how to make vietnamese pho
Food and Drink

How to make the perfect Vietnamese pho, according to the founders of Banh Banh

Vietnamese pho is the ideal, warming dish to make at home. Here’s an expert guide to perfecting the classic noodle soup recipe.

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Pho is a traditional Vietnamese dish, epitomizing what many people love about the country’s cuisine – it’s warming yet refreshing and packed full of unique flavours. Pho was born in northern Vietnam during the mid-1880s, with influences from Chinese and French cooking. Now, the noodle soup dish is available in restaurants all over the world, including many in the UK, which specialise in making this much-loved dish.

The founders of Banh Banh set out to perfect their pho recipe, along with various other Vietnamese dishes they grew up eating, when they opened their south-London based restaurant in 2016. Banh Banh was founded by five siblings as a homage to their grandma, who was a chef in Vietnam in the 1940s. “Food was an essential part of growing up for us,” says Tien Nguyen, one of the five siblings who created Banh Banh. 

Nguyen family, founders of Banh Banh
Banh Banh is founded by five siblings.

Luan Nguyen, one of two brothers in the Nguyen family, specializes in creating Pho and he has spent many years perfecting his recipe. Here, he shares it in full, as well as his tips on how to capture all the incredible tastes it can offer when cooking it from home.

What you will need to make Vietnamese pho

For the broth

  • 1 whole boiling chicken, quartered and skinned
  • 2.5kg beef bones
  • 2 medium-sized onions
  • 4-5 inch piece of ginger
  • 1 small free range chicken
  • 1 small brisket
  • 8 litres of water
  • 3 tablespoons salt
  • 30g rock sugar

For the spices

  • 1 large cinnamon bark
  • 2 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 1 tablespoon cloves
  • 2 black cardamom (thảo quả)
  • Small handful of star anise

To serve

  • Pho noodles
  • Thai basil
  • Coriander
  • Sawtooth herb
  • Spring onion
  • Red onion thinly sliced
  • Beansprouts
  • Limes
  • Fish sauce
  • Fresh chilli
  • Hoisin
  • Sriracha
  • White pepper

How to make Vietnamese pho

  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil.
  2.  Add the boiling chicken and bones. Boil for a few minutes then discard all water to get rid of the impurities and ensure a clear broth. 
  3. Clean the pot and fill with fresh water. Bring to a boil then add the washed chicken and bones. 
  4. Simmer on a medium to low heat and use a mesh skimmer to skim any scum which comes to the surface.
  5. Meanwhile, char the onion and ginger on an open flame on the stove or a grill to add depth to your pho. 
  6. Once charred, peel and scrub off any excess char from these. Bash and cut the ginger to release the flavour and cut a cross into the onion to do the same.
  7. Once the broth has been on the simmer for about 60 minutes, add the free range whole chicken and piece of brisket. Then, add the onion and ginger. 
  8. Continue skimming the broth and leave the chicken and brisket in it until cooked.
  9. Take them out and place in cold water to help relax the meat.
  10. Prepare the spice bag by heating a dry frying pan. Toast the cinnamon, star anise and black cardamom until the aroma releases. When ready, turn off the heat and add the rest of the spices. Once cooled, add these to a spice bag.
  11. Once the broth has been on the stove for about 3 hours, add the spice bag, salt and sugar. Let the spice bag sit until it releases its aroma. Adjust seasoning accordingly.
  12. To serve, shred chicken and slice brisket. Add herbs onion and the fish sauce at the end. Serve with herbs and white pepper on top. 

Luan’s expert tips

Double up on your meats

Pho has a rich, meaty flavour and because of this Luan recommends using both chicken and beef when making it yourself. “This helps to give a balanced broth,” he explains. You should buy the best quality meat you can find because both the noodles and the broth will soak up the flavour of it and higher quality meats allow for the best aromas and tastes.

Be careful not to overdo your spices

“Keep an eye on your spice bag and make sure you don’t leave it in for too long as it can be overpowering,” Luan says. Tien adds that you can adjust the spice level to suit your preferences, adding less of certain spices to avoid the dish being too spicy.

Keep your broth clear

Luan stresses that your broth should be clear, so make sure to continuously skim the fat from your broth while it’s cooking. You should also add your fish sauce to your finished dish, rather than to the actual broth to help it stay fresh.

Take care when cutting your brisket

The texture of pho is really important, according to Luan, and part of that means ensuring you take care to cut your brisket properly. “If you cut it thinly, it will melt when you eat it, which is the sensation you want,” Luan says. Use a sharp knife when cutting the brisket and don’t rush.

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  • Luan Nguyen, chef and co-founder of Banh Banh

    Luan Nguyen headshot
    Luan has perfected his pho recipe throughout the years.

    Luan co-founded Banh Banh, a Vietnamese restaurant based in south London, in 2016 with his four siblings.

Images: Banh Banh