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Jan 20, 2018

Quick Beef Pho | Phở Bò Nhanh

The broth in this Quick Beef Pho, or Phở Bò Nhanh, is rich and beefy even though it does not involve simmering beef bones for hours. 

Quick Beef Pho | Phở Bò Nhanh #pho #vietnamesesoup #vietnamesefood

Pho is one of Vietnam's signature dishes. According to Andrea Nguyen, the author of The Pho Cookbook: Easy to Adventurous Recipes for Vietnam's Favorite Soup and Noodles, pho is a fairly new dish, "birthed" at the beginning of the twentieth century near Hanoi in the north.

One theory, according to Nguyen, is that during the French occupation of Vietnam, the French slaughtered and ate the cows that were formerly used as working animals by the Vietnamese, and would discard the bones and scraps, which Hanoi butchers would salvage and sell to make a broth to combine with rice noodles. They would promote beef as a new flavor.

There's so much more to this story. I highly recommend reading Andrea's book for lots more information about the history of pho and the regional differences.

For example, I've garnished this pho with sriracha, hoisin sauce, and bean sprouts. In some parts of Vietnam, this is considered cringeworthy, but in other parts of the country (and in the U.S.) it's pretty standard.

Quick Beef Pho | Phở Bò Nhanh #pho #vietnamesesoup #vietnamesefood

Basic Phở Bò consists of a clear beefy broth poured over rice noodles topped with very thin slices of raw beef. The beef is "cooked" as the broth is poured over it.

Normally, Phở Bò is made by simmering beef bones for several hours on one day, and assembling the soup the next day. I really wanted to try that method (and I promise I will soon), but I decided to try a method that would give you an option for making this soup fairly quickly.

The stock for this soup is made from store-bought beef broth, blanched ground beef (the secret ingredient), and an array of seasonings and aromatics, all simmered for just 45 minutes. The resulting stock is incredibly "beefy." My house smelled so good after preparing this stock. Every time I walked back into the house, I noticed the amazing beefy aroma.

Quick Beef Pho | Phở Bò Nhanh #pho #vietnamesesoup #vietnamesefood

While picking up the small sized pho noodles and some Thai basil at the Vietnamese market, I also bought some Chinese rock sugar to use for the sugar called for in this soup. It's supposed to be less sweet than granulated sugar and good for soups and sauces to balance any saltiness. I'm sure you can use granulated sugar instead, but it was a fun find.

Quick Beef Pho | Phở Bò Nhanh #pho #vietnamesesoup #vietnamesefood

A few more hints about making this Pho (from this complete novice):
  1. If you have leftovers, store the noodles and the broth separately (toss the noodles in a bit of oil so they don't stick together), or your broth will become cloudy from the noodles. 
  2. If you do mix your noodles and broth before refrigerating, don't worry. Even if the broth is cloudy, it's still delicious, and the noodles hold up really well. 
  3. To slice your beef super thin, freeze the meat until it's firm before slicing. Next time I make this soup, I'm going to do this at the last minute so the beef still retains some of its red color after cooking in the stock.
  4. You will need at least two extra large bowls or containers for straining the broth and soaking the noodles. I used these food grade containers. The measuring marks on the sides were really helpful. You'll also need a colander, a fine mesh strainer, and cheese cloth. 
Making this Quick Beef Pho was such a fun and tasty exercise. Thank you to Sue of Palatable Pastime, our #SoupSaturdaySwappers host this month for picking the theme. After the recipe, be sure to check out the rest of the Vietnamese themed soups. Thank you to Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm for creating this event. 

Yield: 4 to 6 large servings

Quick Beef Pho Recipe


  • 1 pound 85 percent lean ground beef
  • 2 onions, cut into quarters lengthwise (with the grain)
  • 12 cups beef broth
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce (I used Red Boat)
  • 1 four-inch piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 tablespoons sugar, plus more to taste
  • 6 whole star anise, or the equivalent in broken pieces
  • 6 whole cloves
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • one pound boneless strip steak, trimmed
  • 14 ounce package small (1/8 inch wide) rice noodles
  • 1/3 cup chopped cilantro
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced
  • Bean sprouts, sprigs of Thai (or Italian) basil, lime wedges, hoisin sauce, sriracha sauce, and fish sauce for garnishing


  1. Break up the ground beef into chunks and place in a 6 to 8 quart Dutch oven. Add enough water to cover the beef by one inch. Bring to a boil and then boil for two minutes, stirring a couple of times. Drain in a colander and rinse well with water. Wash the Dutch oven and return the ground beef to the pan. 
  2. Add six of the onion quarters to the ground beef mixture. Slice the other two onion quarters thinly and set aside. 
  3. Add the broth, 2 cups of water, fish sauce, ginger, cinnamon, sugar, star anise, cloves, 1 teaspoon of salt, and peppercorns and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, partially covered, for 45 minutes. 
  4. Strain the broth through a colander into a large bowl or container, throwing away the solids. Next, strain the broth through a mesh strainer lined by three layers of cheese cloth into a second large bowl or container. Return the broth to the Dutch oven and add enough water to equal 11 cups of liquid. I only needed about 1/4 cup of water. 
  5. Season the broth with sugar and salt to taste. Cover the pan and keep the broth warm over  low heat. 
  6. During the time that the broth is simmering, place the steak in the freezer for 35 to 45 minutes. Slice it against the grain into very thin slices (about 1/8 inch). Set aside in the refrigerator. 
  7. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. In the meantime, place the noodles in a large bowl filled with hot tap water. Soak until pliable, about 5 to 15 minutes (mine were ready in 7 minutes. Drain the noodles and add them to the boiling water, and cook for 30 to 60 seconds. Drain the noodles and divide them among your  bowls. 
  8. Bring the broth to a boil over high heat. Shingle the steak pieces over the noodles in the bowls, top with the onion slices, and divide the cilantro and scallions among the bowls. Using a ladle, add the broth to each individual bowl. The hot broth will cook the meat. 
  9. Serve immediately with the garnishes. 

Quick Beef Pho | Phở Bò Nhanh #pho #vietnamesesoup #vietnamesefood

Would you like to comment?

  1. Am I reading this correctly Karen? Do you discard the ground beef once the broth is complete? Is it rendered unusable after that or could it be used in another application? I love the technique for making the rich broth though and if the beef isn't adaptable for something else I can always give it to my dogs.

    1. You did read it correctly =) After 45 minutes of simmering, it's pretty well leached of all of its beefiness. It takes the place of the bones in bone broth, but takes so much less time to add richness to the broth. I didn't taste it though, so I'm not sure if it would be fine in a casserole.

    2. Ok, thanks. I'm sure it will be fine for the dogs or chickens. Great technique. Thanks for sharing.

  2. This sounds fantastic and I love that is's so quick and easy to make! Faith, Hope, Love, & Luck - Colleen

    1. Thank you Colleen. It wasn't very hard at all!

  3. You picked a great version for a very complex soup - the story behind it makes me think of the Brazilian feijoada, born from the black slaves having only the most objectionable parts of the pork to cook, as their "owners" kept the prized parts for themselves. Feijoada was pure genius in gastronomic form, just as pho

    great post...

    1. Thank you Sally. It's sobering isn't it? I'm going to look up Feijoada.

      This method for making the broth was incredible. I'm pretty sure your pups would go nuts with the beefy aroma wafting through the house.

  4. The great thing about pho and bone broth is that since it became trendy you can often find it ready made so that makes putting together some pho a really quick meal. The aroma from the broth is intoxicating and lasts for a very long time. I like making a lot at once since it freezes well.

    1. I'm definitely making the "real" version next. The aroma from this version was intoxicating!

  5. OMG! this bowl of soup is so irresistible.

  6. This was absolutely delicious and so quick and easy. It will be my go to for pho in the future. I only added 1 Tbsp sugar and felt it never needed anymore, nor did I have to adjust for salt.

    The rest of the seasonings were spot on and I would not change a thing.

    My dog Maggie certainly enjoyed the left over ground beef:)))

    1. I'm so glad you liked it! The technique is pretty interesting isn't it? I'm so happy Maggie assisted with the beef too.


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