Chicken Pho

My husband absolutely loves Pho. So when I heard Andrea Nguyen interviewed on Splendid Table about her cookbook, The Pho Cookbook: Easy to Adventurous Recipes for Vietnam’s Favorite Soup and Noodles, I knew this was a must buy cookbook. Although it’s not the most well written cookbook I have ever seen it gives you huge bang for your buck. The book is only $15 and gives you everything from chicken, beef, seafood, and vegetarian options for Pho. As the title describes there are recipes for all pallets. 

Being that I was wrapping up Spring with a focus on chicken I knew this was be the perfect meal to end the season on. It’s not a very complicated recipe but it’s all about building the right flavor profile. On that note my husband and I set out on our bi-weekly grocery shopping trip.

First stop was the St. Paul farmers market. As we were driving north to the the market it had been raining but I was hopeful it would let up. I am not sure what gave me this false hope because by the time we got to the market it was cold, wet, and rainy. Thankfully the farmers market has a expansive roof over it but it’s still plenty cold. I was determined to make it to my favorite grower however. In the south west corner of the market there is an Asian family who has the best herbs I have ever seen. The elderly woman who is always tending the tables always has mountains of amazing looking produce and for amazing prices. On this particular day she also has bean sprouts… crisp, fresh, white bean sprouts in a giant bowl. She takes her plastic fry basket and scoops out a pile, dumps them in a small plastic bag for a customer. I quickly got up to her table. Ignoring the cold and the rain I ask for two bags of bean sprouts. (Turns out each was about a pound) I then look at her herbs and see she has cilantro. This isn’t the flimsy, wet, or mushy stuff you see in a grocery store but this is perky, robust, and luscious looking. I pick up a bundle. The elderly woman looks at me, “Five for Five! You have three (2 bags of bean sprouts and one bundle of cilantro), two more for five.” I snatch up another bundle of cilantro and a bundle of oregano and hand her my $5.

It’s now a week and a half later, the bean sprouts and herbs are just as fresh and resilient as the day I bought them in the market. Having truly fresh bean sprouts and cilantro certainly made a huge difference on the outcome and flavor of my pho. Of corse I picked up my chicken at The Meat Shop in St. Paul. There really is no better chicken in my opinion but that’s the key to simple cooking. Get the best ingredients you can afford. There’s no hiding bad ingredients in pho. You can taste everything. For the finally couple elements to the dish I did have to go to my local asian food store and get things like Thai Basil, Fish Sauce, and Pho noodles.

Armed with what I needed it was time to make my pho. Now, here is where there were some issues. First off it takes about 3 hours to prepare but most of the is simmering and not involved in “doing” anything. Then looking at the ingredients the recipe calls for both 3 pounds chicken parts and 1 whole chicken but as you work through the recipe it’s not very clear why the chicken in called out as two separate entries and what do do with all that chicken. After having both my husband and I read through the recipe I came to a conclusion and after making the pho I now know how I would make it in the future…

FOR THE BROTH:

  • 4 inch piece Ginger, skin on, sliced in half lengthwise, charred
  • 1 pound Yellow Onion, sliced into thick rings and charred
  • 3 pounds Chicken Wings
  • 4 Chicken Breasts, bone-in
  • 2 tablespoons Coriander Seeds
  • 4 whole Cloves
  • 4 quarts Water (or to the “max” line on the pressure cooker)
  • 1 small bunch Cilantro
  • 15 grams Chinese Yellow Rock Sugar
  • 1 ½ tablespoons Corse Salt
  • 3 tablespoons Fish Sauce

FOR THE BOWLS:

  • 565 grams 1MM Flat Rice Noodles
  • Breast Meat from broth, boned, sliced
  • ½ Red Onion, thinly sliced and soaked in cold water for 10 minutes
  • 4 Green Onions, sliced on the diagonal
  • 16 grams Cilantro Leaves, about 2 bunches
  • 2 Fresno Pepper, seeds removed, sliced thinly
  • 32 grams Thai Basil Leaves
  • 2 Limes cut into 4 wedges each

FOR THE GINGER DIPPING SAUCE:

  • 1 ½ ounces Ginger, minced
  • 100 ml Fresh Lime Juice, about 4 limes
  • 2 tablespoons Granulated Sugar
  • 3 tablespoons Fish Sauce
  • 2 Fresno Chili, seeds removed, minced
  • Directions

FOR THE BROTH:

To char the ginger and onion turn on your ovens broiler. Line your broiler pan or cookie sheet with foil. Place your Ginger and onion pieces on the pan and place under the broiler. Keep an eye on them. Once you have some dark color on one side remove from the oven, turn over, and char the other side. This can also be done on an outdoor grill. Set aside.

Add the chicken wings and breasts to the pot you are going to use. I prefer to do all my stocks in a pressure cooker but you can do this in a stock pot on the stove as well. For the pressure cooker add the chicken, charred ginger and onions, coriander seeds, and cloves. Then add the water up to the “max” line. If using a stock pot add all 4 quarts of water. Set to PRESSURE/STOCK/1 hour. If using a conventional stock pot add the cilantro then bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 2 hours partially covered. For the pressure cooker when it has come off pressure open, remove the breasts carefully and set aside, add the cilantro to the stock and let steep for 30 minutes. For the stock pot remove the breast meat at the end.

Once the bread meat has been removed season the stock with the sugar, salt, and fish sauce. Stir to help the sugar dissolve. If you don’t like such a sweet broth you can omit the sugar.

Strain the stock through a fine mesh strainer or a chinos. Discard the solids. The pho broth can be made in advance and freezes well.

For the noodles bring a pot of water to a boil, add in the pho rice noodles, and cook 5 minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water. Once the chicken breasts have cooled enough to be handles remove the bone and slice the meat.

FOR THE GINGER DIPPING SAUCE:

Combine the ginger, lime juice, and sugar in a small bowl and whisk together to dissolve the sugar. Taste for balance of sweet and tart. Adjust to your liking. Add the fish sauce and chili, stir together. Let rest for at least 15 minutes for the flavors to come together. This can be make up to a week in advance.

To put the whole thing together place a portion of noodles in a bowl with 4 ounces bean sprouts, a portion of red onion and a green onion sliced. Pour in the hot broth. If you have made this in advance reheat at this point.

At the table offer a selection of Thai basil, Fresno peppers, Cilantro, and the dipping sauce.

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