Hanoi-Style Beef Noodle Soup with Wok-Seared Steak and Fried Garlic (Pho Tai Lan)
The other day I was watching Somebody Feed Phil, the Vietnam episode, where they were making a version of beef noodle soup (pho bo) that involved wok-frying thin slices of beef with lots of garlic in beef fat. I knew then and there I had to replicate this version of garlicky pho at home. I jumped off the couch, grabbed my keys and headed to the grocery store to pick up all the needed ingredients to make what is known as Pho Tai Lan.
Pho Tai Lan is a type of Northern-style beef noodle soup where instead of raw slices of beef topping the bowl, it is thin slices of beef and lots of garlic wok-fried in beef fat (tallow). As you can imagine, this extra step adds a whole new level of of flavor to an already very flavorful noodle soup.
When making this dish, be mindful not to overcook the beef. In fact, I wok-fried the beef just enough to get that garlic flavor on it, but mainly kept them raw. When hot beef broth is ladled over the beef, it cooks them to the perfect tenderness.
This type of beef noodle soup involves a very hot wok. If you happen to see Pho Tai Lan being made on the streets of Vietnam, you will see large eyebrow-scorching flames shooting upward as beef and garlic get a quick stir-fry. My home version didn’t include an engine-fueled stove and a very hot wok, but it was still quite tasty with a simple pan. Also, in my recipe below, I utilize vegetable oil instead of beef fat. To get beef fat around here you will need to own your own cows and I, unfortunately, do not have my own cows. Not yet.
Northern-style pho is very simple and clean. It doesn’t involve a lot of herbs, vegetables, sauces and different cuts of meat. Typically, the garnish is a dash of black pepper, lots of green onions and a squeeze of lime. You may also find pickled chili on the table to add to your bowl if you like it a bit spicy, and that’s usually it. As you move further down Vietnam, pho gets bolder and sweeter. It also has a lot of accompaniments and many different cuts of meat. Being a Southern girl, I like all my extras, especially the side platter of herbs and vegetables. Plus, who cares if it’s a Northern-style pho … I must have my Hoisin and Sriracha sauces for some good action meat dunking.
Hanoi-Style Noodle Soup with Wok-Seared Beef and Crispy Fried Garlic (Pho Tai Lan)
- 3 lbs beef bones (ox tail, neck bones and/or shanks)
- 6 liters water
- 1 tablespoon salt (for cleaning bones)
- 8 large shallots (about 15 oz; roast whole in oven at 350°F for 40 minutes, allow to cool then peel)
- 4 oz ginger (roast in oven at 350°F for 40 minutes; allow to cool then slice into thick slices with peel-on)
- 1 stick Asian cinnamon (about 15 grams)
- 2 teaspoons dried cloves
- 2 teaspoons dried coriander seeds
- 3 dried cardamom pods
- 3 dried star anise
- 150 grams rock sugar
- 1/2 tablespoon MSG
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon chicken, mushroom or pork stock powder
- Any meat from beef bones after making stock (particularly ox tail)
- 1-1/2 lbs thinly sliced eye-round beef steak
- 1 11-oz bag cooked beef balls (Bo Vien)
- 1 head garlic (peel and chop using a garlic press)
- Vegetable oil for frying
- 2 lbs fresh rice noodles (soak in cold water for 30 minutes to remove excess starch)
- 1 small medium white/yellow onion (slice thinly)
- 1 small bunch cilantro (roughly chop)
- 5 green onions/scallions (slice thinly)
- 3 jalapenos (slice thinly)
- 3 limes (cut into wedges)
- Hoisin sauce
- Sriracha sauce
Pho Meaty Toppings
Noodles, Vegetable and Other
- Clean the beef bones. Cleaning the bones will rid of all the impurities and ensure a clear broth. To clean the bones, bring a large pot of water with 1 tablespoon salt to a rolling boil. Add beef bones and parboil for 3-5 minutes until you see a lot of impurities/foam float to the top. Place a colander in the sink and drain bones into the colander, discarding all the dirty water. Give bones a gentle scrubbing. Rinse and drain dry.
- Clean the pot and return it to stove. Add cleaned bones, 6 liters water, roasted shallots and ginger and bring pot to a boil then reduce heat to a low simmer. Cook for 2 hours, uncovered. Occasionally, use a ladle to scum off the impurities that float to the top.
- Remove bones, ginger and shallot from stock and discard. There may be good amount of tender meat on the bones (particularly ox tail) so remove the meat from the bones and set aside as a meaty topping before discarding.
- In a small frying pan, dry toast the dried spices until fragrant (30 seconds to 1 minute). Shake the pan to prevent burning. Wrap the toasted spices in a cheesecloth or use a spice ball and add to pot. Simmer on low for 30 minutes then remove spices from pot.
- Season stock with rock sugar, MSG, fish sauce, chicken stock powder, and salt.
- When ready to serve, prepare a serving at a time. Bring a small pot of water to a boil and blanch a large handful of rice noodles for a few seconds. Transfer noodles to a serving bowl. In a small frying pan, heat up vegetable oil and fry a bit of garlic until golden brown and quickly toss in a few beef slices (no need to cook beef the way through). Add garlic and beef to bowl. Ladle in hot broth over beef slices. Garnish bowl with a bit of white/yellow onions, green onions, and chopped cilantro. Serve noodle soup with a side of bean sprouts, Thai basil, jalapeno slices, lime wedges, Hoisin and Sriracha sauce.