This delicious homemade pho recipe is inspired by the Vietnamese soup we all know and love, yet made with a few time-saving shortcuts.
Have you ever tried making homemade phở? ♡
This traditional Vietnamese noodle soup has been a favorite of mine for decades. I have yet to travel to Vietnam to officially try pho in its country of origin (hopefully someday soon!), but I have ordered it countless times in Vietnamese restaurants in the States and here in Barcelona. And this cozy, fresh, and deeply flavorful soup has a way of hitting the spot every single time. It will always be one of my favorite soups to order out. But recently, I’ve been experimenting with different ways to make pho at home, and as it turns out, it’s easier than I expected!
For me, a winning pho recipe all boils down (quite literally) to the quality of its broth. In traditional Vietnamese cooking, pho broth is typically simmered for many hours in order to create that rich, layered, cozy blend of flavors that we all know and love. But while the beef stock base is traditionally made 100% from scratch — a method that is incomparably delicious, yet requires bringing home lots of beef bones and extra veggies plus an extra 2-3 hours of simmering — I’ve tested out a shortcut method using store-bought beef stock as the base for this broth instead. And while it wouldn’t be considered authentic, it turns out that this shortcut method still tastes wonderfully rich and delicious and it can be ready to go in as little as 45 minutes. Once simmered together with charred onion and ginger, a generous handful of warming spices, a hint of sweetener, plus a heaping pile of fresh herbs as garnish, I’m telling you, this homemade pho recipe is one that you are going to want to make again and again.
So if you have been wanting to try making your own homemade pho, I highly recommend giving this recipe a try!
Homemade Pho Recipe | 1-Minute Video
Vietnamese Pho Ingredients:
Alright, before we get to the actual recipe below, here are a few quick notes about the ingredients you will need to make this pho soup recipe…
Steak: Pho bo is traditionally made with thinly sliced steak that is cooked in the simmering broth in each individual serving bowl. In order to very thinly slice the steak, I recommend popping the steak in the freezer for about 45-60 minutes, then slicing it against the grain as thinly as possible. (Alternately, you can ask the butcher to thinly slice your steak for you, or add pre-cooked steak to your soup.)
Thin rice noodles: Pho is traditionally made with thin rice noodles, such as these. In order to prevent the noodles from overcooking in the broth, it’s traditional to cook pho noodles separately on their own. Then the noodles will be added to each individual serving bowl, followed by the protein, hot broth and toppings.
Pho broth: Again, this “shortcut” version of pho broth would not be considered authentic. But it is a delicious and faster alternative to making it 100% from scratch, and it uses the following elements:
Fresh onions and ginger: Which we will briefly cook in a skillet (or you can pop them under the broiler in your oven) until charred, in order to add that classic smoky flavor to the broth.
Beef stock: In order to save the extra hours required to cook beef stock from scratch, I’ve written this recipe using (good quality) store-bought stock as a shortcut. (That said, if you would like to make a more authentic pho recipe using homemade beef stock, I recommend trying this recipe.)
Spices: There are 5 important spices in pho broth — star anise, whole cloves, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, and coriander seeds. I really recommend using the whole (not ground) spices if possible, which we will briefly toast to bring out extra flavor. But I have also included notes below for using ground spices, if those are what you have on hand.
Fish sauce: It’s traditional to add just a little splash to the broth.
Sweetener: I used brown sugar to sweeten my broth instead of traditional yellow rock sugar, but really, any sweetener you prefer will work.
Sea salt: As always, to season your broth.
Toppings, toppings, toppings: This is one soup recipe where the toppings are not optional. Rather, the toppings are the stars of the soup! Feel free to pick and choose your favorites, but I recommend at least one from each category:
Fresh herbs: The more the merrier! I recommend a combo of fresh cilantro, fresh mint and fresh Thai basil (or you could sub Italian basil, in a pinch).
Bean sprouts: You can find these in the produce section of your grocery store, or they are always available in southeast Asian groceries.
Lime wedges: Essential for brightening up the flavors of the broth.
Chiles (optional): Thai bird chiles are traditionally used to give the soup your desired amount of heat, but you could also use jalapeños or serrano peppers too.
Onions (optional): Either sliced green onions or super-thinly-sliced white onions as a garnish.
Sauces (optional): It’s also traditional to serve pho with hoisin sauce and/or sriracha to use as a garnish if desired.
This is actually a double batch of the broth, which I highly recommend making while you’re at it!
How To Make Pho Soup:
Here is the basic overview for how to make homemade pho bowls! (As always, see the recipe below for the full detailed instructions.)
Prep the protein. In order to slice the beef, chicken or pork as thinly as possible, I recommend popping the meat in the freezer for at least 30-45 minutes to chill. Then use a sharp knife to thinly slice the meat before adding it to the soup.
Make the broth. Meanwhile, as the meat is chilling, char the onion and ginger (either in a skillet or under the broiler). Meanwhile, briefly toast the spices in a large stockpot. Then add in the onion, ginger, and broth. Cover and let everything simmer together for at least 30 minutes so that all of those flavors can meld. Strain out and discard all of the onions, ginger and spices. Then stir in the remaining ingredients and season with salt.
Prep the noodles. Meanwhile, as your broth is simmering, go ahead and cook the noodles al dente according to the package instructions. Drain in a strainer, then toss briefly with cold water to prevent the noodles from continuing to cook, and set aside. (I also recommend tossing the noodles with a drizzle of oil — such as sesame oil — to prevent them from sticking.)
Assemble. Once everything is ready to go, add a handful of noodles to each individual serving bowl, topped with your desired protein. Then ladle the simmering hot broth into the serving bowls, being sure to submerge the meat so that it will get cooked. Top with lots and lots of garnishes.
Serve. And serve warm, encouraging everyone to stir the garnishes into the soup so that they can flavor the broth, also adding in additional extra sauces if desired.
Want to customize your own homemade pho recipe? Feel free to…
Use pre-cooked steak: If you prefer not to cook the steak in the individual serving bowls, feel free to instead stir the steak directly into the stockpot of simmering broth to ensure that it is fully cooked. Then ladle the broth and beef together into the individual serving bowls.
Use a different protein: Pho bo is traditionally made with beef, but feel free to use a different protein in place of the thinly-sliced steak if you prefer, such as chicken, pork, shrimp or tofu.
Use ground (instead of whole) spices: I really recommend using whole spices for this recipe if you can. But in a pinch, feel free to substitute their ground equivalents. Those substitutions would roughly be: 2 1/2 teaspoons ground star anise, 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves, 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, pinch of ground cardamom, 2 teaspoons ground coriander.
Instant Pot pho: If you would like to make the broth in the Instant Pot (pressure cooker), first use the “sauté” setting to char the onions and ginger. Then add in the spices and stock. Cover, seal, and cook (manual high pressure) for 10 minutes, followed by a quick release. Add in the remaining ingredients as directed in the recipe.
Crock-Pot pho: If you you would like to make the broth in the Crock-Pot (slow cooker), add the onion, ginger, spices and stock to the bowl of a large slow cooker and stir to combine. (You are welcome to char the onion and ginger beforehand, if you would like, then add them to the Crock-Pot.) Cover and cook on high for 3 hours or on low for 6 hours*. Add in the remaining ingredients as directed in the recipe. *If it seems that much of the broth has evaporated while cooking, just add in a cup or so of extra water.
Make the beef stock from scratch: For a more authentic pho recipe that makes the beef stock from scratch, I recommend trying this recipe.
Make it vegetarian/vegan: Here’s the link to my new plant-based vegan pho recipe.
Add fennel seeds: If you happen to have fennel seeds in your spice cabinet, add a teaspoon in along with the other spices for extra flavor.
A few final FAQs before we get to the recipe…
What is the proper “pho” pronunciation? The closest way to write the correct phở pronunciation with English characters is “fuh.” But Vietnamese is a tonal language, so the correct pronunciation requires lifting the pitch, like this.
Where and when did pho originate? Pho originated in Vietnam, likely sometime during the early 1900s. Historians disagree about the exact origins of the dish and its etymology, but it was likely influenced in large part by other similar noodle dishes as well as the increased availability of beef due to its demand by French colonialists. In the years since, countless variations of the dish have become traditional in various regions of Vietnam, and it is now officially regarded as Vietnam’s national dish.
How do you serve pho? Pho soup is traditionally served in large soup bowls with chopsticks and a soup spoon. But that said, feel free to use whatever bowls you happen to have on hand at home.
How exactly are you supposed to eat pho? First, use your chopsticks to stir all of those yummy fresh garnishes into the broth to help give it extra flavor. (You can later pick them out if you don’t want to eat stems, chiles, etc.) Then alternately, use your chopsticks to eat the noodles, protein and veggies, while using your spoon to eat the broth. I’ve read that in Vietnam, it’s also encouraged to lift up your bowl to drink the last of the broth, if you would like.
Is pho gluten-free? Yes, this pho soup recipe is naturally gluten-free. (As always though, just be sure to double-check that all of your ingredients are certified GF.)
Is the meat in pho fully cooked? If the meat is very thinly sliced, the broth is boiling hot, and the meat is completely submerged in the broth right away — then yes, the meat should be fully cooked. That said, if you want to be doubly sure that your meat is fully cooked, see instructions above for cooking the meat in the hot stockpot of broth and then adding it to the individual serving bowls.
Is pho traditionally made with beef broth? Yes, pho is traditionally made with beef broth. But there are many different variations on pho that can be made with different broths and different kinds of proteins.
Make ahead instructions? Nearly all of the components of this recipe can be prepped in advance if you would like (which would make this recipe even easier if serving it to a big group). For example, the noodles and broth can be prepared and then refrigerated (separately) in sealed containers until ready to reheat and serve.
Storage instructions? I recommend refrigerating the broth, protein, noodles and garnishes in separate containers, so that the noodles do not soak up all of the broth. But the cooked soup (with the ingredients stored separately or mixed together) can be refrigerated in sealed containers for up to 3 days.
garnishes: fresh herbs (cilantro, mint, and/or Thai basil), bean sprouts, lime wedges, thinly-sliced chiles (Thai bird chiles or jalapeños), thinly-sliced onions (green onions or white onions), sauces (hoisin and/or sriracha)
Char the onions and ginger*. Turn the oven broiler to high, and place the baking rack about 8 inches away from the heating elements. Place the onion and ginger cut-side-up on a baking sheet, and brush with a bit of oil. Broil for about 7-10 minutes, until the tops of the onion and ginger are slightly charred. Remove and set aside.
Make the broth. Meanwhile, heat the anise, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and coriander to a large stockpot over medium-high heat for about 3 minutes until fragrant. Add in the charred onion, ginger, stock, and stir to combine. Continue cooking until the broth reaches a simmer. Then reduce heat to medium-low, cover with a lid, and continue to simmer for at least 30 minutes. Strain out (and discard) the onions, ginger and spices. Stir in the fish sauce and sweetener into the hot broth. Then finally, taste and season the broth with salt as needed.
Prep the noodles. Meanwhile, as your broth is simmering, cook the noodles separately al dente according to the package instructions. Drain in a strainer, then briefly rinse the noodles with cold water to prevent them from continuing to cook. (I also recommend tossing the noodles with a drizzle of oil — such as sesame oil — to prevent them from sticking.)
Assemble. Now the fun part! Add a handful of noodles to each individual serving bowl. Portion the steak between each serving bowl. Then ladle the still-simmering hot broth into the serving bowls, being sure to submerge the steak completely so that it gets cooked*. Top each bowl with lots and lots of garnishes, and finish with a squeeze of lime juice.
Serve immediately. Encouraging everyone to stir the garnishes into the soup so that they can flavor the broth, also adding in additional extra sauces if desired.
Thinly slicing the steak: You can use any kind of lean steak, very thinly sliced against the grain. (I recommend freezing the steak for 30-60 minutes beforehand, to make it easier to slice.) It’s very important that the meat is very thinly sliced in order for it to cook quickly in the broth and have a tender texture. If you prefer the steak to be well done, see the alternate option for cooking the beef below.
Alternate meat cooking option: Instead of cooking the thinly-sliced steak in the individual serving bowls, feel free to instead stir the steak directly into the stockpot of simmering broth to ensure that it is fully cooked. Then ladle the broth and beef together into the individual serving bowls.
Alternate charring option: Instead of broiling the onion and ginger in the oven, you can also just cook them cut-side-down in a sauté pan over high heat until charred.
Double batch: Again, I highly recommend making a double batch of this recipe while you’re at it! To do so, you will need a large stockpot (at least 5 quarts) to handle the quantity of broth.