On a recent trip to Denver my daughter and I were looking for a good Vietnamese restaurant, and ended up at Pho 96. Each restaurant in Denver had a “number” attached to the word Pho, which we learned were the families’ “lucky numbers”. In the case of Pho 96, it was in 1996 that their family moved to the US. While we didn’t have a chance to sample the other Vietnamese restaurants, Pho 96 delivered the best Beef Pho I have ever had. After getting back home, I immediately tried to replicate our dining experience before the memory faded.
Long-Simmered vs. Slow Cooker Vietnamese Beef Pho
As I researched the recipes that were out there in the internets, I saw that the most authentic looking Pho dishes took around 3 days to make and I simply can’t handle that right now, no matter how good the food is. I found several slow cooker (or crock pot) recipes that I adapted to fit my food memory of the Denver Pho dish.
The recipe below is a combination of my memory, a recipe from Steamy Kitchen, a recipe from Serious Eats, and a recipe from Eating Well. Most of them are quite similar, with the spice ratios being the main difference. While the Beef Pho at Pho 96 was a bit richer and more complex, this slow cooker recipe was pretty wonderful overall.
Does Vietnamese Beef Pho fit with a Low Carb Lifestyle?
With the exception of the rice noodles, Beef Pho is consistent with a low carb lifestyle. I reached my goal weight on a low carb diet several years ago and have been in a “maintenance mode” for the past 4 years. My version of a maintenance plan has been to ease up on the carbs during cheat days, and really only practicing a cheat “meal” once a week. I also plan ahead for several mini-vacations and try to go into a bit of a deficit before the vacation. I allow myself to enjoy whatever cuisine is special to the place I am visiting and assume that I will come home 3 pounds heavier. It usually then takes about 2 weeks to lose the vacation weight and get back to maintenance. The key is to schedule your cheats, whether it be cheat days or cheat vacations, and be very mindful of just allowing carb creep to happen over time. Carb creep is much more dangerous than a planned cheat vacation. I do watch the scale daily and if it starts to climb over 3-4 pounds, I will go back to the stricter diet for a week. Seems to work. I am eating flavorful food that I love and feeling energetic and healthy. What more can you ask for in a lifestyle diet?
Recipe for Slow Cooker Vietnamese Beef Pho
Yield: 4 servings, about 2 cups each
- 2-3 lbs. short ribs
- 1/2 onion
- 3-4 inches ginger root, sliced into 1/2″ slices
- Spice medley to include: 1 3-4″ cinnamon stick, 2 tsp whole coriander, 1 tsp fennel seeds, 5 whole star anise, 6 whole cloves, 2-3 cardamom pods)
- 9 cups water (I used 7 cups water and 2 cups beef broth)
- 2 Tbsp fish sauce
- 1 Tbsp brown sugar
- 2 tsp kosher salt,divided
- 1 lb.dried rice noodles
- 1/2 lb. eye of round steak, sliced as thinly as possible (can substitute sirloin, flank or london broil); ** tip: freeze meat for 15 minutes prior to slicing to make it easier to slice thinly)
The accompaniments for the Table:
- 1-2 limes, cut in wedges
- fresh herbs (I used basil, mint and cilantro. Pho 96 also used Ngo gai, which is a Vietnamese sawtooth herb they called Vietnamese cilantro)
- 2-3 Thai or Serrano chilies, sliced thinly
- 2 cups bean sprouts
- Hoisin sauce
- Sriracha hot chili sauce
- Preheat oven to broil and place rack on upper position of oven.
- Bring a large stockpot filled with water to boil over high heat. Add the oxtails or bones and boil hard for 10 minutes. Brown scum will rise to the surface. Drain bones, rinse thoroughly with cold water to clean bones and place bones in slow cooker.
- While the bones are boiling, place the onion and the ginger slices on a baking sheet lined with foil and transfer to the oven. Roast for 3-4 minutes until charred and then turn onion and ginger over to char the other side. Remove from oven and add ginger and onion to the crock pot.
- Dry toast the Pho spices by placing them in a sauté pan over medium-low heat. Toast until fragrant (2-3 minutes), shaking often so as not to burn. Place the toasted spices in a square of cheesecloth made into a bag secured at top with a clean rubber band. Place spice bag in the slow-cooker (alternatively just dump the spices in the crock pot but realize you will have to strain them out later).
- Add the water, beef broth, fish sauce, sugar and 1 teaspoon salt to the slow-cooker and set on lowest setting for 8-10 hours.
- When soup is almost done prepare your accompaniments and par-cook the noodles. Prep the accompaniments by slicing limes and arranging herbs, sprouts, peppers and sauces on platter. To par-cook the noodles, make noodles according to package instructions, stopping 30 seconds short of what directions say (if you are using fresh noodles, all they need is a couple of minutes). Drain immediately and place in the bottom of four large, individual soup bowls.
- Discard spice pack and bones from broth. If there happens to be any scum or fat on the surface, skim and discard it. Taste broth and add more salt, if necessary. If you dumped the spices in, you can just drain all of the solids out of the crock pot at this point, leaving just the broth.
- Distribute the thin (raw) steak slices evenly on top of the noodles in the four bowls. Ladle the hot Pho stock into each bowl. The hot stock will cook the thin steak slices. Serve bowls of pho with the platter of accompaniments at the table.
Where have you had the best or most authentic Pho? The sawtooth herb they used as an accompaniment in Denver must be available in the Asian markets around here, although I haven’t looked yet. I wonder what some other names for it might be (I have a feeling they just said it was Vietnamese Cilantro because it was a name we might recognize). Have you ever heard of this herb and what have you heard it called?
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