There are few things better for the soul or the body than a tangle of slick rice noodles in a rich, crystal clear, intensely beefy broth; the warm aroma of cinnamon, cloves, and star anise rising up in a cloud of steam; the intensely savory-salty hint of fish sauce balanced by a squeeze of lime juice and a handful of fresh herbs and chiles that you add to your bowl as you eat. Perhaps gelatinous boiled beef parts are not everyone's idea of the best hangover cure, and that's ok—the beauty of pho is that once you've got the broth and the noodles, everything else is totally customizable. This classic beefy version incorporates brisket, flank steak, and a bright garnish of fresh herbs.
- 2 large onions, split in half
- 1 large hand ginger (about 6 inches long), split in half lengthwise
- 3 pounds beef shin, with meat attached
- 2 pounds oxtail, cut into 1/2 to 1-inch thick slices
- 1 pound boneless beef chuck
- 1 pound beef brisket
- 3 whole star anise pods
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 4 cloves
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 1/4 cup fish sauce, plus more to taste
- 2 tablespoons sugar (preferably yellow rock sugar)
- Kosher salt
- To Serve:
- 6 to 8 servings pho noodles
- 1 pound beef flank steak, sliced thinly against the grain
- 2 to 3 cups mixed herbs (cilantro, basil, and mint)
- 2 to 3 cups trimmed bean sprouts
- 1/2 cup sliced scallions
- Thinly sliced Thai chiles
- 2 limes, each cut into 4 wedges
- Hoisin sauce and Sriracha
Place a wire cooling rack or grill grate directly over the flame of a gas burner set on high. Place onions and ginger on top and cook, turning occasionally, until deeply blackened on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Alternatively, adjust oven rack to 3 to 4 inches from broiler element and preheat broiler to high. Place onions and ginger on a foil-lined broiler tray. Broil, turning occasionally, until charred on all surfaces, about 25 minutes total. Set aside.
Meanwhile, combine beef shins, oxtail, chuck, and brisket in a large stockpot. Cover with cool water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Boil for 15 minutes, then dump water and meat into sink. When cool enough to handle, rinse parts under cool running tap water, carefully scrubbing debris off of any bones and out of cracks in the meat, then return them to the pot. Cover with cool water.
Add charred onions, ginger, anise, cinnamon, fennel, cloves, coriander, fish sauce, sugar, and 1 tablespoon salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a bare simmer, and cook, skimming occasionally, until brisket and chuck are tender but not falling apart, about 1 1/2 hours. Transfer brisket and chuck to a small bowl and cover with cold water. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Continue simmering broth for a further 4 hours, topping up with water as necessary. Strain broth through a fine mesh strainer. If desired, pick meat and connective tissue from oxtails and beef shins. Discard bones and aromatics. You should end up with about 4 quarts broth. Dilute with water or reduce as necessary to reach 4 quarts. Keep hot.
Carefully skim fat off of surface of broth and discard. Season broth to taste with additional fish sauce, salt, and/or sugar. It should be highly seasoned. Slice cooked beef into thin slices or rough chunks.
Prepare pho noodles according to package directions. To serve, place re-hydrated noodles in individual noodle bowls. Pour hot broth over noodles. Serve immediately, allowing guests to top with cooked meat and slices of raw flank steak, herbs, aromatics, lime, and sauce as they wish.