People always said that my mom makes amazing food. I was so spoiled by the fact that I got to eat her cooking every night that I never bothered to learn how to cook any of her dishes. This included phở– especially phở.

Phở broth takes a whole weekend to make from scratch. Why would any bachelor put himself into that position when he could go to a restaurant and buy it? Unfortunatley, it wasn’t until I moved to the west coast that I realized my mistake. My mom grew up in northern Vietnam which cooks the regional variant of phở called phở bắc which is different from the southern varient of phở that most places here in the Bay Area cook. If you want to have phở bắc (and a nice dose of Schimmelmann nostalgia) you need to cook this type of phở yourself.

Luckily, my mom visisted and I was able to document her dash-of-this, until-it-looks-right steps while she showed me how to cook phở from scratch!


Dry Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 4 star anise
  • 2 cinnamon stalks (2" each)
  • 3 cloves
  • 2" of large ginger root, sliced
  • 2 whole medium onions
  • ½ pod of black cardamom seeds
  • 4 tablespoons of salt

Meat and Bones:

  • 5 lbs of beef bones
  • 5 lbs of ox tail
  • 2 lbs of turkey drum sticks

Wet ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons of fish sauce
  • small can of chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons of yellow rock candy

Preparatory Work

Phở broth takes an entire day to make. You will want to start with the broth and let it simmer through the night.

The first thing we want to do is roast the spices to release the oils and flavor:

  1. Place the fennel seeds and cloves into a small pot under low heat. Allow them to roast until gently brown.
  2. Set the medium onions, cinnamon stalks, sliced ginger root, and star anise on a grill over an open flame on the grill until they are charred.
  3. Afterwards, gently rub the char from the ingredients under running water.

Now that we have the spices ready we will clean the bones:

  1. If ox tail or turkey legs are unavailable then substitute them with beef bones. It is preferable to use ox tail and turkey drum sticks as they make the broth sweeter.
  2. Place a large pot filled with water and a good amount of salt and on the stove and allow it to boil.
  3. Once a boil has been achieved, place all the bones and meat into the pot.
  4. Allow the bones to cook for roughly 5 minutes to remove blood and other unsavory flavors to seep out.
  5. Remove the scum from the top of the soup as necessary.
  6. Empty the pot keeping all the bones and meat but discarding the water.
  7. Individually wash the bones under running water removing everything that does not look like meat.
  8. Place the cleaned bones back into the pot.

We can now start to make the phở broth:

  1. Fill the pot with water until the bones are covered and then set it to high heat on the stove.
  2. Add charred onion, ginger, cinnamon, and then 4 tablespoons of salt to the pot.
  3. Place the anise, fennel seeds, clove, and black cardamom  in a “phở hòa” (a small teabag like metal canister) and hang it from the side of the pot in the broth.
  4. Watch the pot carefully to ensure it does not boil while removing scum from the top as necessary.
  5. Once it gets close to a boil reduce heat to low and add the rock candy.
  6. Monitor the number of rising plumes of bubbles that reach the surface of the broth. You should be aiming for a total of 3-4 plumes and adjusting the temperature over the next several hours.
  7. Once the number of plumes has stabilized cover and let the pot simmer overnight.
  8. After roughly 12 hours have passed reduce heat and skim the fat from the top of the broth as it tastes horrible. Do not stir the broth as the foul tasting bits have sunk leaving the tasty broth in between the foul bits and the layer of fat above.
  9. Refrigerate the broth to remove the remaining fat as it will congeal and stay at the top. If desired, you can freeze the broth and it will hold.
  10. Save and refrigerate all of the meat and ox tail at the bottom of the pot as a potential topping for your phở while discarding the rest of the contents and bones.

At this point the phở broth is ready and will feed around 20.

Preparing the Toppings

Now we can prepare the toppings for phở:

  • 1 bunch of thai basil
  • 1 bunch of cilantro
  • 6 green onions
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of vinegar
  • ¼ cup of water
  • A partially frozen filet mignon, rib eye, or flank steak
  • bánh phở (pad thai noodles)

We will first make the soaked red onion in vinegar (hàng ngúm):

  1. Place 1 sliced red onion in a bowl and then pour ¼ a cup of water over it along with 1 tablespoon of sugar and 2 tablespoons of vinegar.
  2. Place this at the table to be added on top of the phở at the leisure of the guest.

Now we will prepare the obligatory green ingredients that all phở should have:

  1. Slice the feet off of the green onions (these will be saved for later) and then dice the tops.
  2. Dice the cilantro and mix it with the diced green onion tops.
  3. Keep this in a bowl near the phở preparation area.

We will now slice the beef:

  1. Partially freeze the meat if you have not as this will allow you to slice it thinner.
  2. Slice the raw meat against the grain as thinly as possible and place it into a bowl.
  3. Keep the raw meat near the phở preparation area as we will need to pour hot broth over it to cook it fully.

Now that we have gotten all of our ingredients prepared we need to get the noodles started so that they are warm and will not soak up all the heat that needs to go towards cooking the meat when we pour the hot broth into our bowl.

Prepare your finished bowl of phở involves:

  1. Boil a small pot of water with a little bit of salt.
  2. Place about a 2” by 1” amount of bánh phở into the broth until it is softened and then immediately place it into the phở bowl.
  3. Top the noodles with a handful of diced cilantro and green onion, some crushed pepper, and however much meat the guest wants.

Now heat up some phở broth:

  1. Reheat some of the refrigerated broth in a small pot along with a couple green onion feet until the broth is nearing a boil.
  2. Immediately pour the hot broth onto the bowl of phở trying to cook all of the meat.
  3. Add any additional toppings such as hàng ngúm, thai basil leaves, red chillis, or fish sauce (nước mắm).

Eat and enjoy!