Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Phở bò (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)... In a Slow Cooker!

When most people think of phở, they are usually thinking of phở bò, which is simply phở served with beef. The two primary types of phở in Vietnam are phở bò (beef), and phở gà (chicken). 

So, what IS phở? First of all, it's pronounced "fuh" (as in "fun), not "fo" (as in "fo shizzle"). Phở is a Vietnamese noodle soup, comprised of a rich broth, and served with rice noodles and meat; usually thinly sliced beef or shredded poached chicken. Bowls of phở are typically served with a plate of basil, mint, cilantro, lime wedges and bean sprouts, all to be added by the diner.

Hủ Tiếu Bò Kho? Not the same as phở.

Phở hails from Hanoi, or, more specifically, Nam Định province, southeast of Hanoi. A combination of Vietnamese flavors with a French influence, Phở has become wildly popular all over the world; it's popularity in the US exploded after the recipe was brought here by refugees fleeing Vietnam after the Vietnam war. 

The broth for phở bò gets its rich flavor from beef bones, a variety of Southeast Asian spices (including cinnamon, ginger & star anise), and is the most essential part of the dish. You absolutely CANNOT substitute canned stock/broth, or even a plain homemade beef stock; the broth is clear and flavorful, yet light and delicate; the spices and vegetables used in the broth in addition to the bones are often charred to release more complex flavors. 

There are variants of phở within Vietnam itself; Northern phở, from Hanoi, uses wider rice noodles and a generous helping of green onions, while Southern phở, from Saigon, uses a sweeter broth and offers a greater variety of fresh herbs as garnish. Traditionally, the broth should be left alone upon serving, but nowadays, it is very popular for diners to customize their phở with Sriracha or hoisin sauce at the table. 

Whenever I get a craving for phở bò, which happens WAY more often than I care to admit, I go to Saigon Noodle House, just off of Hwy 280 (local folks, I avoid Phở Quê Hương, as their cleanliness and service have TANKED in the last several years. Not to mention that, the last time I ate their, I had some serious intestinal duress afterwards). However, I've had recipes for both phở bò and phở gà for YEARS, so I decided it was finally time to make it myself and share it with you! Bonus - no MSG, AND I know EXACTLY what's going into my bowl!

Since the traditional recipe can be VERY time-consuming and laborious, I make my broth in a large slow-cooker - you still get all of the wonderful flavors in the complex broth, but without having to skim a bunch of fat or parboil the bones. Trust me, coming home from work to the smell of phở broth is one of THE greatest feelings after a long day! 

Slow-Cooker Phở bò (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)
adapted from Wandering Chopsticks, with some changes

1 1/2 lbs oxtails or beef shortribs
1 large carrot, peeled & cut into chunks
1 dozen cloves
1 yellow onion, peeled
1 cinnamon stick
1 2-3" knob of ginger, peeled
6 cloves of garlic, peeled
6 star anise pods
2 cardamom pods
1 tsp coriander seeds
2 Tbsp Nước mắm (fish sauce)
2 tsp salt
1/2 lb eye of round, sliced VERY thin
1 package bánh phở rice noodles, dried or fresh
1 package bò viên (Vietnamese beef tendon meatballs), halved (optional)
Beef tripe, rinsed and cut into thin strips (optional)
1 white onion, thinly sliced
2 scallions, finely chopped
Bean sprouts or shredded cabbage
2 Thai chilies, sliced
Lime wedges
Hoisin sauce (tương Ăn phở)
Sriracha (tương Ớt)

Wash and rinse the oxtails or shortribs in cold water. Place in a 4.5 quart slow cooker and add the carrot chunks.

*Note: Oxtails & tripe, though available at most grocery stores, will ALWAYS be cheaper at an Asian or Hispanic market. Trust me on this one. 

Stud the onion with the dozen cloves and add to the slow cooker along with the ginger and garlic. Dry-toast the cinnamon stick, star anise, cardamom pods and coriander seeds in a hot skillet to release their flavors. Place the toasted spices in a cheesecloth bundle or a mesh tea ball; add to the slow cooker.

*If you don't have any cheesecloth or a tea ball, just add the loose spices to the slow cooker; you can always strain the broth later. 

Add water until the slow cooker is a little over 3/4 full (about 2 1/2 quarts of water). Add the fish sauce and salt. Cover and cook on HIGH for 6 hours or LOW for 8-10 hours.

Remove the lid and skim any foam or fat from the top of the broth. Strain the broth through a fine-mesh strainer; remove any meat from the oxtails (or shortribs) and return to the broth. Discard all the solids and return the broth to a heavy-bottomed pot; bring to a simmer on the stovetop. If using the Vietnamese meatballs, add them now. If using tripe, simply boil the tripe for about 5 minutes, then drain.

Prepare the garnishes; place the fresh herbs on a plate, along with the bean sprouts, chili slices and lime wedges.

Cook the rice noodles; if using fresh noodles, simply plunge the noodles into a pot of boiling water for about 10 seconds to soften them. If using dried noodles, simply follow the package directions.

Bring the broth up to a boil; assemble your serving bowls by placing cooked & drained rice noodles in the bottom. Top with the tripe (if using) and raw beef slices. Ladle in the boiling broth, which will cook the raw beef slices. Top with onion slices and scallions, then serve.

Using the rare beef and tripe creates a dish known as phở tái sách (tái for rare beef, sách for tripe); this is my personal favorite type of phở; I always omit the meatballs and tendons (Gân)

Diners can then add garnishes and sauces as needed. Though I like bean sprouts, Saigon Noodle House serves shredded cabbage as a substitute if you ask. Personally, I LOVE the crunch from the cabbage, and good cabbage is usually WAY easier to find here than good bean sprouts!

*Note: The broth will freeze extremely well; do NOT add the noodles directly to the broth and then freeze - it is best to simply freeze the broth and then use new noodles/beef/garnishes/etc later on. 


  1. Good lord woman - you just made me super hungry. And I just ate! nom

  2. WOW! This looks amazingly simple :) I'll have to try.

    1. Please let me know how you like it! It really IS easy!

  3. I have gotta try this! I can't wait to see the look on my husbands face when I show him this recipe. Thank you for the wonderful pictures and clear directions :)

    1. You're welcome, Kathleen! I hope you both enjoy it!

  4. YES! Finally another Asian who grew up in the South! This is a great post, I will definitely have to cook this for my fiancé (he's Belgian, he's never had Vietnamese food!).

    1. We're everywhere!!! I hope your fiance enjoys this dish! :)

  5. Do you add the meat from the oxtails or the short ribs into the broth? I am confused with the wording on that step. I am looking forward to making this!!

    1. "Strain the broth through a fine-mesh strainer; remove any meat from the oxtails (or shortribs) and return to the broth"

      Yes. After the broth cooks, you pull the meat from the oxtail or short rib bones (it should fall off easily) and add the meat to the broth. Hope that helps!