Pho Broth: The Soul of Vietnamese Pho  

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Chewie
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 Chewie
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Thank you so much for this article, I'm going to put it to good use when I next make pho. I've made my own pho three times now. The first was pretty bad, and I didn't even save it. I roasted the bones first in the oven. The pho came out murky and funky smelling. The next batch was okay. I parboiled the bones this time, and rinsed them after. I also only simmered it for 3 hours. It came out tasting very bland, and too fish-saucy. This last time I made it is so far the best. Parboiled the bones, added even more star anise and less fish sauce, and don't get me wrong, it's good, but it's not deep and intense like pho should be. And there's still too much of a fish sauce taste/smell. I'm wondering if I'm adding too many spices. I sort of just combined the spices from a bunch of different recipes, using star anise, cloves, a cinnamon stick, coriander, fennel, and a cardamom pod. I think after reading your article that I'm going to one, simmer my bones at a lower heat and uncovered, and two add the spice mix in after an hour and a half. If I may ask, do you have a preference when it comes to fish sauce? Can I omit it entirely? Also, do you have any other suggestions you can give a newb like me to help make legit pho? Thank you in advance!

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chuynh
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Joined: 11 years ago

Pho Restaurant Consultant
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@Chewie: It’s good you’re trying things. The key is to making good pho (or any dish for that matter) is to 1) use a good recipe, 2) to understand what it’s trying to do with all the elements and ingredients within it, and 3) to follow its instructions closely. I’m not sure what recipe you used, but it sounds like you’re just mixing up different recipes into one. If this is so then it’s amazing you still got something edible

If you have a good recipe and follow it, then you shouldn’t have the fish sauce taste or smell in your pho. Fish sauce is meant to be used sparingly to enhance flavor, never to give flavor. Good luck with your next pot.

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Monica Foster
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 Monica Foster
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Thank you so much! I did it!!! And it was delish!!! I wish I can post a pic. My broth was insane!!!

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chuynh
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@Monica: There you go. Congrats!

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Roy
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Hello,

Great article! Thanks for sharing 🙂
I have a question about the spices. When I simmer the broth for a long time (6-8 hours), when do I put the spices in the pot? Do they need to cook as long as the bones?

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chuynh
(@chuynh)
Joined: 11 years ago

Pho Restaurant Consultant
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@Roy: The answer is not that straightforward. I'll start with this analogy. It's similar to brewing coffee in a French press. There's a reason why you don't want to brew for much more than 4 minutes. For up to about 4 minutes, you would have extracted pretty much all "good" coffee flavor out of the coffee ground. Beyond that, all you'll get is bitter coffee.

Similarly for the spices, the longer you simmer, the more spice flavor you get out of it, but only up to a certain point. You didn't mention what your recipe calls for (how much spices to use), so I'll assume you don't have a recipe. So I'll go generic. In general, there are 4 factors to consider when it comes to how long to simmer the spices:

1. How much broth (how big a pot) you're making,
2. How much spices (quantity) you're using,
3. Whether you keep the spices whole or you grind them to release even more spice flavors, and
4. Personal taste.

For the last factor (No. 4), some people prefer strong spice flavors, while others can't stand them. The best thing to do is to test. Again without knowing how much you're using and making, I'd suggest start putting in the spices about 1/2 hour to an hour before finishing the simmering. Then adjust longer or shorter time in future pots. In any case, remove the spices before final seasoning, whatever called for by your recipe (or whatever instructions you're following).

For your 6-8 hour simmer, this boils down to (pun intended) adding the spices in the last hour or 1-1/2 hour.

Hope this helps, and best of luck.

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Roy
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Thank you Cuong. Your reply helps me a lot. I'm going to make Pho again soon. And thanks to your directions it will get better 🙂

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chuynh
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Pho Restaurant Consultant
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Best of luck Roy, and have fun with it! By the way, I also suggest you check out this post: How Long To Cook Pho Spices In Pho Broth.

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Chung
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My Mom's pho recipe does not include cloves or sugar and cinnamon is a huge no, no to her. She was originally from N. Vietnam, so maybe that is the difference. She also simmers her pho broth overnight (8-12 hours) with the onion , anise, and ginger. She adds the fish sauce and salt when it's done simmering. It's always delicious. Roasting the onions is key. To keep the broth clear, she brings the bones to a boil and skims the scum off the top before bringing it down to the simmer.

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chuynh
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Pho Restaurant Consultant
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@Chung: Sounds like your mom makes great tasting Northern pho style. I would love it I'm sure. Many people don't realize it's not just ingredients but also technique/process/procedure. I know people who have all "necessary" ingredients but still can't make proper pho, and people who don't have all the right ingredients (or lacking some) and still make awesome pho. I think the majority of newbies don't know how to skim the scum, which is a very important part of making pho broth. Thanks for visiting and sharing.

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chieko
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I agree with no sugar, cloves or cinnamon. For me, no star anise.

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chuynh
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@Chieko: Sounds like you know exactly what you want in your pho.

Just to clarify, if there is any "sugar" called for in a pho recipe, it should be rock sugar and not just white granulated sugar. Rock sugar is much milder than white granulated sugar and gives pho the "right" taste which is vastly different from if white sugar is used.

In Chung's case and also your case, whatever works for you is what you should follow. From personal experience and through my consulting work, many people don't realize that using or not using certain ingredients in pho has more to do with habits and however those habits were developed. This usually boils down to the time and location of when and where they learned how to enjoy and/or make pho. That's usually how people developed their own habits and preferences. I can say with almost 100% certainty that an average person has not done a thorough test comparing various combinations of ingredients and spices to the point that he/she can pick the one combination he/she likes. More likely, it's based on what's available (or can be afforded) during that learning/developing period.

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experience.

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K
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Hi korean recipes soak meat in cold water a half hour to remove blood and impurities before cooking to get a clear broth. Could this method be used for pho instead of parboiling and washing?

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chuynh
Posts: 374
(@chuynh)
Pho Restaurant Consultant
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@K: Korean cuisine has many different recipes for stocks and broths for different dishes. I’m not sure what specific dish you’re referring to, but many Korean dishes actually do not require having clear broths. While some recipes do call for soaking meat in water (I assume you mean beef in this case), I don’t think soaking alone before cooking will give you a clear broth. It would be helpful to see your recipe and understand what it’s trying to accomplish.

For the clearest broth possible (which is what pho requires, and for dishes requiring clear broth), most well-trained chefs and other foodservice professionals would probably agree that parboiling and low simmering would give you a clear broth. This is exactly what I recommend as well.

Another consideration worth noting:

Supply chain for food ingredients are not the same in many Asian countries when compared to Western countries. Even by today’s standards, Asian meat products still have a much shorter time and distance between when a cow is slaughtered and when people purchase the meat from the market. This means the meat one gets to cook in his/her kitchen may be much fresher and at the same time not as “cleaned” as its Western counterpart.

As a result, people had to do further cleansing in their kitchen before actual cooking, initially out of nessesity then becoming a habit over time. This is still true in many rural areas in Vietnam and probably in many other places around the world. It is certainly true for any protein that’s not been done through a commercial slaughterhouse.

I’m sure “family” recipes that have been passed from people to people and from place to place may not have been properly updated to account for new or more modern food supplies, availability, and quality standards. For this reason alone, I always review recipes closely to ensure they make sense before going into full production for service in a particular restaurant. Anything that needs updating will be updated.

Bottom line? 1) Don’t always trust a recipe; 2) make sure it’s from a reliable source, and 3) understand why certain thing or technique is done.

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Alek
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Hey, maybe it will look stupid question but is it okey if I cook pho 12 hour or even more with all the spices like cloves and star anise or is better to throw them last hour or so. Is it even difference? How do they make in restaurants?

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chuynh
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@Alek: I'm not sure what recipe you're using, what it's telling you to do and what ingredients to use, but 12 hours seems excessive. Not that it's not doable; many have done it successfully (see Chung's comment). If you do go for this long, then you'll want to make sure to do these two things: keep skimming the scum and maintaining proper water level.

With respect to your question about the spices, it has been discussed before. You can read Roy's comment about spices, and also check out my post on How Long To Cook Pho Spices In Pho Broth.

Working as a pho restaurant consultant, I see restaurants do all kind of things with the spices depending on the owner's preference. My recommendation for using the spices is just as written in the post referenced above.

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chieko
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I sometimes make Pho if I'm serving several people and I enjoy preparing it but I live alone. So if I order Pho take-out/delivery, I always get it deconstructed. I want to see everything. I taste the broth first and go from there. So, last night, I had some delivery. Perfectly deconstructed. First thing I taste is the broth. Too sweet, no mouthfeel, no globules of happy fat floating on the surface. Obviously, this was made with pre-fab stock. There was no collagen (that's the mouthfeel part). I took some to refrigerate overnight to setup...nope, still liquid. I had to fix the broth by adding fish sauce, fresh ginger, garlic, and other seasonings until it tasted like something resembling Pho stock. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix for the lack of collagen. After putting together a bowl, I decided I would salvage the noodles and turn them into a salad the next day then m/b adding some beef to the broth and ending up with a new stock? I don't think it's worth the effort for the broth. The thing is, so many restaurant goers don't have any clue as to how real Pho stock should taste. There's no one way of making it but there are certain qualities the stock should possess. Just a note: I use the terms stock and broth interchangeably. Lol.

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chuynh
(@chuynh)
Joined: 11 years ago

Pho Restaurant Consultant
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@Chieko: If you can make pho at home that suits your taste and have the time to do it, then as I've suggested elsewhere, it's still better to make the broth in bulk, then freeze what you don't need, and use just what you want when you want it. This way you can avoid wasting money with such bad takeout pho. In the end we should vote with our reviews and more importantly, with our wallets. By definition, the bad restaurants will have to improve or risk going out of business. But as you said, many restaurant goers can't tell the difference, which is how bad restaurants still stay in business.

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John Nguyne
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 John Nguyne
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you can buy sa sung in the states now from a company in San Jose. www.sasungusa.com

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chuynh
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Joined: 11 years ago

Pho Restaurant Consultant
Posts: 374

@John Nguyne: Wow, I know what sa sung is, but the vast majority of people do not, so if you're trying to promote something, at least give the audience some useful information so they care, right? Just saying.

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