Pho, or Vietnamese noodle soup, has gained much popularity in the U.S. over the last couple of decades. The big cities on the west coast, populated with so many Asian immigrants and with a constant influx of tourists, have turned pho into a hip, cool dish to eat.
Many of my school friends would have outings just to get pho, like it was this “cool” thing to do. “Let’s go eat soup with CHOPSTICKS! YEAH!” Yup. So cool. ;)
But even though plenty of people like to eat pho, not many people have tried to make it themselves. I have some good news for you: it’s very easy and inexpensive to do! There are tricks, of course, and I’m certainly not the expert. But it’s easy enough to make at home, and makes a ton of leftovers, so why not try your hand at it?
As you might know, this past October I made the best oxtail stew ever. The broth in the stew was so luxurious, so heavenly, I thought, why not make an oxtail pho?
I am half Vietnamese on my father’s side. My grandmother died when I was young, but I still have fuzzy memories of eating her pho noodle soup—preparing the bowls with the rice noodles, adding all the garnishes and a swirl of sriracha sauce…
Here are some old pictures of her, and some pictures from my wedding. I have her cheekbones, don’t you think?
Now, let’s make oxtail pho!
First, let’s gather ingredients. Here’s what you’ll need:
***Firstly, I just want to mention that this recipe makes a LOT of pho! Be prepared to feed a family. Or a friend. Or lots of friends. Or just eat pho for a week straight. Or freeze the leftover broth. Or you could cut this recipe in half. Just warning you. ;)
***Secondly, this takes 10 hours to simmer. You can technically do it in 4 hours, but 10 hours is better. I began this before bed, and it was ready for lunch the next day. You could also just get up really early and have it ready for dinner on the same day.
Place the oxtail in a strainer, and rinse under cold water.
Place the oxtail in a 6 quart pot, fill with cold water, and bring to a boil.
While the water warms up to a boil, cut your onion in half and throw away the onion paper. Place the onion face down, along with the ginger in a baking pan. Then place the ban 3 inches away from the top of the onion (or on the highest rack), and broil for 15 minutes.
When the water starts to boil, a thick scum will float to the top. Skim this off and throw it away.
Pour the oxtail back into the strainer, and rinse again. Then place into the large stock pot, and fill the stock pot with clean filtered water.
Remove the charred outer layer from the onion, and cut the ginger into a few pieces. Add the onion and ginger to the pot.
Toast your spices. Place the whole cloves, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, fennel seeds, star anise or anise seeds, and coriander seeds in a dry skillet, and toast until aromatic. You won’t see the coriander seeds in my picture because I, unfortunately, ran out right before I made this.
Place the toasted spices, along with the whole peppercorns and cassia/bay leaves into a mesh sachet or tea bag. Make sure it’s tied securely. If you don’t have a tag bag, then use a bit of cloth and tie tightly with kitchen twine. Then, place the bag of spices in the pot.
Your pot should look like this, with the oxtail, onion, ginger, and spices:
Bring the pot to a boil, cover, reduce heat to a low simmer (on my stove, it was the #2), and simmer for 4-10 hours. Four hours is good. More is better. Make sure the broth continues to simmer after you turn the heat down before you walk away. It doesn’t need to be a steady simmer. A few bubbles and burps, every-so-often, suffices.
After 4-10 hours, your broth is done. Now, it’s time to prepare the noodles and garnishes.
Bring a 6 quart pot of water to a rolling boil.
Add the rice noodles to the boiling water, and remove from heat. Allow to soak according to the directions on the package. I used the Three Ladies Brand (buy here), which take 50-60 minutes to soak, so plan accordingly. *TIP: Be careful not to oversoak your rice noodles, or they will get mushy and fall apart.
Slice your lime wedges, chop your cilantro, slice your jalapeños, plate your bean sprouts, get out your sriracha, etc.
Okay, this is when I usually add my fish sauce. You didn’t forget about fish sauce did you? Pho just isn’t pho without fish sauce, because it adds that crucial salty element. I add my fish sauce last because I do it based on taste, not measurement. Frank and I like different amounts of salt in our food, so we add it bowl by bowl. You can add it to the general pot though, if you like. Add it a 1/4 cup at a time, until you reach the right amount of saltiness. You should taste it after each addition.
Portion out the rice noodles into bowls. Pour the boiling broth over it, and then add your garnishes and sriracha sauce. Enjoy!
P.S. Be sure to eat with chopsticks in one hand and a spoon in the other. Because it’s both hipster AND traditional, ya know? ;)
Leftovers day 1: This is my perfect bowl of pho: two lime wedges, 6-8 leaves of basil, 3 TBSP of cilantro leaves, a large handful of bean sprouts, and a swirl of sriracha. What more does a girl need? :)
Leftovers day 2: Same garnishes, but I added mushrooms to my leftovers, because we ran out of oxtail! Plenty of broth left though. I’m going to freeze it and add thin slices of rare eye round steak next time. The rare steak will cook in the hot broth as it sits. Yum!
Featured on Thank Your Body Thursday.
I made this huge pot was excellent turn out.
At Step 5 after skimming the water, then straining the oxtail, what do you do with the original water, discard it or use it in the soup?
I discard it.
Nice recipe, but where’s the rock sugar?
I don’t add sugar to mine, but feel free to adjust your recipe.
Step 7 picture, what is on the pan that is slightly bigger than the cinnamon sticks? You don’t mention this ingredient.
There are only two cinnamon sticks in the picture. One is right side up, one is upside down.
This was super yummy! We skimmed but we did not rinse the oxtails. We’re on the GAPS diet so we kept some of the fat and replaced rice noodles with yellow squash “noodles”.
Sounds absolutely delish. I am not a fan of oxtail though… I will try it with the round steak instead. Thanks for sharing!!
the tail is an extension of the spine btw
Worry not about mad cow disease in Oxtail. We are not allowed to sell parts that contain spinal chord. Tail and neck bones do NOT contain spinal chord. Sounds like a wonderful recipe. My sister in law is Vietnamese and she has me hooked on Vietnamese food. I will try to make this. I love pho in the summer. It is lighter and with mint, perfectly filling.
I love pho and oxtail!! But some times I worry about eating vertabrae because of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy prions!! Do you have any insight on this? I always get my oxtail from a local grass feed source.Sorry to be a downer!
Now that I’m sufficiently drooling, (this looks amazing btw!) quick question; in step 4 you state to “skim off the skum” then in step 5 you pour it all out and rinse it off, is it possible to skip the skum skimming and just rinse off extra well or does this mess up the super secret juju of awesome pho broth? :) I’ve made pho once before from a recipe I got online, and it was alright, it wasn’t my “little old lady who’s been making it her whole life is in the back whipping it up now” pho that I used to get at a shop, but it wasn’t “oh my gosh, throw it out it’s horrid! either :) It just wasn’t as tasty as all the effort needed to do it should have made it taste! Your recipe looks fantastic, soup-er simple and lets the ingredients just shine!!! Thanks for your post and your feedback!
The problem with that is that the scum is super scummy! It will grease up your oxtail and you’d have to boil it again to get it off. If you skim it first and then strain & rinse, then you avoid this. :) It’s also very thick. You wouldn’t want to put that down your sink! I threw mine outside.