• Beef phở (China Squirrel)Source: China Squirrel

This phở is a combination of many tips from family and friends. I use gravy beef – my dad’s touch – for sweetness. The shrimp paste and lemongrass are the X-factor additions, and the red dates and daikon reflect my Chinese heritage, and also enhance the soup’s sweetness.






Skill level

Average: 4.1 (44 votes)



  • 1 kg oxtail, cut into 10-12 pieces (ask your butcher)
  • 2 chicken carcasses, quartered
  • 500 g beef brisket
  • 500 g gravy beef
  • 700 g beef marrow bones, cut into 2-3 pieces (ask your butcher)
  • 1 brown onion, unpeeled
  • 120 g piece ginger, unpeeled
  • 1 dried Chinese red date (jujube) (see Note)
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 cassia bark (5 cm long)
  • ⅓ tsp shrimp paste (see Note)
  • 1 stick lemongrass, cut into 10 cm lengths and smashed with the back of a knife
  •  small daikon (white radish), roughly chopped
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce (see Note)
  •  tbsp salt
  • 1 tbsp soft brown sugar



  • 1 x 400 g rolled piece scotch fillet, cut into 3 mm-thick slices
  • 600 g fresh thin rice noodles, clumps separated
  • 200 g bean shoots
  • 4 spring onion, thinly sliced diagonally
  • 1 red birdseye chilli, thinly sliced
  • 1 bunch coriander, leaves picked
  • 1 bunch sawtooth coriander, leaves picked (see Note)
  • 1 bunch Thai basil (see Note) 


Beef dipping sauce

  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 200 ml mild Vietnamese sate sauce (see Note)

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.


For the soup base, place the oxtail, chicken carcasses, brisket, gravy beef, marrow bones and enough water to cover in a large stockpot and bring to the boil (see Note). Skim off the impurities on the surface, then drain, reserving the boiled meat and bones.

Meanwhile, make incisions on the top and base of the onion and all over the ginger. Place in a frying pan over high heat, do not add oil, and char the onion and ginger on all sides for 15 minutes. Remove and, when cool enough to handle, peel and chop into chunks.

In a 6-litre capacity pressure cooker, layer the boiled meats and bones in the following order: oxtail on the base, then the chicken carcass, beef brisket, gravy beef and finishing with the marrow bones (see Note).

Add the red date, star anise, cassia bark, shrimp paste, lemongrass, daikon, and charred onion and ginger. Add enough water (about 2 litres) to fill the pressure cooker to the two-thirds line. Seal the pressure cooker according to the manufacturer’s instructions and cook for 1 hour 5 minutes. 

Meanwhile, blanch the scotch fillet slices in boiled water for 1 minute until medium-rare to remove any impurities. Drain and pat dry.

When the pressure cooker is ready, release the steam following the manufacturer’s instructions and unseal the lid. Using tongs, remove the bones, spices and vegetables and discard. Skim off any impurities from the surface. Using a ladle, scoop off the layer of oil into a bowl and reserve. Using tongs, remove the brisket and gravy beef and refresh in a bowl of iced water to stop the meat from cooking further.

Line a sieve with muslin (or a clean Chux) placed over a large measuring jug or bowl, and strain the soup.

Measure out 1.5 litres of strained broth, pour into a saucepan and bring to a simmer over high heat. Season the broth with the fish sauce, salt and sugar (taking care not to add too much sugar at first). Taste and check for sweetness and saltiness; the broth should be intensely salty and sweet as the flavour will be diluted once the starchy rice noodles are added. Keep warm.

Drain the brisket and gravy beef and slice into 2 mm-thin slices. Set aside.

Warm 4 large soup bowls (either fill with boiling water or warm in a low oven, see Note).

For the beef dipping sauce, combine the lemon and sate sauce in small side dish (see Note). Set aside.

Fill a medium saucepan two-thirds full of water and bring to the boil. Place 150 g noodles in a spider sieve or similar and dip into the boiling water for 10 seconds. Remove, drain and place into a serving bowl. Repeat with the remaining noodles.

Divide the bean shoots, spring onion, chilli and herbs among the bowls. Arrange the scotch fillet, brisket and gravy beef on top. Ladle over the broth, ensuring a good soup to noodle ratio. Add about ½ tbsp broth oil to each bowl.

Serve with the dipping sauce for the beef.


Cook’s notes

• Sawtooth coriander is available from Asian grocers, and is a typical garnish of pho eaten in Hanoi. Dried Chinese red dates (jujube), cassia bark and shrimp paste are also available at Asian grocers.

• I prefer to use a Vietnamese fish sauce, called 3 Crabs (made by Viet Huong Fish Sauce Company).

• I’ve found that when using a pressure cooker there are more impurities in the soup so it’s important to “blanch” the meats and bones in boiling water before they go into the cooker and to skim the broth after it’s done.

• The layering order in the pressure cooker is important; I place the marrow bones on top so that they weight down the brisket and beef gravy and so the impurities that float to the surface do not tarnish the meats. I place the ox tail on the bottom so that the meats don’t catch on the base and burn.

• Seasoning your broth at the end means you have a better chance of achieving the salty-sweet balance.

• Warmed soup bowls are essential as it ensures that the slices of scotch fillet cooks enough once the hot broth is poured over the top. I prefer to blanch the scotch fillet, so that when the hot broth is poured over, the temperature of the soup is not lowered.

• I discovered as a kid that by squeezing a hit of lemon over the traditional sate sauce accompaniment, the spicy heat of the sauce is neutralised, allowing the peanut taste to shine through.


Photography, styling and food preparation by China Squirrel


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