This slow cooker recipe is in no way traditional pho. You are supposed to keep the broth very clean looking and this cheater version has a residue from the spices floating to the top and whatnot. Real pho is so much work, I don’t think I would ever make it; it requires lots of different beef components and great care to keep skimming impurities from them. I have great admiration for people who keep traditional recipes alive but sometimes you just want to come home to comfort food without having to spend your weekend standing over a hot stove. That’s why I am always looking for ways to hack recipes with my slow cooker. This slow cooker short rib pho recipe will fill your house with the smell of pho and fill your belly with beefy joy.
An important component to this shortcut recipe is a good store-bought beef bone broth—this basically becomes the stand-in for buying, cleaning, roasting, and boiling all those aforementioned beef bones. For Bay Area folks, I recommend the one found in the frozen section at Berkeley Bowl. Be sure the one you choose actually tastes of clean beef collagen and doesn’t have other added flavorings to conflict with your beautiful pho flavor.
Shortcut Short Rib Pho in a Slow Cooker
(Makes 4 servings)
Ingredients for Broth:
- 4–6 short ribs (about 2.5 lbs), cut into separate rib pieces
- 32 oz store-bought beef bone broth; see notes above
- 1 sweet onion, quartered
- several cloves of garlic, crushed and peeled
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- several ginger slices
- 3–4 tbsp fish sauce
- 8–10 star anise
- five spice powder
- cooking oil
Ingredients for Pho:
- 1 package dry flat rice noodles
- 1 lime, quartered
- 1 shallot or 1/8 small red onion, very thinly sliced
- fresh jalapeno or serrano chili peppers
- fresh herbs, scallions, mint, etc. to your heart’s desire
- Sriracha and hoisin sauce, optional
Rub a bunch (generously!) of salt, pepper, and five spice onto the rib pieces and heat up a pan on the stove. Once it’s hot you’ll probably want it on medium-high heat. Heat up a splash of oil and add the short ribs and onions. After one side of the ribs are seared, rotate. About halfway through, add the garlic. Get a good sear on all sides of the ribs and some caramelization on the onions. Dump everything into a slow cooker.
Turn the heat down to low and add the fish sauce and bit of water and deglaze the pan. You can add more fish sauce later, so go conservative if you are not used to cooking with this potent and magical elixir. Add all your pan bits to the slow cooker along with the ginger, star anise, and brown sugar. Add the bone broth plus about 32 oz of water (you can use your bone broth container to measure).
Set your slow cooker to 4 hours on high or 8 hours on low. (The photos show the short ribs cooked on the high setting, where the meat is extremely tender but holds its shape. On the low setting, the meat is more likely to fall right off the bones.) Afterwards you could probably remove the short ribs and strain the broth through a cheesecloth if you really wanted that typical pure-looking pho brothy look, but if you are cooking for you and your loved ones and not for a food critic, why bother?
To prepare for serving, prep the fresh ingredients. In these photos, you’ll see radish microgreens, springs of mint, basil, and red shiso, along with chopped cilantro, serrano pepper slices, and scallions. Honestly, this is what I had lying around at the time. From what I understand, different regions in Vietnam tend to serve different herbs depending on what grows prevalently and they’re not herbs that are typically found in American grocery stores. At restaurants near me, I often see Thai basil served with pho. I also see raw bean sprouts, which I personally dislike, which is why they are not in the photos. Your home, your rules.
Cook your pho noodles according to the instructions on the package, or until they are just barely al dente. The hot broth will soften them even further.
Carefully remove the short ribs from the broth. You can choose to serve the entire rib in the bowl for a dramatic presentation, or remove the meat from the bone (should come off in one big chunk) and slice it up. Or both! I’ve also added store bought beef balls with this pho before; just put them in the slow cooker 15-30 minutes before serving (depending on your heat setting) and allow them to heat up and absorb some broth.
To assemble, place cooked noodles in a bowl. Ladle the hot broth on top, add the short rib, and garnish with the thinly sliced onion and some chopped herbs. Serve everything else on the side along with some Sriracha and hoisin sauce, which you probably won’t even need because your short rib meat will be so flavorful.
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