Here’s how to make pho—that crave-worthy Vietnamese soup that’s become sought-after the world over. We’ll show you the basics, starting with the secret to an über-rich pho broth with just the right pho spices. And don’t worry: We’d never skimp on the add-ins—we’ll point the way to the right fresh herbs, veggies, and the best pho sauces.

By Wini Moranville

At its most basic, pho is a meat-and-noodle soup, but if you’ve ever tasted this Vietnamese specialty, you know it’s so much more. The heart and soul of the dish is the rich and restorative pho broth—a long-simmered stock that absolutely must start with bone-in meats. Our recipe shows you how to make pho stock with bone-in chicken thighs plus a bonus of two kinds of mushrooms for extra-savory, rich flavor. Once the stock is finished and perfectly flavored with pho spices, you’re just baby steps away from bringing it to the table.

PS: Whenever we hear the words “long-simmering,” our slow cooker comes to mind! This recipe shows you how to make pho using this appliance. That way, you get out of spending all day watching the pot.

Step 1: Gather Your Pho Ingredients

The first step in learning how to make pho is figuring out where you can buy the ingredients, including the vegetables, fresh herbs, rice noodles, pho sauces, and pho spices. Fortunately, the ingredients for this recipe can generally be found in most supermarkets; look for the specialty ingredients, such as fish sauce and pho sauces, in the Asian-foods aisle.

Here’s what you’ll need for six servings of our Chicken and Mushroom Pho:

  • 6          oz. fresh shiitake mushrooms
  • 2          lb. bone-in chicken thighs, skinned
  • 1          32-oz. carton reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 4          cups water
  • 1          cup sliced onion 
  • ¼         oz. dried porcini mushrooms, rinsed
  • 1          3-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 2          Tbsp. fish sauce
  • 1          Tbsp. packed brown sugar
  • 1          Tbsp. coriander seeds, toasted
  • 4          cloves garlic, sliced
  • 4          whole cloves
  • 5          oz. dried rice noodles
  •            Fresh cilantro leaves, slivered red onion, thin carrot strips, fresh Thai or Italian basil leaves, fresh mint leaves, thinly sliced fresh red chile peppers,* and/or pho sauces, such as srirarcha, for serving
  •            Lime wedges (optional)

* NOTE: Chile peppers contain oils that can irritate your skin and eyes. Wear plastic or rubber gloves when working with them.

A Pho Sauce Primer

Pho sauces, commonly served alongside the steaming noodle soup, include the following:      

  • Hot Chili Sauce (made with ground chile peppers, vinegar, garlic, sugar and salt): Sriracha, named for the Thai city of Si Racha, is one of the most common pho sauces. If you like a milder chile pepper-based sauce, look for one labeled “sweet chili sauce.” Another choice is chili-garlic sauce, which has a pronounced garlicky flavor in the mix.  
  • Fish sauce: This is made from salt-fermented fish (such as anchovies); a few drops go a long way to add a lightly sweet, salty-funky-fishy flavor that many pho fans love. Others may consider it an acquired taste. Consider it an optional addition to your array of pho sauces.
  • Hoisin Sauce: Generally made from fermented soybeans and flavored with vinegar, sugar, garlic, and spices, this rich, dark Chinese sauce is more spicy-sweet than it is spicy-hot. It’s a good choice to add to your array of pho sauces for those at your table who love deep flavor but not loads of heat.

Step 2: Prep the Pho Spices and Flavorings

A few of the ingredients and flavorings for your pho broth require a little extra know-how:

  • Ginger: This spicy root needs to be peeled before using. Fortunately, the thin skin easily comes off when you simply scrape it with a spoon. Once peeled, use a sharp knife to slice the ginger into thin disks.
  • Coriander seeds: Toasting pho spices, such as the coriander in this recipe, helps impart a deep, intense spice flavor to the pho broth. Toast seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat, stirring often so they don’t burn. You’ll know they’re close to done when you can start to smell them as they brown. Watch carefully—they can go from toasted to burned in seconds!
  • Shiitake mushrooms: The stems of shiitake mushrooms are tough and woody. While they’re not meant to be eaten, they can add extra flavor to your pho broth. Separate the stems from the caps as directed in the next step. Use the stems to make the pho broth and the caps for the finished soup.

Step 3: How to Make Pho Broth

Here’s how to make pho broth the hassle-free way:

  • Pull the stems off the shiitake mushrooms; set aside. Thinly slice the shiitake mushroom caps. Cover and chill the caps until needed.
  • In a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker combine the shiitake stems and the next 11 ingredients (through cloves). Cover and cook on low 7 to 8 hours or on high 3½ to 4 hours. 
  • Remove chicken from cooker. Strain pho broth mixture through a fine-mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth; discard solids.

TIP: Don’t be tempted to skip the cheesecloth, which helps trap even the smallest solids. A great pho broth is not only rich and flavorful, but it should be clear, too.

  • Transfer the pho broth to a large saucepan; bring to boiling. Stir in noodles and sliced shiitake caps.
  • How to make pho noodles: Simply cook the rice noodles in the pho broth 3 to 5 minutes or just until they are softened.

Step 4: Shred the Chicken

While the noodles are boiling in the pho broth, remove chicken from bones; discard bones. Coarsely shred chicken using two forks.

Step 5: Serve with Pho Sauces and Other Exciting Extras

  • Ladle the pho broth and noodle mixture into shallow bowls. Top with piles of chicken.
  • Pass a large tray of cilantro, slivered onion, carrots, basil, mint, chile peppers, and desired pho sauces (such as chile pepper sauce, fish sauce, and/or hoisin sauce). If desired, serve with lime wedges and squeeze juice over each serving. Makes 6 servings.


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