Last night we enjoyed some delicious pho with some of our best friends. It was delightful. But you might be asking yourself, what IS pho?
Pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup consisting of broth, linguine-shaped rice noodles, herbs, and traditionally beef or chicken although vegetarian options are just as delicious. The hearty soup originated in Northern Vietnam during the 20th century. Pho was originally sold at dawn and dusk by roaming street vendors, who amazingly shouldered mobile kitchens on poles across their backs. From the pole hung two wooden cabinets, one housing a cauldron over a wood fire, the other storing noodles, spices, cookware, and space to prepare a bowl of pho. Boy does that sound heavy! Thankfully now it’s much more widely available and no poles are necessary, you can go to your local pho eatery and order a bowl. (Our favorite spot is Pho 88 on Mills Avenue in Orlando for you local folks)
But what if you don’t have a pho eatery near you, or you want to try making it at home? Now you can! You can judge how good a Pho soup is by how much concentrated flavor is packed in the broth while still retaining a clean, clear broth. I like my Pho without Sriracha or Hoisin sauce (or “the brown stuff” as the butcher calls it)…I really enjoy the purity of the chicken broth without anything to hide its flavor and aroma.
There are 2 very important steps to a clear but intense broth – 1) parboiling the chicken to get rid of the impurities 2) charring the ginger and onion for a naturally sweet, robust flavor.
1 whole (preferably organic) chicken (4-5lbs)
1 whole onion, unpeeled and cut in half
3-inch chunk of ginger, unpeeled
2 tbl whole coriander seeds
4 whole cloves
2 whole star anise
2 tbl raw sugar
2 tbl fish sauce…be sure to choose a fish sauce light in color, it should look like brewed tea….anything darker than that (looking like Coca Cola) is inferior quality.
small bunch of cilantro stems only, tied in bunch with twine
1 lb dried rice noodles
2 cups bean sprouts
cilantro tops – leaves and tender stems
1/2 lime, cut into 4 wedges
Sriracha hot sauce
sliced chili or jalapeño (for the brave people out there)
Place ginger and onion on a small baking sheet. The top of the onion should be about 4″ from the oven’s heating element. Set to broil on high for 15 minutes. Turn the onion and ginger occasionally, to get an even char. The skin should get dark and the onion/ginger should get soft. After cooling, rub to get the charred skin off the onion and use a butter knife to scrape the skin off the ginger. Slice ginger into thick slices. I know this may seem tedious but trust me it’s worth it for the rich flavor it produces!
Fill a large pot or Dutch oven with water and boil. With a sharp knife, carve the chicken breast meat off and reserve. Or just marry a butcher. With the rest of chicken whacking hard through the bones to get sections about 3″ big. The more bone that is exposed, the more marrow that gets in the broth (translation: rich, flavorful). You can even whack several places along the bone just to expose more marrow. When the water boils, add chicken sections (not breast) and boil on high for 5 minutes. You’ll see lots of foam and “stuff’ come up to the surface. Drain and wash your pot thoroughly. Refill with about 4 quarts of clean, cold water. (If making vegetarian pho, this step can be skipped and just use vegetable broth or make your own veggie stock)
Add chicken, chicken breast meat, onion, ginger and all of the broth spices in the pot and cover. Turn heat to high – let it come to boil, then immediately turn heat to low. Prop lid up so that steam can escape. After 15 minutes, remove the chicken breasts, shred with your fingers when cooled and set aside (you’ll serve shredded chicken breast with the finished soup). With a large spoon, skim the surface of any impurities in the broth. Skimming every 20 minutes ensures a clear broth. Simmer a total of 1-1/2 hours. Taste and adjust seasoning with more fish sauce and or sugar.
Strain the broth, discarding solids. Prepare noodles as per directions on package. Ladle broth, add shredded chicken breast and soft noodles in each bowl. Have all the table accompaniements at table for each person to add to their bowl based on individual taste. Even though your broth may not be as clear, you can also make this recipe in your crock pot and come home to the delicious aromas of Vietnam!
It was PHO yummy! Photastic! Can I have pho mo?! I could do this all day…