Growing up not far from Little Saigon, pho shops all had numbers — Pho 79, Pho 84, but somewhere along the line pho went mainstream and so did the names of the shops. So let’s get the jokes and gimmicky names out of the way upfront.
“What the Pho?” — Kids in my class were using this one as far back as junior high — in the late ’80s. Now, it’s a noodle shop in Bellevue, WA.
“9-0-2-1-Pho” — This is real. And yes, it’s in Beverly Hills.
“Jenny Pho” — Also real. In Issaquah, WA.
And of course, the king of all Pho shops…well, there’s an, um, king and he don’t serve burgers.
Creating a good pho broth takes hours, but there’s no reason you can’t do it. Put aside your worries about leaving a pot simmering on the stove unattended overnight, because you can make a good traditional pho broth in the slow cooker. I never would have thought of it, and then a lightbulb flicked on over my head when I saw the recipe on Serious Eats.
My slow cooker gets most of its work with braises, say pulled pork or corned beef or a copycat recipe of the Meat Burrito filling from Tito’s. I rarely make soups in it because most of them don’t need to cook for 8 hours. Pho, of course, is an exception and the crock pot really is the perfect tool. Set it and forget it (for 10 hours).
When we go out for pho, I usually go for the Pho Chin — cooked beef with extra vegetables, but sometimes we just go off menu and order the beef broth with tofu and vegetables. You still get the beefy goodness of the broth without doubling down on the red meat. And that’s the inspiration for version. It’s traditional where it counts — the broth.
I made a few adjustments to the Serious Eats recipe, omitting the Better Than Bullion, which I’m sure is imparting some beefy-ness, but mostly salt…and it seemed like a bit of a cheat. I also replaced the yellow rock sugar with turbinado and was pleased with the result. The oxtails also gave off a good amount of fat, so I skimmed it after cooking and refrigerated the broth overnight to get most of the rest the next day. That said, fat is flavor, so don’t go overboard.
A few tips & notes — these things always seem to come down to the details:
1. Noodles: Fresh rice noodles are best, I’ve used the Fresh Rice Sticks in the pink bag from Sincere Orient, but if you use dried, soak them in cold water for an hour before cooking (that’s a tip from Eric Banh, chef and owner of Seattle’s Ba Bar, in this gorgeous How to Make Pho video).
2. Vegetables: Up to you on what to add — carrot, celery, onion, broccoli, snow peas, even baby corn. All but the broccoli can go in as-is if sliced thinly. Blanch the broccoli.
3. Fish Sauce – I used Red Boat.
4. To sriracha/hoisin or not — It’s your call. I typically add sriracha instead of the jalapenos for a little heat, but others argue adding these sauces is usually to compensate for an inferior broth. Follow your tastebuds.
- 2½ lbs. oxtails
- ½ large yellow onion, halved
- 3” piece fresh ginger, peeled
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 t. coriander seeds
- 1 t. fennel seeds
- 5 whole star anise
- 5 whole cloves
- 1 whole green cardamom pod
- 8 cups of water
- 1½ tablespoons fish sauce (Red Boat)
- 2 T. turbinado sugar
- 2-3 T. kosher salt
- 1 pound dried rice noodles
- 1 16oz. package of extra firm tofu, cubed
- 1 carrot, peeled and sliced thinly on the bias
- 1 stalk celery, sliced thinly on the bias
- 2 green onions, sliced thinly on the bias
- To serve:
- bean sprouts
- 1 jalapeno, thinly sliced
- Thai basil
- 1 lime, quartered
- Position rack in the top third of your oven and set to broil.
- Put the onion halves and ginger on a baking sheet and broil until just charred, turning as necessary.
- Place the oxtails in the slow cooker, add the charred onion and garlic, spices, water, fish sauce and sugar. Cover. Set slow cooker to low and cook for 10 hours.
- Remove the oxtails and strain the broth through a fine mesh strainer. Let the fat rise to the top and skim off as much as you can. Taste the broth and add kosher salt to taste. Refrigerate overnight, then skim off most of the remaining fat.
- If using dried noodles, soak them in cold water for an hour before cooking. Boil for 1 minute and distribute among bowls. Add vegetables and tofu. Reheat the broth and divide among bowls. Serve with bean sprouts, jalapeno, basil, cilantro and a squeeze of lime.