I’m Weekend Cooking with Beth Fish Reads and for the second week in a row I’ve actually cooked something. Really, the problem is that Atlanta just can’t compare to Chicago on the food scene, though if anyone out there has any suggestions on good eatin’ in Atlanta, I’m begging you to put it in the comment section!
So, I ran across a recipe for Chicken Pho on Smitten Kitchen and decided I didn’t have anything better to do this week. Smitten Kitchen is a site that’s notorious (in my small circles, at least) for having amazing recipes, but generally the recipes are incredibly involved and require at least one ingredient that you must hike the Himalayas to find. But like I said, we’re moving in and I was tired of unpacking so a Smitten Kitchen recipe seemed just the ticket. It came out extremely well. It also wasn’t as involved as I thought it would be.
Note, I’ve never had traditional Vietnamese pho, so making this was a first for me and eating it was a first. The comments on the site indicate that it’s a pretty traditional recipe. I can tell you mine was delicious.
Let’s get started! Remember my notes will be this color. Her pictures are beautiful, much better than mine, but I have to add my own for a little illustration.
Recipe – Courtesy of Smitten Kitchen
The broth here is fairly simple (wonderful for beginners) but you should feel free to add any of the extra spices that sound good to you. Star anise is considered especially fundamental pho. It’s typically served with a plate full of fixings including lime wedges, Thai basil, cilantro, slivers of jalapeño, mung bean sprouts, and crispy shallots. You will probably see some chili-garlic sauce, Sriracha, and hosin nearby. If this sounds overwhelming to procure, do not sweat it; just get what you can or what sounds good. The beauty of pho is that it’s all about the broth, and one as good as this will taste dreamy even without a single bean sprout on top. Besides, Phan himself advises that “The trick is to add a little bit of each item as you eat your way through the bowl, not to dump them in all at once. You want the herbs to maintain their fragrance, the bean sprouts to stay crunchy — it’s all about aroma and texture, and if you add too much too soon you’ll end up with black herbs and soft sprouts, which defeats the whole purpose.”
2 unpeeled yellow onions, quartered
Three 1/2-inch-thick slices of unpeeled fresh ginger, smashed
4 quarts cold water
3 pounds chicken bones or chicken wings I used 2.5 lbs of chicken wings and a chicken carcass from a store bought roasted chicken we had consumed the night before.
One fresh 3 1/2-pound chicken, quartered Save yourself a ton of trouble and buy it already quartered.
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons sugar
Additional spices (optional): Cinnamon, star anise, black cardamoms, coriander seeds, fennel seeds or cloves
I used two sticks of cinnamon, five or six pieces of star anise, maybe a teaspoon of ground cardamoms, a tablespoon of whole coriander seeds, fennel seeds, and seven to ten cloves. I also added a heaping tablespoon of minced garlic.
1/4 cup Asian fish sauce I probably used closer to half a cup throughout the recipe, this is because I ignored my distaste of star anise and honestly was looking for anything to cut the smell back.
1 pound dried rice noodles, a linguine shape (bánh phở) if you can find them
1 large scallion, thinly sliced
1 pound mung bean sprouts
1/2 cup torn basil leaves, Thai basil if you can find it All I could find was regular basil and it was delicious.
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
2 limes, cut into wedges
2 jalapeños, thinly sliced
Asian chili-garlic sauce
Crispy shallots, the recipe I used was slightly different, it is found here.
I also used Sriacha, wherewould we be without Sriacha?
Char onions and ginger: Heat the oven to 400°F. Put the onions and ginger on a lightly oiled baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes, or until softened and lightly browned. [Alternate idea suggested in the comments: If you have a gas range, just char them a bit over a flame. It would save a lot of time.]
I was a little put off by this, probably because I have issues in reading the entire recipe before cooking, it’s important to remember that the broth will be strained, so don’t be freaked out about not peeling the onions or ginger.
Cook the chicken: Fill a large stockpot with the water and bring to a boil. Add the roasted onions and ginger, and the chicken bones or wings, quartered chicken, salt, sugar and any of the optional spices and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to moderate and simmer until the chicken is cooked, about 30 minutes.
Remove the chicken and finish the broth: Using tongs, transfer the quartered chicken to a plate and let cool slightly. Remove the meat from the bones and refrigerate. Return the skin and bones to the stockpot and simmer for 2 hours longer. Strain the chicken broth into a large soup pot and cook over high heat until reduced to 12 cups, about 15 minutes. Stir in the fish sauce; adjust to taste.
I didn’t put all of the skin and fat back into the broth (I know! That’s where the flavor is!). I also prepared the broth about 36 hours ahead of time. I hate deboning chicken, but for a great chicken soup it’s a necessary evil.
I strained this broth three times. The first with a normal colander to get out all of the big pieces, when I came back to it two days later I noticed there still seemed to be a lot of flotsam floating around so I got out my wire mesh strainer and strained it two more times. It helped to clarify the broth some, though I doubt my broth was clear enough to actually impress anyone.
*Prepare noodles: In a large bowl of warm water, soak the noodles until pliable, about 20 minutes. You can also prepare the noodles according to the package instructions, if they differ. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Drain the noodles, then add them to the saucepan and boil over high heat until tender, about 3 minutes. Drain well. Divide the noodles between 6 large bowls and sprinkle with the scallion.
Finish and serve the soup: Add the reserved chicken to the broth and simmer until heated through. Ladle the broth and chicken over the noodles. Serve with the bean sprouts, basil, lime wedges, jalapeños, chili-garlic sauce, hoisin sauce and crispy shallots.
* Note: Phan has you cook the noodles separately in water, so they can be drained and used as needed. I believe he’s concerned about them overcooking in the soup pot. Theoretically, you could of course save time by cooking the noodles in the broth pot while the chicken reheats, however, the noodles are likely to make the broth cloudy, when ideal pho usually has a pristinely clear broth. [Thanks to everyone who mentioned the clouding issue in the comments.]
Do ahead: The broth can be made ahead and refrigerated for two days, a great way to divide up this recipe.
Here’s the husband behaving properly, because he knows what’s good for him. That clutter in the back is because we’re moving. Don’t judge.
As I said before this soup came out very flavorful. Next time I won’t add as much star anise because the smell makes me just a little ill. I think the flavor blends well enough with the other parts of the broth so the taste isn’t offensive, it was just every time I opened the lid to the pot I was smacked in the face with the smell of the star anise (and now my entire spice cabinet reeks of it).
Also, clearly I don’t have the proper serving bowls for this recipe. You need a deep bowl, not the European-style soup bowls that we’re using here. I still have leftovers (of course) and at first I couldn’t find the bánh phở type noodles, so I purchased a rice noodle that’s much thinner, it looks like it might have the consistency of ramen noodles. I think that I’m going to prepare those today and try it out that way as I found the bánh phở to be a little thick and heavy. I know that this soup isn’t supposed to be about the fixin’s, but I like the flavors of the fixin’s (I really liked the flavor of the broth too, don’t get me wrong), so less noodles and more fixin’s appeals to me.
If you have a mandolin, this is a great time to use it, it allowed me to slice both my jalapeños and shallots almost paper thin, I never could do that with a knife, largely because I have no knife skills. I used kitchen shears to cut the shallots.
This recipe has inspired me to find a Vietnamese restaurant and check out the beef pho – the comments found on this recipe seem to suggest that it’s much more involved.
I’d recommend this recipe, it’s probably possible to make smaller quantities of noodles and fixin’s and freeze the chicken and broth part for an easier weekday meal later.