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Authentic Instant Pot Pho Recipe

Posted November 6, 2017 by Mike

Like many Vietnamese families who escaped Vietnam after the war, my family was dirt poor and just starting over when I was growing up. The first month dad started a business, we only had $20 left over for food, so that month we ate nothing but instant noodles. I love instant noodles so never saw a problem with that situation then or now, but my dad always feels bad about it when the topic comes up.

Food is really, really important in my family. When my mom was a young girl in Vietnam, she made a living selling food at the market, and always bought herself something different at the market to eat each day as well. Except for that one hard month, we had a tradition that every Saturday morning we would always go out for lunch as a treat, and that treat was almost always pho. Pho for 3, especially back in the 80s, was less than $10, and that made it possible for a young family to get out and have a little bit of fun in between all the hard work. And, just like my mom when she was young, each weekend we would go someplace different to try out their pho.

Authentic Instant Pot Pho Recipe - www.iamafoodblog.com

A few years after Steph and I got married, we did pretty well and were lucky enough to be able to go travelling for a bit, and Steph insisted that we always try a pho place in each city we visit. I’m pretty confident that I’ve personally eaten at hundreds of different pho restaurants with my parents growing up, and Steph and I have had pho in places as far and wide as Switzerland, Spain (shown below), Colombia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and of course, most any major city in North America.

Authentic Instant Pot Pho Recipe - www.iamafoodblog.com

So, having established our pho credentials, you can trust this recipe to not steer you wrong, and anyone can make it – it’s pretty much the world’s easiest pho recipe. You need an instant pot, but if you don’t have one, just leave it on the stove and wait as your house fills up with the smell of slow braised beef. If you’re interested in geeking out about pho, here are some notes, but you can just jump to the recipe and make it instead.

The Broth

A good pho is a well made beef broth with charred aromatics, sweetened with sugar, and seasoned with fish sauce. Traditionally this was made with bones, but for this recipe we are going with a cheap cut of meat. I’m a sucker for whatever cut is on sale, and lately we’ve gravitated towards a cut from the ribs called finger meat, which I feel has the perfect ratio of connective tissue, fat, and meat for an incredible pho broth. With such a simple recipe, what you put in is what you get out, and a cut of meat with some connective tissue and fat goes a long way. But really, any cheap cut of meat will do. Because it’s an easy pressure cooked recipe, we’re not going to par boil the scum away (because the low agitation of a pressure cooker means you’ll get a mostly clear broth anyway), but if you’re doing it on the stove top, boil the meat for 5 minutes at a rapid boil to agitate any scum out, drain the water, wash the pot, and refill with cold water to get a super clear broth.

Authentic Instant Pot Pho Recipe - www.iamafoodblog.com

A note on fat content: Any good noodle soup needs fat for the broth to stick to the noodle and pho is no exception. If you prefer to control the fat content of your pho (and can wait a few hours before eating) this is a trick I learned from Ivan Ramen: 1. Leave the pho in the fridge until the fat solidifies. 2. Scoop it out into a small saucepan. 3. Melt it over low heat. 4. Strain into a small container. The fat will keep in the fridge for up to a week, and you can measure out exactly how much each bowl will have. Add at least a teaspoon to each bowl of pho you make; unless you’re crazy about living fat free, your tastebuds will thank you for it. We do this when making ramen, but for pho we just go with whatever fat is in the meat we use.

Authentic Instant Pot Pho Recipe - www.iamafoodblog.com

Aromatics

Charred aromatics are the key to a great pho, and the easiest, most lazy way to char your aromatics is by putting them all on a sheet tray and blow torching them all at once. I like to use a mixture of ginger, cinnamon, cloves, coriander seeds, star anise, shallots, and onions. If I’m making the pho just for myself (as in not even for Steph) I’ll double the star anise, but that can be off-putting to some. You should seriously consider getting a good blow torch if you don’t have one because they are cheap and insanely useful, but you can also char over a gas range, on an outdoor grill, or under the oven broiler. If you are charring over a gas range, just char the ginger, onions, cinnamon stick, and shallots.

Authentic Instant Pot Pho Recipe - www.iamafoodblog.com Authentic Instant Pot Pho Recipe - www.iamafoodblog.com

Seasoning

Pho is about balance, but not necessarily subtlety. Personally speaking, I like my pho to be extra, so any pho I make right out of the pot will seem too sweet. Adding the fish sauce will counter balance the sweetness, and the customary squeeze of lime at the table will bring the brightness to offset the umami bomb you just made. The recipe below is a middle ground sort of sweet, but if I made it just for me I’d double that amount of sugar. The sugar it calls for is rock sugar, which you should be able to get just about anywhere, but if you can’t, brown sugar will do in a pinch. Rock sugar is prettier though.

Authentic Instant Pot Pho Recipe - www.iamafoodblog.com

Fish Sauce

Not all fish sauces are equal, and you really do get what you pay for, especially when you can never pay more than $10 or so. You don’t necessarily need super high end Red Boat brand, but if you’re at the supermarket and see something called nouc mam nhi, go for that one, it’s basically the equivalent of first press or extra virgin fish sauce, and is always a good bet.

The Noodles

If you can, get fresh pho noodles, but if you can’t, the dried stuff works too. Sometimes the noodles will be called rice stick or Thai rice stick noodles. Medium thickness is best. If you’re using dried noodles, soak them one hour to overnight and in either case, let the heat of the broth cook both the fresh or dried noodles.

Authentic Instant Pot Pho Recipe - www.iamafoodblog.com

The Meat

Pho is beloved not just for its broth but the meaty toppings. Sirloin, well done brisket, flank, tripe, meatballs, the list goes on and on. Anyone who has been eating pho for awhile will tell you that dac biet (which is every meat the restaurant has) is the way to go, and it’s what I order in a restaurant, but at home, you may not want to go that nuts. For me though, a good pho should have 2-3 different meats. If you make this with finger meat, flank, or brisket, you should have some nice well done meat, and to that I’d recommend some beef meatballs, either homemade or from a Vietnamese deli, sirloin that’s been thinly sliced and allowed to cook in the broth (buy sirloin roast to get the nice round pieces), and, for the truly adventurous, omasum. Warning: don’t google ‘omasum’ unless you know what you are getting into.

The Toppings

Thai basil, jalapeños, and limes at the table are basically mandatory everywhere, but we also like to have a dish of mixed chopped onions and cilantro, Mexican style. Hoisin and sriracha sauces are always welcome as well, despite what Bon Appétit said about that.

Authentic Instant Pot Pho Recipe - www.iamafoodblog.com

Last Words

I’ve never actually made pho for my parents because I’ve never felt it was good enough (and they have pretty strong opinions). I’ve been hyping up this recipe to them a lot though, and I think it’s going to be the one. Only thing is, it won’t be me making it because Steph has already stolen it for her own (she did the cooking in these photos) and plans to make it for our next in-law dinner together. I’m looking forward to it, and will update with my parents reaction. Stay tuned!

Authentic Instant Pot Pho Recipe
Serves 4


  • 1/2 onion, peeled
  • 1 shallot, peeled, halved lengthwise
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 5 star anise
  • 2 inches ginger
  • 50g (approx 1/4 cup) rock sugar
  • 1 kg (2.2lbs) beef*
  • fish sauce to taste

To serve:

  • 1lb sirloin roast
  • 8 meatballs (2 per bowl)
  • omasum (highly optional)
  • bean sprouts
  • limes
  • Thai basil
  • cilantro & onion (rough chopped)
  • jalapeno
  • sriracha
  • hoisin

Arrange the onion, shallot, cinnamon stick, cloves, coriander seeds, and star anise on a heat proof baking sheet and blow torch until fragrant. Alternately, char on an outdoor grill, over a gas range, or in an oven broiler.

Transfer charred aromatics along with sugar and meat to Instant Pot/Pressure cooker. Fill to the max fill line with water, about 4 quarts. Set pressure to high and cook time to 35 minutes and cook. Quick release the pressure when cooking time is completed.

Once cool enough to taste, add fish sauce 1 tablespoon at a time until it’s just about overseasoned. If you go too far, just add water. You may optionally strain the pho at this point to get as clear of a broth as possible.

To serve:

Place noodles and meat in a bowl and cover with hot broth. Serve with a plate of bean sprouts, limes, Thai basil, rough chopped onion and cilantro and jalapeno. Have small dipping plates of sriracha and hoisin sauces for each person.

Notes: If you don’t have a pressure cooker, gentle simmer the beef for 4-6 hours.
*We used finger meat in this recipe but the choice of cut is up to you.

Authentic Instant Pot Pho Recipe - www.iamafoodblog.com

14 Comments

  1. chloe says:

    This sounds so delicious!

    Maybe I’m missing something, but how much water do you add along with the aromatics/sugar/meat into the instant pot?

    1. Mike says:

      That’s a great question, I completely forgot to mention the most important step! It’s 4 quarts or so, fill right up to the max fill line. Thanks for catching that.

      1. chloe says:

        Thanks so much. Can’t wait to try it!!

        1. Mike says:

          Just realized: make sure you’re filling to the pressure cooker max fill line, not total max capacity

  2. Alex says:

    What are your thoughts about the Instant Pot? I’ve been eyeing it up for a while now but have been intimidated by comments about the learning curve on using it properly…

    1. Mike says:

      It’s incredible. It’s become: “what should we have for dinner?” “I don’t know, let’s make something with the Instant Pot” in our house. Highly recommended, there’s very little learning curve, at least the way we use it.

  3. Andrea says:

    I used pressure cooker for almost 60 years. Yes, I’m that old and I still cook from scratch. I never use the p. cooker for soup, where the flavours need time to get out off the meat. P.cooker makes it soft quickly. If you want the flavor to stay in , than use it. Very good to cook smoked meat, potatoes, root vegetables. Experiment with your time of cooking and do not force to open the pot under pressure.

  4. Em says:

    This looks so delicious! I’ve never tried cooking anything with rock sugar (I usually just ate it straight as a kid), but I’ll have to try this one out :) Thanks for sharing!

  5. Kristina says:

    I loved reading about your family, it reminded me so much of my parent’s stories of when they first moved to America from Hong Kong. It’s incredible how strongly a single dish can make such an impact on our families! I’m going to have to try out this recipe soon!

    1. Mike says:

      Thanks Kristina, totally agree on the impact of single dishes on your life – although I have dozens of those, haha

  6. CRAIG HAWLEY says:

    Another tip for a clearer broth: natural release. Manually releasing the pressure will cause the broth to boil/agitate.

  7. Rozita says:

    I love Pho. Especially Bun Ga Hue. Could you enlighten me – what is added to make it spicy? What is the red the paste to make it specially spicy? I can’t seem to get that specific taste! Thanks.

    1. Stephanie says:

      hi rozita,

      we’re putting up a recipe for bun bo hue soon!

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