take them out sooner?

4. Do you prefer to have the rock sugar and fish sauce added to the broth for the entire cooking process or at the end?

5. What do you do to cool the meats so they do not brown when placed in the refrigerator?

6. When you refrigerate the broth, it is easier to remove the fat as it hardens at the top. I have noticed that the broth obviously doesn’t taste as good if you remove too much fat. How much do you like to remove?

7. What do you think are the best tasting meats for pho broth? I like oxtail in mine but the cost goes way up if you use too much. Sirloin, chuck and brisket are all in the $2.50/lb range and seem to produce a nice flavor.

48 Cuong January 13, 2014 at 3:24 am

@MOONROCK: Yes you are correct. At the end of the broth cooking, the meat has done its job to flavor the broth. You can slice it any time between then and serving, but many people slice it closer to service to get the freshest meat possible.

49 Cuong January 13, 2014 at 3:39 am

@Dave: Here goes:

1. “Well done” may be flank or brisket, but you can use anything really.
2. If you are selling your pho in a restaurant, then your meat portions depends on the size of the bowl, and on your food cost and profit margin desired. If you’re serving at home, then anything goes!
3. The simmer time for the meat depends on how tender you want the meat to be, and whether you have extracted flavor into the broth.
4. I do not have a preference, but I do have a recipe I follow. Whether or not you have your own recipe, rock sugar and fish sauce are used to flavor the broth, so if you add them near the beginning, then you will get those flavors in the meat also. If you add them toward the end, then less of those flavors goes into the meat. So it depends on what you want.
5. You’re assuming I remove the fat. I don’t because I like it in my pho. The question is: why remove the fat at all? That’s the good stuff.
6. Again, Dave, if you’re selling pho then you should look at your food cost and profit margin as part of your decision. Otherwise, use what you can afford, is what I would say.

Sounds like you’re trying to figure how to run a pho restaurant. If you need help then head over to fill out the pho consultation contact form to get some help. Hope the answers above helped.

50 Mel July 7, 2014 at 3:04 pm

Help! I’m trying like heck to enjoy pho, but my one and only time was a disaster. I live in New Orleans (which has a deep-rooted Vietnamese community) and I went to one of the longest-ruuning, highest-rated restaurants. The Banh Mi was okay, and the beef stew I sampled was pretty good, but the bowl of actual pho did not agree with me. The broth had very little flavor, and every now-and-then there would be a strong hit of an herb/ spice with a strong, lingering ‘sour-cinnamon’ flavor. Did I just get a bad bowl, or am I just not cut out for it? God knows I wanted to like it. I have friends that are addicted to it, and I went to one of the best restaurants I could find.

If I am not one cut out for pho, are there other Vietnamese dishes I should try closer to what I’m used to? I’m an American who appreciates Chinese, Japanese, and Thai food. As I said, Banh Mi and the beef stew I tried were successful experiments. Just wonderin what else I should try next time I go (this restaurant has an EXTENSIVE menu, so I’m sure whatever you recommend would have a good shot of being on there).

Thanks for any help!

51 Cuong July 7, 2014 at 3:42 pm

@Mei: It’s unfortunate that your first bowl of pho was a bad experience. What you described may be a one-off bad bowl, if you say this restaurant is well known. Did you tell your friend(s) that there’s something “funny” tasting in your bowl? Or maybe even let them taste some broth themselves? Or you may have informed the restaurant that this is your first time, and your bowl doesn’t taste quite right. I’m sure they would have given you another bowl, or a cup of broth for you to try out, to make sure they didn’t serve you bad pho. Most Vietnamese restaurants are eager to attract new customers and this is totally within reason to expect a restaurant to treat a new customer. many restaurants would love to receive such feedback from customer so they can fix their own mistakes.

Other than that, I would say go try another bowl, maybe at the same place, maybe a different place. If you still don’t like it the second or third time around, then maybe pho is not for you. Having said that, I’m reluctant to conclude that pho is not for you, as pho is too easy to like in my opinion.

If you appreciate Chinese, Japanese and Thai foods, then there are many other Viet dishes that you will surely like. How about some other noodle in broth like hủ tiếu (which uses the same rice noodle) or mì (which is egg noodle), each with various meat and/or seafood toppings? How about any of the broken rice dishes ̣(cơm tấm) or bún dishes (vermicelli) with grilled meats? If you can share this restaurant’s name then I can look at its menu online and give you some suggestions. Let me know and good luck Mei.

52 Mel July 7, 2014 at 5:38 pm

Thanks for the response! The restaurant in question was Pho Tau Bay. You can find its complete menu here :http://menuorleans.com/pho-tau-bay-vietnamese-cuisine . FWIW, me and my dining companion bought three dishes: the BM2 (Banh Me Thit) Vietnamese ‘po boy’, BK2 (Banh Mi Bo Kho) beef stew– both were good… The issue was with the pho, itself — P2 (Pho Nam w/ well-done beef).

Thanks a bunch for the help!

53 Cuong July 7, 2014 at 10:25 pm

@Mei: The menu looks typical and the restaurant seems reliable, especially with the many positive reviews it has. If both you and your companion are newbies at this pho thing, then I would suggest you go with a more knowledgeable friend the next time, or try several different times and even different places for pho. Then you’ll be able to tell if it is for you. Much like every other foods that you didn’t grow up with, I don’t think there is any other way to help you make your decision. Good luck and have fun.

By the way, don’t feel “bad” if you don’t like pho. Many of us Viet do love to eat it, but at the same time there are many others who don’t like it.

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