Pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup often sold by street vendors. While living in Asia, I often saw vendors with makeshift restaurants set up on the side of the road. Short, little tables were covered with an assortment of vegetables and meats, then added to individual bowls of beef broth. In a traditional pho, the intensely flavored beef broth is simmered on the stove for many hours. This slow cooker version takes all of the hard work out of making a pho, while still infusing the rich flavors.
This slow cooker pho is flavored by slowly cooking beef shins or oxtails. The bone marrow will give the broth an intense flavor. If you can find cheap beef bones with lots of marrow, you can use those instead. A large batch of pho with lots of oxtails can be a bit expensive.
It is important to par-boil the meats before adding them to the crock pot. This ensures that you end up with a clear broth rather than a cloudy one.
Another important ingredient in this slow cooker pho is the blackened onion and ginger. I don’t mean lightly browned, the onion and ginger should have a layer of black skin. To easily char the vegetables, I place them directly over the flame of a gas stove, turning occasionally. If you don’t have a gas stove, you can place them under a broiler set on high. It will take about 20 to 30 minutes to nearly fully blacken the onion and ginger under a broiler.
I serve the pho with a variety of herbs, thinly-sliced raw meats, limes, and sauces. The Hoisin and Sriracha shouldn’t be needed with an intensely flavored beef broth, but sometimes it’s nice with an extra kick.
It’s also important to make sure the raw meats are thinly sliced across the grain. This ensures that the meat will cook fully in the broth and is tender (flank steak isn’t a tender cut of meat). For super-thin slices, I partially freeze the meat before slicing. The firm meat will allow you to easily make thin slices. I also used this technique in my homemade burger recipe!
- 1 large white onion, cut in half
- 3 inch piece of ginger
- 2½ to 3 lbs beef shins or oxtails
- 3 star anise
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 5 whole cloves
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 3 tbsp fish sauce
- 2 cups bean sprouts
- 1 to 2 lbs beef flank steak, thinly sliced
- ⅓ cup cilantro
- ¼ cup basil
- ¼ cup mint
- ¼ cup scallions, chopped
- 16 oz pho noodles
- 2-3 thai chilies, thinly sliced
- 2 limes
- Hoisin sauce
- Blacken the onion and ginger over the flame of a gas range. Alternatively, place the onion and ginger under a broiler set on high until deeply blackened on each side. Each side should be completely charred.
- While preparing the onion and ginger, add the shins and oxtail to a large pot of cool water. Bring the water to a boil and let simmer for 15 to 20 minutes over high heat. After boiling, discard the water and rinse the meat under cool water to remove any scum.
- Place the meat, charred onion, and ginger into a large slow cooker. Add the cinnamon stick, star anise, fennel seeds, sugar, and cloves to the slow cooker. Cover with water and cook over low heat for 8 hours.
- Prior to serving, add the fish sauce and strain the cooking liquid through a fine mesh strainer. Skim off any fat from the surface of the broth. Discard the spices. Remove the meat and tissue from the bones, then discard the bones. Add additional fish sauce, salt, or sugar if needed.
- Prepare the pho noodles according to package instructions. Add the noodles to individual serving bowls, then pour the broth over the noodles. Serve immediately and top with bean sprouts, thinly sliced flank steak, cilantro, basil, mint, scallions, thai chilies, limes, Hoisin sauce, and Sriracha.