Even in the warmest months of the year I am still quite fond of soup. Because this is historically the season of lighter meals I will usually choose a broth based soup as opposed to the heavier chowders or other cream soups. Just lately too I have been feeling a little under the weather so I figured it was a perfect time for a pot of soup.
It was once chicken noodle soup that cured my blues, until I discovered miso soup, that is. With its salty essence of the sea combined with the health benefits of tofu and seaweed…miso soup just seemed so, well…healthy! Ah, but then I found Pho; a Vietnamese soup steeped with perfumey flavors of the orient in a warm and comforting bowl of goodness!
Pho is a light, broth based soup most commonly made with beef, featuring tender rice noodles, vegetables, and aromatic herbs and spices. Also very popular is Pho Ga, which is essentially the same soup, made with chicken. Upon reading Jaden’s Pho Ga post over at Steamy Kitchen this is the Pho I set out to make this past Sunday morning.
I decided I could come up with a reasonable facsimile of the broth using my good old standby chicken stock recipe along with a few additions I already happened to have in the pantry. I was very pleased with the results! Don’t let the length of the recipe scare you…it really comes together quite easily with the hardest part being the long slow simmering of the stock.
Starting right after my morning coffee I spent only 15 minutes getting the ingredients prepped and inside of 30 the stock was well under way. The garnishes on the other hand would require a trip to the market while the stock was simmering gently on the stove. As a bonus…the house smelled delicious by the time I got back from the store!
The garnishes by the way are the fun part of Pho! Usually served alongside so that you may add as much (or as little) as you like, the most common garnishes are: Hoisin sauce, Sriracha or other pepper sauces, sliced chili peppers, Thai basil, culantro, fresh lime, and bean sprouts. With so many to choose from, each bowl of Pho tastes just a little different depending on the individual diner.
Of special note: In this recipe I am using a technique for “Velveting” the chicken. I searched for what seemed like forever trying to find out just how Chinese and other Asian cuisines get their chicken so wonderfully tender and I have finally found it. Look for more about this technique in future posts!
Notes: For the most authentic Pho flavor use a grill to brown the chicken parts instead of the oven. The spice quantities are approximate based on how strong you would like these flavorings to be.
Step 1 – Prepare a chicken stock as written in Singing the praises of Chicken Stock, omitting the Thyme and adding the following ingredients at the same time that you add the chicken pieces to the pot:
2 to 3 ounces – Fresh ginger root, about 2 inches, roughly chopped
2 to 3 pods – Star anise
3 to 4 – Whole cloves
1 Tbsp – Ground coriander
1 Tbsp – Whole celery seed
1 Tbsp – Dark agave nectar, or molasses
Step 2 – While the stock is cooking, “Velvet” the chicken…
2 Tablespoons – Shaoxing wine
2 Tablespoons – Warm water
2 Tablespoons – Corn starch
1 – White of 1 large egg
1 – Pinch kosher salt
Then marinate 1 large chicken breast half, split lengthwise then sliced very thin, in this mixture for at least ½ hour, refrigerated.
Fill a wok (or a large wide frying pan) at least half full with water and bring to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon of sesame oil and reduce the heat to a steady simmer. Carefully add ½ of the chicken, drained of excess marinade, and cook for one minute gently separating the chicken slices to prevent clumping.
When the chicken is solid white and cooked through (about 1 to 1-1/2 minutes) remove to a strainer to drain. Repeat until all of the chicken is cooked setting the strainer over a bowl to drain. Refrigerate the chicken until ready to use. Note: I used a Chinese Spider Strainer for this cooking process and a traditional 8″ mesh strainer to drain the chicken.
Step 3 – Slice a large white onion first in half, then in paper thin slices. Soak the onion slices in cold water for at least 30 minutes.
Step 4 - Cook the noodles and serve…
Prepare one package of Bahn Pho (or Rice Noodles) per the directions on the package. Add a serving each of the noodles, the onion slices, and the prepared chicken to each serving bowl, then ladle over the broth to cover. Serve with your choice of bean sprouts, Hoisin sauce, Sriracha or other pepper sauces, sliced chili peppers, Thai basil, culantro, and fresh lime slices on the side.