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Hi, I'm Jaden, a professional recipe developer, food columnist and food photographer specializing in fast, fresh and easy recipes for the home cook. Most of my recipes are modern Asian! About meFast, fresh & easy recipes for the home cook.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Vietnamese Pho: Beef Noodle Soup


What the Pho?!

I’ve been working hard perfecting the techniques and recipe for Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup, or Pho, just for you. It’s taken years of kitchen experiments, eating out and scouring for good recipes. Of all the cookbooks that I own, the best recipe that I’ve found for Pho is from:

Andrea Nguyen’s Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, which is one of the most comprehensive books on the cuisine of Vietnam. The book also won nominations for a James Beard Foundation award and two International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP). Definitely a must-have book for Asian food lovers.

So, let’s get right to the Vietnamese Beef Pho Recipe!

The dish is pronounced “fuh” and not “foo” or “foe” or “puh”

Yeah, Pho is cheap eat out…but to be able to make a home made version? Pretty Pho-king amazing, if you ask me.

Pho Spices

It’s best if you can get each spice separately, but I do find that the spice packets are pretty convenient. They cost less than $2.00 and even come with a mesh bag to put all the spices in. Spices include cinnamon sticks, cloves, coriander pods, star anise and cardamom. Whatever you do, don’t use the Pho spice paste that comes in a jar or can. Nasty stuff, that’s Pho-sho’.


Best Bones for Pho

Leg and knuckle bones are the best to make the stock. See that wonderful yellow marrow below in the photo? That’s pure flavoring that makes your Pho taste full, meaty and rich. But let’s say that you can’t find leg/knuckle bones. Go ahead and use whatever beef bones your supermarket has and just supplement with some oxtail bones or a pound of beef meat (rump, chuck, brisket, etc.) for extra flavor.

Bones are parboiled first for a good 10 minutes in rapidly boiling water – this gets rid of the yucky impurities like blood particles and extra fat. You’ll see gray foam float up to the surface as you boil. After 10 minutes, dump out all of the water, rinse out your pot, rinse the bones, and refill with clean, cool water. I know it’s an extra step, but this will give you the pure, clean-tasting broth.

This is just after blanching – the golden gelatinous goodness is where all the flavor and body is.

UPDATE 4/11/2010 I started getting comments of the broth being too greasy — and after 8 pots of testing, I found out why. When I normally make pho broth, I use a combination of knuckle and leg bones, normally with 20% of the bones having the marrow (below photo). When I started increasing the % of bones with marrow – the broth started getting too fatty. I guess too much of a good stuff is not a good thing! ;-) The fattiness is easy to remedy. Refrigerate overnight and just discard the layer of fat that accumulates on top. For best results though, keep the bones with marrow to 20%.


Charring Onions and Ginger

Charring or roasting the onions and ginger gives you a wonderfully mellow and naturally sweet flavor. I used to char over an open flame on my stovetop with a pair of tongs, but that got pretty tiring. Plus, metal tongs + long time over flame = very hothothot hands. So now, I just raise my oven rack to the highest position and turn my broiler on. See how golden the ginger gets?

vietnamese-pho-recipe-onion vietnamese-pho-recipe-ginger

Damn Scumbag!

So here is my broth boilin’ away with the mesh bag of spices, charred ginger, charred onions and beef bones. You can see floating bits of fat and the damn scumbag.

Fat & marrow bits = good eats. Try to keep that in the broth!

But gotta get rid of the scum! I use a very, very fine mesh strainer designed just for scum. heh. A scumbag strainer. Can you imagine if I had a line of cookware and tools – “Steamy Kitchen Scumbag Strainer.” Straining the scum keeps your broth pure and clean. The lower the simmer, the less scum you have.

A note on broth simmering time – I simmer the broth for 3 hours. According to both Andrea Nguyen and Corinne Trang (author of Authentic Vietnamese Cooking and former editor and director of Saveur’s test kitchen) – all of the flavors in the bone have been extracted after 3 hours.


Thin Sliced Meat

You can use a thinly sliced flank steak, london broil, sirloin, eye of round or tri-tip. Instead of beef slices, you could use beef balls (Bo Vien) found in the freezer section of your Asian market. The secret to cutting meat is to cut across the grain. You want your beef slices as thin as possible, and I always throw the whole chunk of meat in the freezer for 15 minutes to make it easier to slice thinly.


Pho Noodles

vietnamese-pho-recipe-noodles Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup typically uses rice noodles. You can buy them dried or fresh. I love the slippery softness of fresh noodles (look in the refrigerator or freezer section)
Most restaurants will use dried, flat rice noodles. Look for ones that are medium thickness and flat like these.

Pho-tastic Condiments

vietnamese-pho-recipe-condiments On the tables of every Pho restaurant, you’ll see these two condiments, Cock Sauce (Sriracha hot chili sauce) and Hoisin Sauce. You can squirt and slather as much of these two condiments as you want…but I’m a purist.If I’m going to spend a couple of hours carefully crafting a rich, flavor-packed, clean soup – I better taste every damn drop. Condiment sauces just get in the way.

Sometimes, I’ll squirt a bit of each sauce in a little dish and dip my meat in the sauce as I take a bite.

You ask….why do we call it Cock sauce? See that rooster on the bottle?

Pho Vegetables and Herbs

Fresh mint, cilantro, basil, bean sprouts, limees, sliced chili peppers are just some of my favorite accompaniments. Set a plate at the table and your guests can pick and choose what they like.


Great Pho-tograph of fresh vegetables and herbs

Pho-Shizzle, My Bowl-o Noozle!!


Vietnamese Pho: Beef Noodle Soup Recipe

Servings: 8 Prep Time: Cook Time:

Adapted from my favorite Vietnamese cookbook Into the Vietnamese Kitchen

Sometimes, I omit the 1lb of beef meat in the broth (you'll see I've made it optional) - as I've found that as long as I have good bones, the broth will have enough flavor to not need the extra beef meat.


2 onions, halved
4" nub of ginger, halved lengthwise
5-6 lbs of good beef bones, preferably leg and knuckle
1 lb of beef meat - chuck, brisket, rump, cut into large slices [optional]
6 quarts of water
1 package of Pho Spices [1 cinnamon stick, 1 tbl coriander seeds, 1 tbl fennel seeds, 5 whole star anise, 1 cardamom pod, 6 whole cloves - in mesh bag]
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt (halve if using regular table salt)
1/4 cup fish sauce
1 inch chunk of yellow rock sugar (about 1 oz) - or 1oz of regular sugarTHE BOWLS
2 lbs rice noodles (dried or fresh)
cooked beef from the broth
1/2 lb flank, london broil, sirloin or eye of round, sliced as thin as possible.
big handful of each: mint, cilantro, basil
2 limes, cut into wedges
2-3 chili peppers, sliced
2 big handfuls of bean sprouts
Hoisin sauce
Sriracha hot sauce


Char: Turn your broiler on high and move rack to the highest spot. Place ginger and onions on baking sheet. Brush just a bit of cooking oil on the cut side of each. Broil on high until ginger and onions begin to char. Turn over and continue to char. This should take a total of 10-15 minutes.

Parboil the bones: Fill large pot (12-qt capacity) with cool water. Boil water, and then add the bones, keeping the heat on high. Boil vigorously for 10 minutes. Drain, rinse the bones and rinse out the pot. Refill pot with bones and 6 qts of cool water. Bring to boil over high heat and lower to simmer. Using a ladle or a fine mesh strainer, remove any scum that rises to the top.

Boil broth: Add ginger, onion, spice packet, beef, sugar, fish sauce, salt and simmer uncovered for 1 1/2 hours. Remove the beef meat and set aside (you'll be eating this meat later in the bowls) Continue simmering for another 1 1/2 hours. Strain broth and return the broth to the pot. Taste broth and adjust seasoning - this is a crucial step. If the broth's flavor doesn't quite shine yet, add 2 teaspoons more of fish sauce, large pinch of salt and a small nugget of rock sugar (or 1 teaspoon of regular sugar). Keep doing this until the broth tastes perfect.

Prepare noodles & meat: Slice your flank/london broil/sirloin as thin as possible - try freezing for 15 minutes prior to slicing to make it easier. Remember the cooked beef meat that was part of your broth? Cut or shred the meat and set aside. Arrange all other ingredients on a platter for the table. Your guests will "assemble" their own bowls. Follow the directions on your package of noodles - there are many different sizes and widths of rice noodles, so make sure you read the directions. For some fresh rice noodles, just a quick 5 second blanch in hot water is all that's needed. The package that I purchased (above) - needed about 45 seconds in boiling water.

Ladling: Bring your broth back to a boil. Line up your soup bowls next to the stove. Fill each bowl with rice noodles, shredded cooked beef and raw meat slices. As soon as the broth comes back to a boil, ladle into each bowl. the hot broth will cook your raw beef slices. Serve immediately. Guests can garnish their own bowls as they wish.


Crock Pot/Slow Cooker Pho Recipe

Crock Pot Slow Cooker Pho
Don’t have time to man a stove? Use your crock pot or slow cooker!

Vietnamese Chicken Pho (Pho Ga) Recipe

vietnamese-chicken-pho-recipe Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup (Pho Ga)


Pho-Lovers Pho-Ever

Guilty Carnivore

Eat Drink & Be Merry

Viet World Kitchen

575 Responses to “Vietnamese Pho: Beef Noodle Soup”

  1. John Bonitz — 12/29/12 @ 9:15 pm

    What a helpful blog entry! And I love all the comments. Let me pose a question for all Pho experts:

    Would it not improve the flavor of the broth to first roast the bones before boiling them? That’s what’s recommended by this recipe…

    And a long time ago when researching umami formation (umami is the amazing and elusive “fifth flavor”) I read that it is maximized by the high heat of roasting the bones, and then it is extracted by the boiling process.

    Does anyone here know of traditional Pho recipes that require *roasted* bones?

  2. Louis — 1/4/13 @ 2:38 am

    Hey, DO NOT DISCARD the beef phat (fat) ! You can use it as stir fry oil and it is absolutely delicious.

  3. Jeremy Binns — 1/12/13 @ 1:39 am

    Best and most practical arrival I’ve found so far. Can’t wait to finally try to make my very own bowl of my favorite Vietnamese dish.

  4. Michelle Schoelz — 1/13/13 @ 9:34 pm

    I’ve always wanted to know how to make good Pho. Now I’ve got a trusted recipe from YOU. Super awesome Pho Sho!! Thanks.

  5. I live very close to Little Saigon in Southern CA and I just bought a soup starter spice jar the other day. Thanks for your recipe. I’m going to wander around today and see if I can find some Thai Basil because it is so much better than the other basil. None of my local markets have it. Will have to investigate LS with my Vietnamese girlfriend.

    Biggest thanks goes for telling me how to say the word Pho. I meet regularly with a group at a local Pho restaurant and was never sure how to say it.

  6. 3grls1by — 2/1/13 @ 5:39 pm

    I’m a NC mountain girl that loves asian so much I married one! He’s Chinese but LOVES pho. Over the course of our 15 year marriage, I have asked three Vietnamese friends numerous times to teach me how to cook it… or even to just let me watch them prepare it. I have even offered to pay them!! No one has ever fulfilled my request. I have searched the internet as well, but the recipes all seemed way too complicated. We have four children (ages 13-7) who also love the soup… but often, the forty minute drive to the nearest restaurant is too much to fit into our busy schedule. Well… I FINALLY discovered Jaden Hair and Steamy Kitchen!! THANK YOU!! I made pho for the first time last night and all five of them said, “THIS IS BETTER THAN PHO CALI (our favorite pho restaurant)! In fact, our oldest tends to order quail and our youngest only gets egg rolls because they are not particularly fond of pho. They loved it! So, because of the wonderful Jaden, no only can my family enjoy pho, but we don’t have to make the drive and they think it is better anyway!!! I haven’t looked yet – but since I mentioned the quail – wondering if you can teach me the “Vietnamese” way! LOL! Also the dipping sauce… seems all the stores have chili in them. Our restaurant only has the carrots. I’ve tried mimicking it to no avail. Anyway… <3 and {hugs} to Steamy Kitchen! Can't wait to try more of your recipes!

  7. Rachel — 2/2/13 @ 12:25 am

    Made this recipe today, and everything went very well until I was adjusting to taste. When I first tasted the recipe there was very little flavor. You could SLIGHTLY taste the flavor of the spices, which I toasted before I added since I know that helps the flavors bloom, and that was all you could taste. It was fatty, slightly spiced water. So I started the fish sauce, salt, sugar routine and now… it is just a bit too salty and still is missing that aromatic flavor. Any ideas? Should I maybe add a potato (remove it later) to soak up some salt and boil it without the lid on to evaporate some of the water and condense the flavors?

    • Carole — 7/1/14 @ 3:43 am

      Here is what I would try if it came out tasteless and greasy. Go to the Asian Market and buy Pho soup cubed spices add a little at a time until you get a stronger flavor you want or/and put beef into it as well as the bones for added flavor. As for the grease put the broth into the freezer and when the grease settles to the top spoon it out. Re heat simmer and if it still has to much fat back into the freezer again and remove any hardened fat you see. I have to do this with my chicken soup really is not much different to make. I go through many processes with the broth as I explained above. I have to add at least one can of chicken broth to get the flavor strong enough. That is only added at the end of every other process when I know the broth is clear and has very little or no fat left in it. It feels like cheating but it does taste wonderful.

  8. rebecca — 2/17/13 @ 7:19 pm

    My bf just got back from Denver and said that he drove down a road just outside of the city and there were about 20 different restaurants with “pho” in the name. Good chance you will have luck there!

  9. 1ptVietnamese1ptGerman — 2/21/13 @ 11:17 pm

    Being part Vietnamese, I’m always interested discovering how others make dishes that I grew up eating. I’m fully aware of the variations in the ingredients, which I frown upon when I come across a flavor that throws off a dish. It’s interesting to see the “Pho spices” that are used in this recipe. My Mother only used Star Anise. She didn’t need any of those other spices. I’ve tasted Pho with some of these additional spices and was dissatisfied with the flavor. Who knows, maybe growing up in Vietnam she didn’t have access to any of them. Funny how your Mother’s dish is always the best. Oh, and yellow rock sugar? In Pho? Um…no.

    • fullviet — 12/3/13 @ 5:50 am

      the rock sugar has a less subtle sweetness to it that is not as over powering as cane sugar. My mother and grandmother both uses rock sugar in all their broths. Learn your recipes before you comment please.

      • IndoViet — 12/5/13 @ 12:08 am

        Hi, I am not Vietnamese, but I married to one and I love to cook. Most of my cooking skills/recipes I have learned are from my mom in-law. She was an amazing cook. I totally agree with all the spices mentioned above. As well as rock sugar in the recipe. I have tried it, and my mom in-law used it. It makes the broth extremely flavorful. Interesting thing is that all of the spices mentioned above are available in Vietnamese as well as Indian grocery stores.

  10. C — 2/24/13 @ 2:18 am

    Yes, this recipe says to boil the stock (for 3 hours) with no lid. If you do it that way, it will be tastier. Maybe next time only add half the amount of salt, not the full amount. Some people might be more used to eating spices, so if you are, then add more so you can taste them :)
    I followed the recipe and it tased good, but a little too salty, so next time I’ll add less.
    Thanks for the recipe!!

  11. Davetheman — 2/26/13 @ 10:09 pm

    The sauce you are trying to make is called “Nuoc Cham”

    Recipe can be found here: http://www.vietworldkitchen.com/blog/2008/11/basic-vietnamese-dipping-sauce-nuoc-cham.html

  12. ai — 3/5/13 @ 8:29 am

    how to make broth to make it look translucent or clear,
    I made broth brown color

  13. Khmer - Ka-ti-oh — 3/5/13 @ 1:14 pm

    Just a comment on the condiments. I believe in america, the condiments aren’t used in the traditional sense. Putting hoisin sauce in the soup is like putting ketchup in a soup.

    In Cambodgia, most will leave the broth untouched and will usually use a small side plate to put a bit of Sriracha and Hoisin side by side (http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2098/2343022736_46dda71903.jpg) and dip the meat on that.

    Also using real bones adds a lot of proteins to the soup. Sucking those bones dry is something my family fights for when we make some.

  14. Myra-Vancouver — 3/11/13 @ 11:32 am

    Nuoc Cham (Vietnamese dip sauce)Recipe


    1/4 cup sugar
    1/2 cup warm water
    3 tablespoon lime juice
    1/4 cup fish sauce
    1-2 bird’s eye chilies, cut into very fine rings(or just regular chili flakes as alternative)
    1 clover garlic, minced finely (optional)


    Add fish sauce, water, sugar and lime juice into a small bowl and mix well until sugar is completely dissolved.
    Add garlic and chilies and stir.
    Use as tableside condiment as desired.

  15. todd — 3/16/13 @ 11:53 pm

    I’ve never made pho before but I tried your recipe and it was amazing! Thanks for posting this.

  16. N/A — 4/5/13 @ 10:10 pm

    Good post however , I was wanting to know if you could write a litte more on this subject?
    I’d be very grateful if you could elaborate a little bit more. Cheers!

  17. lola — 4/11/13 @ 4:22 pm

    if you put some celery it would make it translucent.

  18. Bengis — 4/22/13 @ 12:35 pm

    Great recipe!! been looking for too long! Have been after a generic Pho recipe one can adapt for ages, this hits what I remember, the balance is between mellow spice (stock) and zingy (fresh additions). thanks


  19. Bengis — 4/22/13 @ 12:40 pm

    Don’t toast the spices!!
    If worried about fat content,skim, but as ANY chef will tell you, ‘fat IS flavour’.
    (esp. when it comes from marrow!!)
    !! x

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    How many people will this recipe serve?

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  28. Chef Steven — 7/15/13 @ 3:56 pm

    Roasting your bones is a good option as well. Roasted them will help to give your stock more body, a deep richer color and more flavor. I personally have never boiled my beef bones,,,, ever! Roasted them will also help to draw out the deeper marrow inside the bones as well. Hope it helps

  29. Kelly — 7/23/13 @ 3:43 pm

    I do this recipe as is but I add a couple of pho bo or pho go cubes. They come in a super small box that says simply pho Bo or pho ga…they’re like little bullion cubes. For me those cubes brought the bit of extra flavor I needed.

  30. Kelly — 7/23/13 @ 3:48 pm

    If you don’t Blanch the bones your broth will be darker. That’s why you have to blanch first and then rinse the pot and transfer to clean water. The red juices and whatnot darken the broth

  31. Nancy Somerfeld — 8/3/13 @ 1:05 pm

    Would there be any benefit to roasting the bones, perhaps after parboiling, to get a deeper roasted flavor?

    • SteamyKitchen — 8/3/13 @ 6:05 pm

      Many pho restaurants will roast the bones INSTEAD of parboiling or roast the bones AFTER parboiling (less common)

  32. andrew — 8/21/13 @ 1:57 am

    thank you for posting this i have not had pho in 5 years. i moved back to the midwest where nothing but stupid restraurant chains exsist and you can’ t get food that i would not feed my dog anywhere. this was after living on the west coast for like 2 years. i appreciate you giving me a food boner im makin pho tomorrow

    • Lydia — 1/30/14 @ 3:07 am

      If you ever go to Sioux City, Iowa, there is a Vietnamese family restaurant called Da Koa. Order #7 (Rare Beef Pho). [Their Fresh Spring Rolls are wonderful, too.]

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  34. Vern — 8/30/13 @ 11:52 pm

    Looks great..recipe is nice and also herbs. Please understand something though…no flavor comes from the meat..it is akin the bones. Beef broth must be slow cooked for a very long time(12 hours or more) in order to release all the flavours. No meat needed until you serve..if you are using a tough meat like the shoulder, then in order to tenderize you should cooked it for at least five hours in the broth. Make no mistake..that meat is flavored by the broth, not the other way around.

    • Wm — 8/31/13 @ 2:56 pm

      That is both true and false.
      The flavours in the broth and the meat balance each other out.
      If you make broth/stock/bouillon with meaty bones, the flavour of the meat goes into the liquid. Camp stew, likewise. If you cook the meat in a strong broth, it goes the other way.

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  36. Bernadette — 9/1/13 @ 12:43 pm

    Awesome post. We also call it cock sauce in our house! can’t wait to try this out.

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  40. Dan S. — 10/19/13 @ 2:02 pm

    Just a small note, I see a few recipes for “Nuoc Mam” here…leave us not get all dien cai dau! Nuoc Mam is nothing but “fish sauce”. Nuoc Mam is made by fermenting fish and trapping the resultant distillate.

  41. Yumi — 10/27/13 @ 3:43 am

    Hi Jaden! Thank you so much for posting this recipe & I absolutely love how well you explained everything with such professional pictures as a guide. My husband is Vietnamese whose mother is from Vietnam & cooks traditional dishes so I wanted to surprise him. Together we’ve tried before but it never came out right…until 8 found Your recipe. The broth is perfect! Thank you!

  42. Spike — 10/28/13 @ 9:03 am

    Thanks so much. This is the best Beef version I’ve found so far. Cooking it now and it’s all coming together beautifully. Found a fantastic chicken version here.

  43. Mark — 12/9/13 @ 10:37 pm

    This was my 1st time trying to make pho. I love this dish and hoped it would turn out great. I was not dissapointed! I followed the recipe almost to the letter. I bought my spices from a asian market in a pre-made packet. The first thing I noticed was that there were about 30 whole cloves in the packet. I removed all but six (as the recipe calls for) and used the rest of the spice packet. I also added one cube of pho bouillon which kicked the flavor up a notch. I served this to a Vietnamese co-worker of mine and she said she “wouldn’t change a thing”. Thanks for the great recipe!!

  44. Bill Douglass — 1/1/14 @ 3:35 pm

    Vietnamese Fish Sauce “nước mắm”
    When our house boy came into the barracks after eating this, I went out the window.

  45. Natalie — 2/18/14 @ 12:58 am

    I love this recipe. I seriously make it at least twice a month despite having several Vietnamese restaurants with delicious pho nearby. I live in a college town with tiny grocery stores so sometimes its hard to find certain ingredients, but even with using pre-made broth instead of making my own with bones (I use better than bouillon, which is delicious) it is still amazing. My vegetarian friend wants to try a veggie broth and tofu version so we’ll be experimenting with that tomorrow :)

  46. Maile — 4/14/14 @ 9:27 pm

    If I am using grass-fed pasture raised beef bones do I still need to boil them and chuck the water first?

    • SteamyKitchen — 4/15/14 @ 9:41 am

      I would still boil and drain. It gets rid of some of the blood and bone shards (from cutting the bones)

  47. Laura — 6/18/14 @ 7:10 pm

    I love your blog. I happen to land on it by accident. Being a very close to my roots and at the same time very young. I love to cook many if the Vietnamese dishes out there. The way you cook your pho is the exact same way I was taught. My friends and family. Living in New Orleans we have a huge Vietnamese community and very competitive in the restaurant around here. We always have a annual pho festival every year around here. Surprisingly there is one this week coming up. No matter what I always cook all the meat to get all the gunk out. Yes you are right the meat and the spices do come all together to get the flavor. So the person on the top that had comment about the meat. They have no idea anything about pho.

  48. Darla — 6/28/14 @ 7:35 pm

    Made it, love it, YUM! I especially like the convenience of making a bunch and being able to freeze it. I have a big think for PHO lately and this is less expensive than buying it from a restaurant a couple times or more a week and super easy! Thanks for the recipe.

  49. Danielle — 8/8/14 @ 5:06 pm

    I’ve made this recipe a few times now and I really like it except the meat I cooked comes out super hard. I pretty much gave it all to my dog because I could barely chew it. I also refrigerated then skimmed the top layer of fat that accumulated but I think that took all the flavor out. My advice is only skim it a little bit. A little bit of skim gets rid of the extra grease and too much skim gets rid of all the flavor. I also had to add more fish sauce/sugar/salt combination. Overall not a bad experience except for the meat. Maybe I just need to find a meat cut, or put it in the crockpot to soften it up beforehand. Thanks.

    • SteamyKitchen — 8/11/14 @ 10:54 am

      Hi Danielle, If the meat is really chewy, you might want to find a different cut (like the ones I’ve recommended in the recipe) – if you cook the soup low and slow (barely simmering), it should be good. Not sure the crockpot will help with it. Also try slicing it AGAINST the grain, slice very thin.

  50. Mai — 8/18/14 @ 8:06 pm

    Great recipe, cooking it as we speak. Do you gradually add more water during the simmering process or no???

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