Soup seems to be a universal comfort food. The French have their onion soup, the Italians minestrone, and Moroccans love harira. For me, to be honest, tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich are the most comforting combination on earth. And Vietnamese pho is certainly part of this long list.
My parents are big fans of a Vietnamese restaurant near the neighborhood, but I never ventured much onto the unfamiliar side of the menu. On my first visit, I ordered some cashew chicken bowl, and then came out my parents’ pho. Big, steaming bowls of noodles and meat in a steaming, aromatic broth, delivered with a big side plate of fresh, green herbs. I was not willing to admit that I had ordered poorly, so I stuck up my nose at the pho.
Not long after that, I had one of the best bowls of soup I have ever experienced. At a market in Cambodia, I marveled at a bowl of beef noodle soup that smelled so fantastically delicious, it absolutely enveloped me, even overpowering the smells of the market around me. The broth was so fragrant with chunks of beef and a nice slick of grease on the top that coated the noodles as I plucked them out. I have never forgotten that soup, and know I will never truly recreate that moment.
So now when I go to the Vietnamese place, I order pho. Different types, depending on my mood. I don’t know what the Cambodian equivalent of pho is, but I have attempted to create my own equivalent. I know it’s a simple version. I don’t simmer bones to make my own stock or use any overly exotic ingredients – I’ll leave that to the restaurant chefs. But this is warming, comforting and kind in its own way. This soup is easy to make, but impressive to serve.
Simple Beef Pho
The plate of fresh herbs presented along with the steaming soup make this a real treat.
4 cups low sodium beef broth
2 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
3 cloves garlic
1 shallot, peeled and cut into chunks
1 Tablespoon sugar
3 Tablespoons fish sauce
8 ounces rice stick noodles
6 ounces top sirloin steak
Pour the broth into a large saucepan and add the spices, shallot, garlic, sugar and fish sauce. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover the pan and simmer for 20 – 30 minutes.
While the broth is infusing, soak the rice noodles according to the package instructions. Drain and rinse with cold water.
Slice the beef as thinly as possible. It is easiest to do this with cold beef and a very sharp knife. Putting the beef in the freezer for 15 minutes before slicing will also help.
When the broth has infused, drain through a sieve, discarding the solids. Wipe out the saucepan and return the broth to it. Place the noodles in a large serving bowl or in individual bowls. Bring the broth to a boil and drop in the beef slices. Cook for just a minute, maybe two, until the beef is just warmed through. Immediately transfer the beef slices to the noodle bowl, then ladle the broth over.
Serve the pho with leaves of cilantro, mint and basil to be sprinkled on top.
Alison @ Hospitality Haven says
Mmm… I remember having Vietnamese food for the first time years ago with someone I worked with. Thanks for this recipe!
Sarah - A Beach Home Companion says
I grudgingly started meeting a friend for pho several years ago. Not that I didn’t want to meet my friend, I just wasn’t all that excited over the pho. But over the last several years pho has made it’s way onto my list of comfort foods. I’ve gotten to the point where I wake up and say, “I could really go for some pho today.”
I found a great pho soup base at the Asian grocery store and was surprised to find that with the addition of some ginger and lemon grass it’s pretty close to the real thing.
I saw this recipe on tastespotting and got excited because I have been looking for an easy recipe for pho. I tried pho for the first time about a year ago in Hawaii and loved it, it has definitely been a comforting food for me. I thought I would add though, that pho is lime juice (sometimes I use lemon) with the cilantro (etc.) and sriracha hot sauce mixed in to give it a kick.
Nancie McDermott says
Excellent. And if you keep beef in the freezer, cilantro/mint/basil on hand (and what a good habit, especially if they’re out on counter with stems in water so you remember to use them up fast instead of let them waste away in a bag in freezer), it’s spur-of-the-moment pantry food. Home cooking!
Absolutely – this can be tailored in many ways. Add some chopped chiles, or lime juice, or bean sprouts….
congrats on making your own pho!
Brooke @ Food Woolf says
This is a great and easy recipe for all of us first time Pho makers. Great idea and simplification of a classic. A must try!
Is the steak cooked before cutting, or do you just briefly cook it when it’s dropped into the broth?
The Runaway Spoon says
The steak, sliced super thin, will cook in the hot broth.
Tania Davis says
This recipe is delicious! Pho can be intimidating with the elaborate stock preparation, and this recipe takes that our of the equation. I added some additional toppings to make it a bit healthier (i.e. more veggies). It’s great with bean sprouts, napa cabbage, and sriracha! Yum!