If you’re a sucker of those warm and broth-y noodle bowl meals, you got to know about the superstar of Asian noodle soups: the Vietnamese Pho. If there is one dish that represents Vietnamese food on the world food map, its pho! Recently when I was Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City, also the best place for pho in the whole of Vietnam!), I literally saw roadside pho vendors at every two steps (if I start counting how many pho vendors I met, the list would be endless). Yeah, pho is important and we all love it. This warm bowl of bones both with rice noodles, bean sprouts, herbs and meat makes for a winning savoury mash-up. While the Vietnamese like to slurp away their bowl of for breakfast, I like to eat mine for a light and flavourful dinner meal (well, it feels kinda healthy).
The Vietnamese Pho is traditionally prepared using chicken or beef broth; Pho Gá being chicken noodle soup and Pho Bò the beef noodle soup. The most crucial step and part of making this classic soup, is undoubtedly the stock or broth. Traditionally meat bones are cooked along with roasted onions, ginger, herbs and spices on simmering heat for several hours- I cook mine for four hours and it gave me a good flavourful broth. The chicken stock is usually made with bony parts such as: wings, necks, back, and trotters, while the beef stock uses oxtail, beef neck, beef shank and beef marrow.
Once the stock is made, the next step is to cook the meat (mostly in boiling water with fish sauce and spring onions) and rice noodles, and then assembling the bowl. Condiments and herbs are very crucial to enhance the flavor of this subtle favoured soup. Use stuff like fresh basil, coriander, brussel sprouts, lime wedges and additional sauces (soy sauce, fish sauce, chilli sauce etc) help in spiking the flavour. It’s always better to make the stock a day in advance and refrigerate/freeze it for later use; it makes the whole journey of making pho less cumbersome.
While exiting Vietnam, I got lucky, and found a copy of James Beard Award winning chef Charles Phan’s Vietnamese Home Cooking at the Ho Chi Minh airport duty free. Charles owns the famous, The Slanted Door restaurant at Los Angeles, and remains a veteran Vietnamese chef. His book gave me a great insight into cracking the right pho recipe with his expert commentary and treasured homegrown recipes.
Pho Gá: Chicken Noodle Soup
Slurp away this bowl of warm and flavourful goodness!
(Inspired by Charles Phan’s recipe from Vietnamese Home Cooking)
for the chicken stock
1 large onion, unpeeled
1 big piece ginger, unpeeled
1 kg chicken bones (I used the wings)
11/2-tablespoon sea salt
3-tablespoon palm sugar
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 green chillies, slit lengthwise (optional)
for the soup
1 whole chicken
6 spring onions (whole)
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger
1 tablespoon sea salt
2 tablespoons fish sauce
3 litres chicken stock
450 grams rice vermicelli noodles
1 bunch spring onions, thinly sliced and trimmed
1 bunch coriander
Crispy fried shallots
for other garnish (optional)
Thai basil sprigs
Jalapeño chillies, stemmed and thinly sliced into rings
for the stock
Preheat oven to 180 degree C.
Foil a roasting tin, place the whole and unpeeled onion and ginger on it. Sprinkle with some olive oil and sea salt. Roast this for about an hour until the onion is soft and beginning to ooze. Remove from the oven and once cooled, peel the onion and cut into half. Slice the unpeeled ginger into thin coins.
Blanching the bones: Yes, blanching bones is quite imperative in order to remove all the impurities and germs from the bones (some people also roast the bones instead of blanching for a brown broth). Fill water in a large pan, add the bones, then quickly remove and keep aside. Now put the same water to boil and when it is at a rolling boil, add the bones, let it stand for 20 seconds and remove from heat. Drain the bones into a colander and rinse under cold running water. Rinse the pan and bring back the bones to the pan.
Add in the onion halves, sliced ginger, salt, sugar and 3 litres of fresh water to the pan and bring it to a boil on high heat, skimming off any scum that forms on the surface. Now simmer this broth for four hours.
Once cooked discard all the bones and big chunks and strain the broth using a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl, all it to cool and then refrigerate it. You can freeze this stock up to 3 months (reason enough to make gallons? hells yeah)!
for the soup
In a large pan add water, whole spring onions, ginger, salt and the fish sauce. Cook on low heat for about 15 mins until the chicken is cooked. Just before the chicken is ready, prepare an ice-water bath. When the chicken is done, remove it from the pan and immediately submerge it into the ice bath (this will stop the chicken from cooking further and give the meat a firmer texture). Once the chicken is cooked, pull into shreds using your hands.
In a medium pan, bring some water to a boil and remove from heat. Add in the dried rice vermicelli to the pan of hot water and allow sitting until cooked (10-15 mins). The whole idea is not to over-cook the vermicelli, hence its cooked in hot water, without any flame.
Heat the prepared chicken stock and check for seasoning.
To prepare the bowls: divide the rice vermicelli evenly among the bowls. Top this up with the shredded chicken, sliced spring onions and coriander. Now ladle the hot stock over the top, dividing it evenly. Squeeze over a lime wedge; sprinkle fried shallots and serve immediately.