My version of pho is authentic in flavor, but unconventional in method. I use venison shanks for this popular Vietnamese soup. The bones and connective tissue enhance the flavor and body of the broth, then I shred the meat and serve in the soup.
A traditional pho begins by creating a fragrant bone broth that will be poured into a bowl of rice noodles with thin slices of raw sirloin. Since there are so few cuts of tender meat on a deer, I typically reserve them for other cooking preparations and opt to use tough cuts for this dish.
The shanks can be left whole or cut in half using a bone saw while still frozen. It’s an extra step, but there are a few benefits to doing it this way. Cutting helps to release more collagen, making the broth rich and viscous. This also makes it easier to fit all the meat inside of a crockpot to cook faster. Just don’t be tempted to make multiple cuts like you would with osso buco because you’ll need to retrieve the meat and strain the liquids from the solids. Small cuts will cause the venison to disappear in the soup, making it nearly impossible to separate.
The instructions below explain how to make pho using a crockpot. You can follow the same directions and make it in a large pot on the stovetop if you plan to be home all day instead.
Time to make
2 deer shanks, sawed in half
1 cinnamon stick
4 star anise pods
2 tsp. cloves
2 tsp. coriander seeds
1 tbsp. peppercorns
2 small yellow onions, quartered
5 cloves garlic, smashed
3” knob of ginger, skin removed and halved
8 cups unsalted venison or beef stock, plus water
1/4 cup fish sauce
4-6 oz. rice noodles
To serve: bean sprouts, cilantro or Thai basil, sliced shallot or green onion, lime wedges, sliced jalapeños, chili sauce, hoisin
Oil for cooking
Also works with
- Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Dry-toast all of the spices (cinnamon stick, star anise pods, cloves, coriander seeds and peppercorns) for 30 seconds to release the oils. Remove and add to a large crockpot.
- Add roughly a tablespoon of oil to the pan and brown each shank on all sides. Remove and place inside the crockpot.
- Sear the cut sides of the onion wedges and ginger until charred. Remove into the crockpot. Lastly, add the garlic cloves, sauté for less than a minute until fragrant. Add them to all the other ingredients in the crockpot.
- Deglaze the sauté pan with some of the stock, scraping up the fond at the bottom, as long as nothing burned. Pour this liquid into the crockpot then add the rest of the stock and enough water to cover. Place the lid on top and set the heat to low. Allow the meat to simmer and cook for several hours. Check every so often, adding more water if the level reduces too much.
- You will want to pull out the meat, with bones, when it reaches fork tender. You don’t want to overcook it or you’ll never be able to separate the meat from the other ingredients that need to be strained. Shred the meat off the bone using two forks and set aside.
- Strain the liquids from the solids using a fine mesh strainer. Discard the bones and aromatics. Return the broth back to the crockpot along with the shredded meat, on low heat again. If the broth is too watery or if the meat isn’t quite tender enough, this is your chance to cook it a little longer.
- When the broth is ready, pour in the fish sauce and submerge the rice noodles. Place the lid back on and cook until the noodles are tender. Serve with bean sprouts, cilantro, Thai basil, sliced shallot, green onions, lime, jalapeños, chili sauce or hoisin.