Chefs' Recipes

How to make phở: a masterclass with Angie Hong

Now is the time to make this deeply comforting noodle soup.
PhoBen Hanson
6 - 8
3H 45M

Most culinary historians believe that phở, the ever-popular Vietnamese beef or chicken noodle soup, originated in North Vietnam, in Hanoi, then travelled to the South around 1954 with the northerners who fled the Communist regime and then set up phở restaurants, mainly in Saigon.

There’s a significant difference in climate between North and South Vietnam – the North has winter, so phở was traditionally a breakfast dish, and most of the phở street stalls in Hanoi would pack up and call it a day around 10am, reappearing the next day around 6am.

Growing up in Saigon during the ’60s, I would go with my father on his Lambretta scooter to eat phở gà (chicken) at a restaurant called Pho Ga Binh Minh (meaning sunrise) on Ky Dong Street. As this only happened once in a while, I was full of excitement and anticipation for this special treat – phở then was way more expensive than the usual breakfast of sticky rice, boiled sweet potatoes and cassava, or baguette and sweetened condensed milk.

As soon as we descended the Truong Minh Giang Bridge, I could detect the aroma tinged with ginger and onion and chicken fat in the early morning air. My father would order a drip-filter coffee and a bowl of phở gà, a bowl of just noodles and broth for me (he would transfer some of the glistening slivers of chicken thigh meat with the fatty yellow skin from his bowl to mine) and a plateful of bean sprouts and fresh herbs, lime cheeks and chilli on the table. Slowly sipping the soup from the spoon, slurping the strands of noodle, squeezing in some lime, adding chilli, bean sprouts and torn herbs while looking at that inviting cooked chicken hanging above a large simmering pot of broth, I wished I could eat pho for every meal of the day, or that my bowl would miraculously refill itself endlessly.

Phở is not tricky to make. All you need is a large stockpot, beef bones for phở bò (beef), or a whole free-range chicken and carcasses for phở gà, and fresh ginger, onions, star anise, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, coriander seeds and flat rice noodles, fresh or dried. You can even make the noodles yourself using a combination of rice and tapioca flours. It’s best to make phở broth in large quantities and freeze any extra for later use. Chicken broth is a lot faster to make and involves fewer spices.

Before 1975, hardly anyone in South Vietnam would make phở at home since phở bò and phở gà could be found at local restaurants everywhere. Phở restaurants also popped up outside Vietnam, mainly in France, in the ’50s and ’60s, run by those who fled the Communist regime or the Ngo Dinh Diem presidency. Displaced Vietnamese who called many different countries home after 1975 have brought phở to global attention.

To serve phở you need a deep bowl into which a handful of blanched noodles is placed then topped with paper-thin slices of raw beef, or slices of poached chicken with the skin on, chopped spring onion and coriander, plus thinly sliced onion. The boiling-hot, aromatic broth is then ladled into the bowl and it’s stirred in a circular motion to partly cook the beef and garnishes.

The next step is to season it to your liking, squeezing in lemon or lime, then to add bean sprouts, sliced chilli and fresh herbs: Thai basil, mint, sawtooth coriander, rice paddy herb and chilli to your taste. Hoisin and chilli sauces are essential for dipping. Some people add both sauces to the noodles and mix it through; others like to combine their sliced chilli, lemon juice, chilli sauce and fish sauce in a separate dish in place of hoisin for a customised dipping sauce. Then all you need is a pair of chopsticks and a Chinese soup spoon to eat it.

Eating phở is a ritual art. First you submerge the toppings, then fill the spoon with noodles, meat, garnishes and broth, and taste – this is how one can judge the true flavour and the quality of the phở – then adjust the seasoning to your taste.

In countries such as the United States, Canada and Australia, going to phở restaurants for breakfast every day is almost impossible unless you live near Vietnamese-populated areas, so most people would try to make phở at home, thus giving rise to phở seasoning cubes, paste sachets and packets of mixed phở spices in Asian groceries.

My sister and her husband have settled in Loomis, a semi-rural area near Sacramento, California. They raise chickens, grow limes, lemons, green onions, herbs, ginger and chilli, and even germinate their own bean sprouts from mung beans to make proper phở gà. And I can attest that my brother-in-law, Cuong Vu, makes the best phở (both gà and bò) I’ve ever tasted. He kindly gave me the recipes for the broth, which is the essential part of a good bowl of phở.

Step 1: Rinse the bones, then boil in a large stockpot

Step 2: Grill the onions and ginger until charred

Step 3: Toast the spices

Step 4: Simmer all the stock ingredients together, skimming regularly

Step 5: Remove meat from stock, and thinly slice beef brisket

Step 6 Strain the broth

Step 7: Thinly slice beef rump

Step 8: Arrange bean sprouts, herbs, lemon and chilli on a plate

Step 9: Divide noodles among bowls, top with beef, spring onion and broth

Angie Hong’s recipe for phở bò

Serves: 6-8 people | Preparation time: 45 minutes | Cooking time: 180 minutes



1.Rinse marrow bones, short ribs, oxtail and brisket (or chicken and chicken carcasses for pho ga) under cold running water, then carefully add them to a stockpot or large saucepan of boiling water. Return to the boil, then strain (discard water) rinse meat and bones under cold running water.
2.Preheat a heavy-based frying pan and grill onions and ginger until charred (5-7 minutes).
3.Dry-roast spices until fragrant (5 minutes), then tie in a piece of muslin.
4.Bring 7.5 litres water to the boil in a large saucepan or stockpot, add meat and bones (or chicken and carcasses; see note), onion and ginger, then season with sugar and 2 tbsp salt. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer, skimming often, until well flavoured, transferring brisket to refrigerator after 1 hour of cooking (2½-3 hours or longer for deeper flavour). Add spices and stand to infuse (1 hour).
5.Remove meat and bones from stock (discard ribs) and plunge in cold water to cool, then refrigerate until required. Thinly slice brisket across the grain and set aside. Scoop out bone marrow and break oxtail meat into small pieces and reserve to serve.
6.Strain broth then return 6 litres (freeze remaining) and the ginger and spice bag to a clean saucepan, add fish sauce, bring to the boil, then simmer over low heat until ready to serve.
7.Thinly slice beef rump, and thinly slice spring onion tops and cut white ends into small batons.
8.Arrange bean sprouts, herbs, lime or lemon cheeks, and sliced chillies on a plate.
9.Divide noodles among bowls then, working with a portion at a time, blanch by plunging into boiling water (5 seconds), then return to bowls. Top with sliced beef, spring onion, white onion and coriander, ladle in hot broth and stir. Serve hot with oxtail meat, bone marrow, bean sprouts, herbs, lemon or lime cheeks, chillies and sauces.

For chicken phở, omit the cinnamon and cardamom. In step four cool the whole chicken in a bath of iced water after cooking for 30 minutes, drain and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Slice meat with skin on, refrigerate, return carcass to stock, bring to the boil, then strain, discarding bones. Serve with chicken. Sawtooth coriander is available from select supermarkets and Thai grocers.


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