At Saigon Social in New York City, chef and owner Helen Nguyen makes her own pho broth using oxtail, brisket, beef shank, and dry-aged rib bones. “My style of pho is nontraditional traditional,” says Nguyen. “I’ve been able to add different layers that are very true to the way that I eat and the way that I cook.”
When she first started making pho, Nguyen would go to a store, pick up a bag of bones, throw it in a pot of water, and make her bone broth. As she cooked more, she realized that her stocks would vary in color and taste, so she decided to look into why. That led her to Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors’ warehouse six years ago, where she told owner Pat LaFreida that she wanted to learn more about meat and why people use different cuts for different dishes.
“When chefs come in and they want to learn about cutting meat,” says LaFreida of Nguyen, “we want to embrace that.”
Now, every 10 days, Nguyen heads over to the warehouse to butcher the meat that she uses in her famous pho and other dishes. After she’s gathered her meat, Nguyen returns to her home base at Saigon Social to start her “mother stock.” The goal for her stock, which she restarts once a year, is to create a hearty beefy base that can be used in a variety of dishes. “Everything that comes out of the pot serves a beautiful purpose,” she says. The stock takes over eight hours to prepare (not including the time spent at LaFreida’s).
For all that effort, Nguyen ensures that every bit of meat put into the stock is used in other dishes. Oxtails, brisket, and ribs all emerge from the liquid to contribute to at least five other dishes, such as oxtail fried rice and shaken beef steak. Once all the meat has been pulled out, Nguyen adds spices and aromatics to turn the stock into pho broth.
Watch the full video for an in-depth look at how Helen Nguyen butchers, simmers, skims, and tastes her way to a distinct pho.