If you’ve never had Pho, think of it like beef noodle soup on some serious flavor steroids. This Crock Pot Pho recipe is an incredibly easy version of the classic, comforting Vietnamese soup.
The Beautiful Balance of Vietnamese Cuisine
One of the beautiful things about Vietnamese cuisine is that there is such attention to balance of flavors. Each dish is carefully crafted to blend element of sweet, salty, acidic, and spicy. I think that’s why, in the States, we are seeing a rise in popularity of Vietnamese cuisine, especially pho. The flavors are entrancing, because they are unlike anything we typically get to experience.
Take pho for example. (Which, by the way, is properly pronounced fuh.) When we think about a beef noodle soup, sweet fall spices and crisp rice noodles, aren’t typically the first things that come to mind. But, one bowl of pho, and your frame of reference for beef noodle soup will be forever changed.
The soup is a simple one, made up of four unique elements.
Just like making any basic beef stock, the broth for pho starts with some good quality beef bones, like knuckle or marrow bones. The bones are parboiled first to get rid of the impurities and extra fat. You’ll know why we do this when you see the grey foam floating on the top of your pot of water. Once we rinse out all that nasty stuff, (and scoop out the marrow while the bones are still hot, if you’re using marrow bones) then we have pure beefy goodness to make our stock.
And, that’s about where the similarity stops.
To the bones we add onion and ginger that have been charred to release some of those sweet, caramelized flavors. Then, we throw in some whole spices: cloves, coriander seeds, star anise, fennel, a cinnamon stick, and a cardamom pod. These spices create a warm and slightly sweet broth that is the base of this epic comfort food.
You can use any type of steak you desire for your pho, London broil, sirloin, tri-tip, etc. The key is slicing the meat very thin, across the grain. We find that sticking the steak into the freezer for 15-20 minutes gets it just firm enough so that the slicing goes incredibly easily.
Rice noodles are, well, just that: noodles made of rice flour rather than wheat. We found that most major grocery stores carry at least one brand of dried thin rice noodles (or rice vermicelli) and dried thick rice noodles (banh pho) in their Asian section. (If you’d like to experience fresh rice noodles, you will need to look for an Asian market.)
The thin noodles are great as a filler for spring rolls. But, it’s the wider, flat noodles that we are looking for in today’s soup.
These noodles are soaked in warm water just until tender, and then drained to get ready for their brothy bath.
Vietnamese dishes are typically served with a number of vegetables, herbs, and condiments. It is common to see a plate piled high with chopped green onions, fresh herbs, diced chilies, lime wedges, and bean sprouts served alongside your pho. Condiments like Srirachahot sauce, Hoisin sauce, and fish sauce also commonly grace the table. This way, each person can create the pho experience they are craving.
Traditional pho made easier in the slow cooker
The process for making traditional pho is quite time intensive. And, even if most of that time is hands off, most of us don’t have all day to babysit a big pot of beef stock.
So, we’ve adjusted the recipe to make it easy to execute in a crock pot. This way, with just a little prep, you throw your broth ingredients into the pot, and, 8 hours later, you have your wonderful, fragrant pho broth. The only thing left is to hydrate your noodles and load all the fixings into the bowl.
The nice thing about this recipe is that it does make a lot of pho broth. (Our philosophy is, if you’re going to make stock, you may as well go all out.) The broth can be divided and frozen in serving sized containers, so that you can enjoy your pho whenever the mood strikes!
- 3 lbs beef bones (knuckle, leg, or marrow)
- 1 onion, halved
- 2 inch piece of ginger root, peeled halved
- 3 cloves
- 2 star anise
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 cardamom pod (optional)
- 1 ½ tsp coriander
- 1 ½ tsp fennel
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp sugar
- 1 Tbsp fish sauce (can substitute soy sauce)
- 3 quarts water
- 8 oz rice noodles
- ¾ lb beef steak (flank, sirloin, London broil)
- 4 scallions, chopped
- 1 ½ c bean sprouts
- 1 lime, cut into wedges
- 2 red chilies, sliced
- Handful of fresh mint, basil, or cilantro, chopped
- Place the beef bones in a large soup pot and cover with water. Bring the water to a boil and boil hard for 5 minutes. Drain the bones and rinse them of any scum that has formed. (If you are using marrow bones, carefully scoop out the marrow to prevent your broth from getting too fatty.) Place the bones in the bottom of your 5-6 quart crock pot.
- While the bones are boiling, place the onion and ginger halves on an aluminum foil lined baking sheet. Place the baking sheet under your oven’s broiler (set to high) for 5-10 minutes, checking often, until lightly charred. Once roasted, carefully remove the skin from the ginger root and place both the onion and ginger in your crock pot with the beef bones. Add the whole spices, salt, sugar, and fish sauce.
- Add 3 quarts of water to the crock pot and cook for 8 hours on low or 5 hours on high.
- Cook the rice noodles according to the package instructions, until tender. Drain and set aside.
- Slice the raw beef steak as thinly as possible, across the grain. (We find this easiest if you stick the whole steak in the freezer for 15 minutes to firm it up slightly.) Set the steak slices aside.
- Chop and prepare the additional vegetable and herb garnishes.
- When the broth is ready, strain it through a mesh sieve to remove the bones and spices.
- Fill your bowl with rice noodles and strips of raw beef. Ladle piping hot broth into the bowl (this will instantly cook the beef). Add vegetable and herb garnishes as desired.
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