The words “Fast” and “Easy” are red flags for any pho recipe. I admit that. This is not an easy recipe. It’s an easy pho recipe. I’m also well aware that chefs, restaurants, and even Vietnamese grannies often simmer their pho broth for anywhere from 6 to 16 hours (though I’ve always suspected that anything beyond 8 is just frivolous showmanship or menu puffery). The purpose of this recipe isn’t to say that using a pressure cooker to make pho is better than the traditional method. The purpose is to offer up an excellent alternative that saves time and still produces a fantastic bowl of pho for those of us not lucky enough to have a Vietnamese caregiver in our family tree. It’s a “gringo’s” guide to making awesome pho at home.
I’m not trying to take anything away from the long simmering purists. I am humble enough to realize that I will never make a bowl of pho as good as my friend’s Vietnamese mother. There’s a cultural component to pho (or any dish with ethnic significance for that matter) that only those who live that culture can understand. That cultural component isn’t something translatable. It’s a living ingredient that not everyone can include in the preparation of their dishes without a tangible cultural experience (including myself).
With that said, I’m still very proud of this recipe. It creates the clearest, cleanest, and most flavorful pho broth that I’ve been able to make at home. I don’t always have a day to devote to making pho broth and I like to eat pho far more often than time would allow me to do so. This recipe gives me my time back, but sacrifices little to nothing in terms of flavor.
If you’re fortunate enough to have eaten pho from the stove top of a Vietnamese household, then you’ll note that nothing can top that. But I think you’ll also find that this recipe is significantly close to achieving those flavors and I personally prefer it to many of the restaurants out there serving dark, cloudy, old pho packed with sugar and MSG (nothing wrong with MSG!) to pump up the flavor.
This recipe works because almost no moisture is lost during the process of creating the pho, but the pressure gets all of the flavor out of the ingredients. That means the broth doesn’t get concentrated during the cooking process (that’s one reason that can make it undesirably dark or cloudy), which then requires dilution with water or stock. The pressure cooker removes that guesswork, shortens cook time, and keeps all of the flavors intact while still leaving the broth beautifully clear.
Vietnamese Beef Pho Recipe in the Instant Pot
Homemade Instant Pot Pho.
- Pho Broth Ingredients:
- 2 pounds of beef knuckle
Note: Beef knuckle is awesome because it adds flavor like bones would, but it also adds gelatin, which gives the broth a richer mouthfeel. If you find some of the ligaments or cartilage salvageable after cooking, feel free to toss those in the soup bowls as well!
- 2 pounds of beef shank
Note: The beef shank has meat and bone, which give the broth it’s delicious beefy flavor.
- 1 medium onion peeled and cut in half
- 2 to 3-inch nub of fresh, peeled ginger cut in half length-wise.
- 1 long cinnamon stick (~5 inches)
- 3 whole anise pods
- 3 whole cloves
- 3 – 4 inch piece of yellow rock sugar
Note: Yellow rock sugar is not the same as white table sugar. Don’t add a teaspoon of regular granulated white sugar to the recipe as it will completely change the flavor. The yellow rock sugar adds a sweetness that is very mild and merely rounds out the flavors of the broth. Pho in many restaurants is often sweet, so use more or less of the sugar to get the desired sweetness.
- 8 to 10 cups of water (no more than max fill line of instant pot)
- 2 tablespoons of kosher salt (add more salt to the broth before serving if you like it saltier)
- 1 to 2 tablespoons of fish sauce (after cooking)
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of MSG (optional, but extremely recommended)
- Very thinly sliced omasum (not honeycomb) beef tripe (Completely optional and not really part of this recipe, but it is included in most restaurant pho preparations.)
Note: Ask your butcher or Asian market for some. If you want to prepare this then boil it for ten minutes in a separate pot than the beef bones, rinse with cold water, and then throw it in the pressure cooker along with the rest of the ingredients. Preferably wrap the tripe in cheese cloth so that it doesn’t get dispersed all over the pot.
- 2 pounds of beef knuckle
- Bowl Toppings and Ingredients:
- 1/2 pound of beef eye round and 1/2 pound of beef brisket or sirloin
Note: The amount of meat for one bowl can be as much or as little as you like, but shoot for a 1/4 pound total per bowl. Also, as a quick and dirty shortcut use some fresh shaved steak from the grocery store if you don’t have time to thinly slice your own beef. If your butcher can do it for you or you have access to an Asian market, then all the better!
- 7 to 14 ounces of Asian rice stick noodles
- Fresh cilantro whole or finely diced
- A sweet onion halved or quartered and very thinly sliced
- Thai basil (Italian basil can work, but isn’t quite the same)
- 1 lime cut into wedges
- Thai chilis (jalapenos work, but they aren’t the same)
- Optional: Mung bean sprouts
- 1/2 pound of beef eye round and 1/2 pound of beef brisket or sirloin
- Instant Pot or another electric pressure cooker
- Large soup pot
- Large heat proof fine mesh colander
- Small pot
- Cutting board
- Oven mitts
- 4 medium to large deep bowls
- First, prep the ingredients for creating the pho broth. Peel and slice a large sweet onion in half. Peel and slice lengthwise a 2 or 3 inch piece of fresh ginger. Set aside 3 whole anise pods, 3 whole cloves, a long cinnamon stick, and a 2-inch piece of yellow rock sugar. Some recipes insist that the ginger and onions must be charred over an open flame or under the broiler while the spices should be toasted in a pan. You can do this and it does add a sweetness or depth, but I don’t think its strictly necessary and there are plenty of people that don’t bother with this step. It’s a personal preference that doesn’t really do a lot to change the flavors unless you’re looking specifically for those notes. If you do want to char the onion and ginger, then an easy method if you have a gas stove is to simply get a pair of metals tongs and hold the onion or ginger over the stove flame on high heat until you get some char. Be careful not to make the onion mushy. If you don’t have a gas stove, then try the broiler setting on high in your oven and putting the onion and ginger on a sheet pan underneath to just get some char. The spices can optionally be toasted in a dry saute pan over medium-high heat just until fragrant.
- Place the beef knuckles and shanks in a large stock pot. Then fill the pot with water so that the bones are covered with two inches of water. Place the pot on the stove and bring it to a boil under high heat. Let the bones boil for 8 to 10 minutes. This parboiling step will boil out impurities and other unattractive elements that could detract from the broth. Don’t be surprised if the meat releases quite a lot of scum to the surface of the water, which will be discarded later.
- After 8 to 10 minutes, pour the bones into a colander in the sink to drain the water. Then rinse the bones lightly off in cold water to remove any pieces of scum that might cling to the bones. Be careful not to over-rinse. You don’t want to lose some of the tasty bits like the marrow from inside the bones. If you don’t have a colander that can accommodate the bones, then just use some tongs to pull the bones out of the stock pot and rinse them.
- Place the beef and bones in the instant pot along with all of the halved onion, ginger, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, rock sugar, and 1.5 tablespoons of salt and the optional, but recommended 1/2 teaspoon MSG (Note: The MSG makes a real difference. It’s optional, but it really is worth it and despite its bad reputation in America, it actually is very safe to eat no matter what alarmists might tell you. It’s also a common ingredient in many Asian as well as American foods that people eat every single day without even realizing it.). Then fill the instant pot with 10 cups of water or to the max fill line, whichever comes first.
- Place the lid on the instant pot, set the steam release to closed, and press the soup setting on high pressure.
- When the instant pot is done, place a kitchen towel over the pressure release and slowly turn it to release the pressure. When the pressure is completely released, place a colander over the stock pot used to boil the bones or another large heat safe container. Very carefully, pour the broth through the colander and into the large soup pot. Alternatively, use some tongs to remove the bones and spices from the Instant Pot to set them aside.
- Set the broth aside and pick out any good sized pieces of meat from the colander to eat right away or use later when making up the bowls of pho. The pho is almost ready to be eaten, but it still needs the fish sauce, but don’t add it until you are actually ready to eat. The biggest issue at this stage is that there is a lot of fat on the surface of the broth that needs to be skimmed off. There are two approaches that can be used to remove the fat. One is to get a ladle or large spoon and painstakingly skim the fat from the broth until there is almost none left. This is a huge pain in the butt and you risk accidentally discarding some of the precious broth along with the fat. That’s why I prefer the second option. See step 8.
- I like to remove the fat by preparing the Pho broth either early in the morning or the previous night. I let the pho cool and then place it in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. When the broth gets cold two things happen. The first is the obvious one and it’s that all the fat solidifies on top making it extremely easy to remove. The second, is all of the flavors in the broth have time to deepen. Use a spoon to lightly scoop just the fat off the broth. Don’t be surprised if the broth has basically turned to a jelly-like consistency. That’s the wonderful gelatin doing its work. When heated, it will become completely liquid again. With the fat removed, the broth can be reheated to serve or it can be placed in a freezer safe plastic zipper bag or other air tight container for freezing. The broth stays very well in the freezer for a later date. I will often make a couple of batches of broth and freeze them for pho on demand!
- If serving or reheating after skimming, bring the pho up to a boil and add in 1 tablespoon of fish sauce.
- With the broth ready, next comes assembly of the bowl. First, get the toppings ready by prepping some fresh cilantro, fresh basil leaves, lime wedges, Thai chilies or jalapenos, and bean sprouts. Arrange them on a plate for people to add to their dish as their tastes dictate. People can use their hands to tear the leaves or you can provide them pre-chopped. Personally, I don’t care for the bean sprouts, but they are a staple at Vietnamese restaurants and they look great for presentation.
- Next, very thinly slice half a sweet onion and soak the onions in cold water for 20 minutes. The soaking helps to remove some of the bite of the onion. If you don’t trust your knife skills to slice the onions thin enough, then try using a mandolin food slicer on one of the thinnest settings.
- Dice 4 sprigs of scallions and set them aside.
- Slice the beef eye round and brisket or sirloin into very thin slices. Freezing the meat for 30 minutes to an hour before slicing can help achieve super thin slices. If you have a deli slicer then use that on one of the thinnest settings after freezing the meat for 30 minutes. If you don’t trust your knife skills or don’t have time to slice the beef, then try using a pound of shaved steak from the grocery store. It’s not the best choice, but it gets the job done in a pinch. The key is having super thin beef that the broth can cook easily when poured over. Set the sliced meat aside.
- Place a small pot of water to boil and add 7 to 14 oz of rice stick depending on how many noodles you want in your bowl. Boil the noodles for about 5 minutes or according to the package’s directions.
- Drain the noodles and cool them down under cold running water. Cooling the noodles down quickly is important to keep them from overcooking and from sticking together too much.
- Place the noodles equally in each of the bowls. This recipe makes 4 medium sized bowls of pho.
- Top the noodles with the thinly sliced beef (the beef can be raw if very very thin and your stove can get the broth hot enough as it will cook when the hot broth hits it. If you’re not confident, then blanche the beef for 5 or 10 seconds in boiling salted water (not the broth itself!), but don’t overcook it, before placing in the bowls).
- Top the beef with some of the onions that were soaked in water, sprinkle some scallions around the bowl, add a little cilantro, and some Thai basil. Don’t add too much cilantro or basil because people can always add in what they want later.
- Bring the broth to a very strong boil (as hot as possible if you’re relying on the broth to cook the thin sliced meat), add a tablespoon of fish sauce (and a 1/2 teaspoon of MSG) if you haven’t already. If you want more fish sauce, you can add a second tablespoon, but one should be plenty.
- Ladle the broth over the bowls evenly until each is full and all of the ingredients are covered in broth. Serve immediately and enjoy with a squeeze of lime!
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