Pho bo

Pho bo

Man Food
Billy Law

There is something so satisfying about sitting on a tiny plastic stool in a little shop in Vietnam, slurping a bowl of rice noodles in flavoursome beef broth. A good pho takes time, as the most important part of the dish is the beef broth, where the bones need to simmer for hours. I'd suggest making a big pot of the broth, and get a few friends together for a pho bo party.


Quantity Ingredient
1 large white onion, sliced paper-thin
1.2-1.6kg fresh flat rice noodles
400g sirloin steak, sliced about 3 mm thick
3 spring onions, thinly sliced, green parts only
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
200g bean sprouts
2 long red chillies, thinly sliced
1 bunch thai basil
lime wedges, to serve
chilli sauce, to serve
hoisin sauce, to serve


Quantity Ingredient
2kg oxtail, beef marrow or knuckle bones
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
5 star anise
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
2 black cardamom pods
200g french shallots
10 cm piece fresh ginger
1kg beef brisket
190ml fish sauce
80g yellow rock sugar


  1. To make the broth, put the oxtail and 1 tablespoon of the salt in a large stockpot and cover with cold water. Soak for 1 hour.
  2. Meanwhile, heat a frying pan over a medium–low heat and toast the fennel seeds, star anise, cinnamon, peppercorns and cardamom until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Tip the spices into a mortar and use a pestle to coarsely grind all the spices together but not reduce them into powder. Enclose the spices in a square of muslin (cheesecloth) and fasten securely with kitchen string.
  3. Heat a barbecue grill to a medium–high heat, grill the shallots and ginger, turning every few minutes, until charred all over, about 15 minutes. Alternatively, simply char the ingredients directly over the naked flame of a gas stovetop. Cool slightly and peel and discard the blackened skin of the ginger and the outer layers of the shallots, then roughly chop the ginger and shallots.
  4. After 1 hour of soaking the oxtail, drain, then put it back in the pot and fill with water again. Bring to a rolling boil over a high heat. Boil for 5 minutes then drain. Wash the bones under cold water and set aside, clean the pot to be re-used.
  5. Fill the pot with 6 litres water, return the bones and add the brisket, then bring to the boil. Skim any impurities off the surface, reduce the heat to a low simmer. Stir in the fish sauce, rock sugar, ginger, shallots and spice pouch.
  6. Cover and simmer for 2 hours. Take the brisket out before it falls apart. Set aside to cool completely, then slice very thinly. Wrap it up in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to be used. Continue to cook the broth for a further 2 hours. It will be reduced by almost half. Reduce the heat if the stock dries out too fast, do not top it up with more water. Meanwhile, soak the white onion in water for 30 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  7. Strain the broth through a fine sieve into another large saucepan and discard the solids. Set the pan over a low heat to keep warm, taste, add the remaining salt if required and adjust the seasonings accordingly.
  8. Fill another large saucepan with water almost three-quarters full and bring to the boil over a high heat. Cook one serving at a time, allowing 200 g noodles per serve. Put the noodles in a wire mesh strainer then dunk into the boiling water, stir with chopsticks to loosen and cook for 20 seconds. Drain and shake off any excess water, then place the noodles in a serving bowl. Top with slices of brisket and raw sirloin, garnish with the onion and spring onion. Ladle hot broth over the beef and noodles and sprinkle with a little black pepper.
  9. Serve the pho bo with bean sprouts, chilli, basil and lime on the side. Invite guests to add chilli or hoisin sauce to the broth as much or as little as they want.
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