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Sep 17, 2007 12:30 AM

the secret ingredient for pho

Many Hounders have professed their mom's pho to be the best. I am no different, and recently asked my mother to share her secret to the amazing steaming hot bowls of lovin' that grace our table when I come home to visit the Pacific Northwest.

When I asked, she took out a step stool, a rickety thing covered in red leatherette, and opened a cupboard. Inside, on the very tippy-top shelf, she took out a jar. Inside swam a sea of anise stars in a brown liquid.

"Sherry," she said.

Yes, sherry-soaked anise stars are the secret to my mom's incomparable bowl of pho bo (for you whitey tighties in the audience, or just newcomers, bo is beef). You basically buy the most crappy sherry available, fill a used Smucker's jam jar to the gills with anise stars, and pour. It must steep at least a few months to taste right for soup. I don't know if that's useful (or just gross) to anyone else. Thought I would share.

Does anyone else's mom have a secret ingredient? Spill the bo here!

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  1. That is a fantastic tip. I never would have thought of it. Can you taste the sherry in the pho?

    1 Reply
    1. re: monavano

      It's pretty subtle, but it makes all the difference. Some people complain that pho is too anisey, and this is one way to sort of prevent that, because you're not leaving the anise in the broth and boiling the flavor into the soup over time.

    2. Does she add the anise sherry to the broth while she's making it or to the finished pho?

      5 Replies
      1. re: amyzan

        While the broth is boiling, she adds like three to four tablespoons.

        1. re: iwantmytwodollars

          So is it sacralige to ask for the pho bo recipe? I love pho, and have no clue how to make it (and no vietnamese mom here) and am wondering if the recipe ingredients are within my grasp to make this yummy dish...

          1. re: sds

            Yeah, since you already gave out the secret ingredient, might as well give us tighty-whiteys the rest of the recipe! Never tried making pho 'cause I figured I could never get the stock right....

            1. re: Bat Guano

              That is brilliant! I would never have thought to soak the anise in sherry, but it sounds fantastic. And I add my voice to those asking for the rest of the recipe!

            2. re: sds

              There is a most awesome, descriptive step-by-step written by Carb Lover:


              This woman knows what she's doing. Of course her mom's pho is not my mom's pho.. (We don't sautee the aromatics; we don't use neck bones; we don't use chuck roast, etc.) But I don't know that I'm ready to give up the family jewels just yet :) Noodle on, pho lovers, noodle on.

        2. I have a Vietnamese friend who makes wonderful pho bo. She swears the broth will not be right without the addition of beef tendon. I'm not going to argue with that I just love when she makes it and shares.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Candy

            Beef tendons, eh? Bet my uncle would agree on that since he loves the stuff, and I recall seeing it in my aunt's broth a few times. Many folks, though, would probably say that the key is using ox tails to make the broth. Personally, I think it's way too greasy (and this coming from someone who keeps duck fat in her fridge), but the taste is pretty good and "authentic," whatever that may mean. I still like my mother's broth using beef bones best.

            1. re: Candy

              Yeah, tendon was like the meatballs in other kids' spaghetti when I was growing up. (Of course we ate spaghetti and meatballs, too, but you know what I mean.) I usually though just sort of see it floating around in the finished broth, not actually boiling in there -- will try it out. Thanks!

              1. re: ESNY

                Um, I don't understand. Explain please?

                1. re: amyzan

                  He either is joking that his mom is a cannibal, or that a nice social ambiance is key to a great meal. Big question mark there. Regardless, it's better than a joke about eating dogs.

                  1. re: iwantmytwodollars

                    I hate to be a downer but... Recently when I was at the local pho place, I noticed boxes of aji no moto, yep that's right MSG stored near the bathroom. They by the way have a delicious pho with a really good broth. I guess I'm not effected by the MSG cause I've never had a headache. All I know is that the pho is really good.

                      1. re: chocabot

                        Chocabot, thanks to takadi's revival of this thread, your 4-1/2-year-old post just gave me a very good laugh.

                2. This is an old thread but I wanted to post the greatest kept secret ingredient to pho that has integral to Pho Bac for generations.