Phó is a fragrant Vietnamese noodle soup that originated in northern Vietnam and was popularised in the French colonial period. A versatile, cleansing dish with steaming, clear broth, it has since become a staple dish throughout Vietnam and made its mark on the rest of the world.
My love of phó developed when I was a kid. My parents used to take me to Victoria Street on a Sunday afternoon for a noodle soup with all the delicious trimmings. Even as a kid, there was nothing so appealing to me than this huge bowl of broth (I have always been a big soup person), and the freedom to add as many garnishes and condiments as I pleased.
For me, Victoria Street is the heart of Melbourne’s Vietnamese food culture (although there is some amazing phó in Footscray and other places scattered throughout our city). This colourful corner of Melbourne was the inspiration for this dish.
Don’t be afraid like I was initially to create phó at home – just use a HUGE pot to get the most out of your stock components, and hit up the Vietnamese supermarket or grocery store nearest to you and you’ll find everything you need for this recipe.
Also, don’t be afraid to change it up – I’ve only loosely stuck to a traditional phó and tailored it to suit my own tastes. For example, you could dry roast all the spice pouch ingredients before adding the pouch to the stock if you wanted to. Just as long as you cook the broth for at least an hour with lots of different things to flavour the broth in the pot, you’ll be good to go.
1 kg chicken or beef bones (I use chicken, but you can use what you like, even a combo of both), washed
500g beef brisket
2 chicken breast fillets
400g dried rice stick noodles
1 large onion, chopped
8 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 6cm piece of ginger, peeled and grated
½ cup fish sauce
2 teaspoons beef or chicken powder stock
Cracked pepper and salt, to taste
(You can use an oversized tea strainer or a square of muslin cloth for this)
3 star anise
3 4 cm sticks cassia bark
2 cardamom pods
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
2 teaspoons peppercorns
For the garnish (measurements to taste):
Spring onions, chopped
Red chillies, sliced
Lime wedges (at least one wedge per bowl of phó)
Rinse the beef/chicken bones and brisket in cold water. In a large pot, cover the bones and brisket with water and add the ginger, garlic, onion, stock, fish sauce, brisket, a bit of salt and pepper and bring to the boil. Skim off any impurities that rise to the surface of the liquid, and do this throughout the cooking of the broth to ensure the broth is clear.
Lower the heat so the broth is simmering. Add the spice pouch to the broth and cook for at least an hour (can be up to two hours, or even longer if you adjust the heat).
Remove the bones from the stock and discard. Take the brisket out of the broth, cut off any fat. Thinly slice and add back to the stock.
Add the chicken breast fillets to the broth, cook until no longer pink and translucent in the middle.
While the chicken is poaching in the broth, add the noodles to boiling water and cook until soft and no longer chewy. Drain and divide the noodles between four large soup bowls. Remove the chicken from the broth and shred.
Top the noodles with the broth, and then the chicken. Sprinkle phó with the spring onions, sprouts, mint, chilli and coriander, and add any or all of the condiments listed above along with a squeeze of lime. Enjoy!