Homemade beef pho on a weeknight? YES! With a few shortcuts, this quick Vietnamese beef pho is ready in under and hour. Searing the beef in a hot skillet also adds great flavor!
For the broth:
- Chubby 1-inch (1 ounce) section ginger
- 3 medium-large green onions
- 1 1/2 to 2 star anise (12 to 16 robust points total; use the max if you like spice)
- Slender 3-inch cinnamon stick, broken in half
- 3 whole cloves
- 4 cups low-sodium beef broth, preferably Swanson
- 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth, preferably Swanson
- 2 cups water
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon organic sugar, or 2 teaspoons maple syrup (optional)
For the pho:
- 10 ounces dried medium flat rice noodles (aka pad Thai noodles)
- 2 tablespoons canola or other neutral oil, plus more as needed
- 12 ounces well-trimmed beef steak (such as top sirloin, tri-tip, or flank steak), cut across the grain into bite-size strips a scant 1⁄4 inch thick (chopstickable pieces, about 1” x 3” x scant 1/4” thick)
- 1/4 teaspoon recently ground black pepper, plus more as needed
- 3/4 teaspoon white or brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons fish sauce
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1/2 small (2 ounce) yellow or red onion, cut along the grain into narrow wedges
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, leafy tops only
Optional add-ins (choose none, some, or all):
- 4 handfuls bean sprouts
- 1 or 2 Thai or serrano chiles, or 1 sliced jalapeño or Fresno, thinly sliced with seeds intact
- 4 to 6 sprigs mint
- 4 to 6 sprigs Thai basil
- 4 to 6 lime wedges
- Hoisin sauce
- Sriracha sauce
1 Make the quick broth: Peel then slice the ginger into 6 to 8 coins. Smack the coins with the flat side of a knife to slightly crush, then set aside.
Thinly slice the green parts of the green onion to yield 1/4 cup; set aside for garnish. Cut the leftover sections into pinkie-finger lengths, smack with the flat side of the knife, then add to the ginger.
In a 4-quart pot, toast the star anise, cinnamon, and cloves over medium heat until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the ginger and green onion sections. Stir for 30 seconds, until aromatic. Slide the pot off the heat, wait about 15 seconds to cool a bit, then pour in the beef and chicken broths.
Return the pot to the burner, then add the water and salt. Bring to a boil over high, then lower the heat to gently simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes.
2 Strain the broth: When the broth is done, pour it through a fine-mesh strainer positioned over a 3-quart pot; discard the solids. You should have about 8 cups; if your yield is way off, add water to dilute or boil down to concentrate.
Season the broth with fish sauce and sugar to create a strong savory-sweet note. Keep the broth warm over medium heat. If it comes to a boil, lower the heat and cover.
3 Cook the noodles: While the broth simmers, boil the noodles in a large pot of water for 5 to 7 minutes, until tender and chewy (or use package directions, if available). Drain, rinse under cold water to remove any lingering starch, then let drain well before dividing among 4 noodle soup bowls.
4 Prep the beef and add-ins: In a bowl, combine the beef with the pepper, sugar, cornstarch, fish sauce, and soy sauce. Set the beef by the stove with the garlic, onion, green onion tops, and cilantro. Have any optional add-ins at the table.
5 Cook the beef: Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Swirl in the 2 tablespoons oil. Add the garlic and onion. Once aromatic, about 30 seconds, push the aromatics to one side of the pan.
Increase the heat to high and add the beef, spreading it out into a single layer. Let it cook, undisturbed, for about 1 minute. When the beef begins browning, use a spatula to flip and stir for 1 to 2 minutes, until it is still slightly rare.
6 Serve the pho: Divide the beef among the bowls. Garnish with green onion and cilantro. Sprinkle on some pepper. Re-taste the broth, make any adjustments, then bring to a boil and ladle into the bowls. Serve immediately.
Invite guests to enjoy this like other pho noodle soup—using a two-handed approach to wield chopsticks and a soup spoon. They should include as many add-ins as they wish!