Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Pho Ga :: The Inaugural Bowl

Ever since I watched the video above, I've been craving Pho. There is a pretty good Vietnamese restaurant in my neighborhood but since I've been cooking and blogging so much these days, why not give it a try at home? I googled a couple of recipes and decided that this Wandering Chopsticks post was a good jumping off point. I emailed my mom the recipe and she gave it the thumbs up with a few tips of her own. She suggested using fewer spices and concentrate on the ginger and garlic since those go so well with chicken. 

This being Japan, I of course had to make a few compromises. First, no whole chicken. Usually, you make the broth from a whole chicken. The bones are the most important part but most cuts of chicken are deboned in Japanese grocery stores. I managed to find 2 large chicken thighs with the bones still in and used those with a couple extra drumettes. In the end, this didn't turn out to be a deal breaker but the broth wasn't as deep as I had hoped for. Blammo begged to differ. He enjoyed the soup very much. I myself liked the chicken the best. 


1 whole onion, halved 
2 inch nob of ginger 
1/2 a head of garlic, smashed 
8 cloves 
1 cinnamon stick
4 cardamom pods
2 pieces of star anise 

1 whole chicken or a suitable amalgamation of pieces, as mentioned above 

2 teaspoons of salt
2 teaspoons of fish sauce
1 large piece of rock candy (or 3 tsp of brown sugar) 

1 package of Banh Pho (wide flat rice noodles)

bean sprouts
lime wedges
chopped green onions
thai basil
sliced hot chilis 
Sriracha Sauce
Hoisin Sauce 

1. Char, roast or dry pan fry all the ingredients in red. The point of this is to bring out the flavors of each seasoning element. Keeping the broth clear is an important part of making Pho Ga. You don't want to have to worry about biting into a big chunk of star anise or clove. My mom suggested straining the broth through a fine sieve before serving, but that just seemed a little too much work for me. Also, I don't own a fine sieve. (Do you?) So, I got all MacGruber in the kitchen and whipped up my own little spice contraption.

E voila! I cut open a jasmine tea bag, poured out the tea leaves, replaced them with the pho spices and tied it back up. Worked like a charm. Removing the spices was a breeze and I didn't have too much debris floating around my broth. 

2. Wash the chicken and place it in a large soup pot. Add 2 tsp of salt and the charred flavorings. Cover with water. Bring the pot to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for an hour. Turn off the heat and let the soup cool. Then refrigerate overnight. 

3. The next day, skim all the solidified fat off the surface. I am sparing you a photo of this step. It is a little gross, but very necessary. 

4. Remove the chicken from the pot and shred the meat off the bones. I suggest using your hands. Again, it's a little gross, but very necessary. I like big meaty pieces but you can make yours whatever size you want. 

5. Set the meat aside in a bowl and add the bones back to the broth. 

6. Bring the broth back up to a boil and simmer for another hour. If you have a slotted spoon, occasionally skim as much floating spice and chicken bits out of the broth as possible. 

7. Season the broth with fish sauce and sugar. Traditionally, the broth is sweetened with rock sugar but brown sugar will work as well. You can also add carrots to the broth from the very beginning and the natural sweetness from the carrots will do the trick. 

8. Boil the noodles and add them to a large bowl. Top the noodles with pieces of chicken, cilantro, green onions and bean sprouts. Ladle the hot pho broth over the chicken until everything is covered. 

And that's that! Homemade chicken pho. Don't be intimidated. I was at first, because pho is something I usually only have at restaurants that specialize in it. But this was just as easy as making good old chicken noodle soup just with different spices and flavorings. I'd say the toughest part is getting all the ingredients, but if you're in the U.S., you won't have a problem at all. If I recall, they sell Vietnamese noodles in the Asian sections of Whole Foods and other grocery stores.

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