Most authentic Pho dishes can take 3 days to make. This slow cooker (or crockpot) recipe is full of robust flavor and every bit as tasty as the restaurant Pho dishes from Vietnamese restaurants.Jump to Recipe
3-Day vs. Crockpot Beef Pho
On a recent trip to Denver my daughter and I were looking for a good Vietnamese restaurant, and ended up at Pho 96. Many of the pho restaurants in Denver had a “number” attached to the word Pho, which we learned were the families’ “lucky numbers”. In the case of Pho 96, it was in 1996 that their family moved to the US.
While we didn’t have a chance to sample the other Vietnamese restaurants, Pho 96 delivered the best Beef Pho I have ever had. After getting back home, I immediately tried to replicate our dining experience before the memory faded.
As I researched the recipes that were out there in the internets, I saw that the most authentic looking Pho dishes took around 3 days to make and I simply can’t handle that right now, no matter how good the food is. I found several slow cooker (or crock pot) recipes that I adapted, and it comes very close to the food memory of the Denver Pho dish.
This recipe for low carb beef pho in a slow cooker is a combination of my memory, as well as a comprehensive search of different variations of pho. The spice ratios of the various recipes was the primary difference.
While the Beef Pho at Denver’s Pho 96 was perhaps a bit richer, this slow cooker version was very close. Robust and complex. Just know that it does take some prep time to make. Not three days for sure, but not quick and easy either. A perfect recipe for creative Sunday slow cooking.
How to Maintain a Low Carb Diet and Still Enjoy High-Flavor Food
With the exception of the rice noodles, Beef Pho is consistent with a low carb lifestyle (use shiratake noodles if you are really being strict). I have been living a low carb lifestyle for over 6 years now and am constantly modifying recipes to eek out the most flavor while remaining compliant with low carb.
During the weight loss phase of low carb dieting, progress usually takes precedence over flavor. Once your goal weight is reached however, flavor and variety start to become more important. Most people start to get bored with “diet food” after a while. This is the danger zone for allowing carb creep to take over and it is important to have some sort of “maintenance plan”.
My version of a maintenance plan has been to ease up on the carb counting during mini-vacations scheduled every 3 months (or specific 1-day celebrations) but stick to a low carb routine in between. I also plan ahead for these mini-vacations and try to go into a bit of a calorie deficit before the vacation.
During the vacation, I allow myself to enjoy whatever cuisine is special to the place I am visiting and assume that I will come home 3 pounds heavier. Because I have been low carb for so long, I am “fat-adapted” and it only takes about 1 week back on routine to lose the vacation weight.
It is important to note that “fat-adapted” means you have been low carb long enough that your body is used to using fat for energy rather than glucose and often will prefer it. Being in ketosis can be very temporary (an hour, a day, a week), and is not the same thing as being fat-adapted.
Three things that I believe are critical to this type of maintenance plan:
- Make sure you have been eating low carb long enough that you are fat-adapted (this could take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a few months).
- Schedule your mini-vacations so you have something to look forward to as a reward mechanism (I schedule mine around January 1st and look for conferences or events that I may want to attend).
- Prior to the mini-vacation (by a couple of weeks), get into a calorie deficit so you go into the vacation lean and mean.
- Try and schedule in some fun physical activity, even if it is only walking and sightseeing, or actually “swimming” in the hotel pool.
- Enjoy you vacation, but don’t treat it as a binge of junk food. Really savor the cuisine and food at the location you happen to be.
Carb creep is much more dangerous than a planned cheat vacation. I do watch the scale daily when I return. If I have gained over 4 lbs. I get down and dirty with discipline very quickly. If it is 2-3 lbs. it usually comes off pretty quickly with a return to routine. Seems to work. I am eating flavorful food that I love and feeling energetic and healthy. What more can you ask for in a lifestyle diet?
Yield: 4 servings, about 2 cups each
Low Carb Vietnamese Beef Pho in the Slow Cooker
- 2 lbs. Oxtails or beef bones can use short ribs as an option
- 1/2 onion
- 3-4 inches ginger root sliced into 1/2″ slices
- Spice medley to include: 2 tsp whole coriander, 1 tsp fennel seeds, 5 whole star anise, 6 whole cloves, 2-3 cardamom pods), a 3-4” cinnamon stick
- 7 cups water
- 2 cups beef broth
- 2 Tbsp fish sauce
- 1 Tbsp brown sugar use truvia brown sugar for more low carb compliance
- 2 tsp kosher salt divided
- 1 lb dried rice noodles can use shiratake for better low carb compliance
- 1/2 lb. eye of round steak sliced as thinly as possible (can substitute sirloin, flank or london broil); ** tip: freeze meat for 15 minutes prior to slicing to make it easier to slice thinly)
- variety of accompaniments *see notes below for ideas; most include limes, bean sprouts, peppers, and a range of sauces
- Preheat oven to broil and place rack on upper position of oven.
- Bring a large stockpot filled with water to boil over high heat. Add the oxtails or bones and boil hard for 10 minutes. Brown scum will rise to the surface. Remove the bones with slotted spoon and rinse with cold water. Discard the scummy water and place rinsed bones in slow cooker. *note: some people will skim the scum from top of pot and use the remaining liquid in the slow cooker instead of water/beef broth. This is fine but the resulting broth will not be as clear as classic pho broth is.
- While the bones are boiling, place the onion slices and the ginger slices on a baking sheet lined with foil and transfer to the oven. Broil for 2-4 minutes until charred and then turn onion and ginger over to char the other side. Remove from oven and add ginger and onion to the crock pot.
- Dry toast the Pho spices by placing them in a sauté pan over medium-low heat. Toast until fragrant (2-3 minutes), shaking often so as not to burn. Add the toasted spices to the crock pot. You can strain them out later if you want a clear broth. *Alternatively, place the spices in a cheesecloth bag and place in slow cooker.
- Add the water, beef broth, fish sauce, sugar and 1 teaspoon salt to the slow-cooker and set on lowest setting for 8-10 hours.
- About 15 minutes before serving prepare your accompaniments and par-boil the noodles. For the accompaniments: slice limes and arrange herbs, sprouts, peppers and sauces on a platter. To par-boil the noodles, boil noodles according to package instructions (varies on what kind of noodles you are using), stopping a minute short of what directions say. if you are using shiratake just rinse the noodles. Drain immediately and place in the bottom of four large, individual soup bowls.
- Remove the bones and spice pack (if you used cheesecloth pack) from the slow cooker. If there happens to be any scum or fat on the surface, skim and discard it. Taste broth and add more salt, if necessary. If you just dumped the spices in the pot, you can just drain all of the solids out of the crock pot at this point, leaving just the broth.
- Distribute the thin (raw) steak slices evenly on top of the noodles in the four bowls. Ladle the hot Pho stock into each bowl. The hot stock will cook the thin steak slices. Serve bowls of pho with the platter of accompaniments at the table.
- 1-2 limes, cut in wedges
- fresh herbs (I used basil, mint and cilantro. Pho 96 also used Ngo gai, which is a Vietnamese sawtooth herb they called Vietnamese cilantro)
- 2-3 Thai or Serrano chilies, sliced thinly
- 2 cups bean sprouts
- Hoisin sauce
- Sriracha hot chili sauce
Where have you had the best or most authentic Pho? The sawtooth herb they used as an accompaniment in Denver must be available in the Asian markets, if you have one nearby. Sometimes it is referred to as Vietnamese Cilantro, but that may be a questionable term.Have you ever heard of this herb and what have you heard it called?