If there’s one food I eat at least once a week (besides wine), it’s pho. That’s right, the butt of all “pho-king” jokes people make. I’m not going to make those jokes, even though now that we’ve talked about it, I want to. The reason people make those jokes is because pho is delicious. It’s so delicious that “delicious” doesn’t do it justice, so you want to call it “effin’ delicious.” The pun digresses from there, but don’t let it fool you. It really is that good.
If you’ve had really good pho (pronounced phuh, not foe), you know the kind of tasty glory we’re talking about. If you’ve never had pho, or maybe if you’ve only had bad pho, you probably think I’m exaggerating. I’m not. If you don’t like pho, I call you crazy, and I’m not sure we’ll ever be best friends.
The main reason this Vietnamese noodle soup is so effin’ delicious is because of the slow-cooked, spice-infused beef broth. It warms you up from the inside out, in a way that feels like your soul or the souls of a thousand Vietnamese grandmothers are warming you with hugs and comforting words. Pho makes you feel better when you are sick, it makes you feel reassured on a cold, rainy day, and it has a way of making the world sit upright again when you’ve had a bad day. It’s one of those things that hits on every part of your tongue; sweet, spicy, tart, salty, and umami. If you’re not familiar with umami flavors, think about steak, bacon, mushrooms, soy sauce and the hearty, meaty flavors they add to any dish. That savory depth of flavor is umami, and the secret to my homemade pho lies within maximizing this element.
I’m not sure of the “proper” way to make pho, though I’d love to learn. I just know what I’ve tasted and what I’ve read over the past year or so since I started researching it. I’ve made a more traditional style broth before, but I’m going out of town and wanted to use up a few extra ingredients I had sitting around, namely shitake mushrooms. The additions I made added a ton of flavor, so while this recipe may seem a little off if you’re into pho making, it’s what I made yesterday and posted on Instagram. I got a number of comments on Instagram, Twitter and text about the recipe, so I figured I’d share even if it’s not 100% “correct.” It was delicious, effin’ delicious (!), and that’s really all that matters, right?
In order to get maximum umami flavor, I used a combination of shitake mushrooms, kombu (an awesome sea vegetable), beef bones and meat. If you only have two out of three of these, it will probably still work fine, but I like a really deep and complex umami flavor in my soup, so I used them all. You could taste the subtle nuances of each, and the addition of the spices made for a layered broth that wowed me with each bite. I hope you like it, too.
Do you make pho at home? What style broth do you like? How do you make yours, and what would you differently with mine?
Easy and Delicious Slow Cooker Pho Broth
- 8 cups water
- 1/2 pound shitake mushrooms, stems removed, sliced
- 4 1×3 inch pieces of kombu
- 2 large beef soup bones (preferably with marrow intact)
- 8 oz beef meat (you can easily use leftover steak or whatever you have on hand – I used top sirloin)
- 1 medium onion, quartered
- 1/4 cup chopped lemongrass
- 1 3″ piece ginger, sliced or chopped into large pieces
- 4 pieces whole cardamom
- 4 pieces whole cloves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2-3 pieces whole star anise
- 1 Tablespoon black peppercorns
- 2 Tablespoons soy sauce
To complete the soup:
- vermicelli rice noodles (1-2 cups cooked noodles per person)
- sliced beef (eye of round, flank, brisket, etc all work well)
- sliced jalapeño
- mung bean sprouts
- herbs (cilantro, Thai basil, and mint are all relatively standard)
- lime wedges
- housin sauce
- rooster sauce or sambal oelek
- Toss all the broth ingredients into a large slow cooker and cook on low for 9 hours. (You can cook on high for 4 hours, but I recommend the low setting to slowly extract the flavors, creating a more complex soup.)
- When the broth is finished, remove the soup bones and discard. Strain the broth through a fine metal sieve and reserve. Reserve the mushrooms from the strainer and discard the rest.
- Slice the mushrooms and use them as a soup garnish. Assemble the soup by adding the noodles, beef and mushrooms to an extra-large soup bowl. Then, add half the broth (about 4 cups) and top with the garnishes of your choice. Enjoy with chopsticks for meat and noodles and a large Asian soup spoon for the broth.
Is there anything better? Pho-get about it!