Saturday, February 23, 2008

Pho Ga - Vietnamese Chicken Soup

This has to be one of my favorite meals ever. There is something so special about this amazing bowl of tasty, soothing broth that just makes everything in the world OK. I've not yet been to Vietnam, but I've eaten at plenty of good Vietnamese restaurants and this bowl of pho is just as good as any of those - if not better just because you have the satisfaction of having made it yourself. I made this last weekend (it's definitely something to do on a weekend as it requires some time), froze the left over broth and we are having it again today. I found this recipe at Viet World Kitchen - I adapted it ever so slightly and the only thing I added was some star anise, which as I learned recently from Heston Blumenthal is a natural meat flavor enhancer.

For this delicious pho you will need:

For the broth:
  • 2 unpeeled onions
  • Around 8cm of ginger - unpeeled
  • 1 whole chicken (around 2kg)
  • Additional 1 1/2 kg of bony chicken pieces (backs, necks)
  • 5 litres water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons salt
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 x 2.5cm chunk of rock sugar
  • 2 x tablespoons of coriander seeds, toasted
  • 4 x cloves
  • 1 x star anise
  • 1 bunch of coriander (roots, stems and leaves - stems around 2.5 cm in diameter)
For the bowls
  • Flat rice noodles (dried or fresh)
  • Cooked chicken
Additional garnishes
  • 1 onion, sliced paper thin, soaked in cold water for 30 minutes and drained
  • Coriander (the leaves only)
  • Mint
  • Bean sprouts
  • Chilies, thinly sliced
  • Limes, cut into wedges
  • Thai basil
To make the broth:
  1. Grill onions and ginger until the skins are blackened almost all over (I don't have a grill so I did this directly over the gas stove burners). After 10 to 15 minutes they would have softened slightly. Remove from heat and let cool. Rinse the onions and rub off the charred skin. Peel the ginger, halve it lengthwise and bruise lightly. Set aside.
  2. Rinse the chicken. Detach each wing by cutting it off at the shoulder joint. With a heavy cleaver, whack the bones of the chicken and chicken parts to break them partway or all the way through. This will expose the marrow and enrich the broth.
  3. In order to achieve a clear broth, it is critical to parboil the chicken first. Put it in a large pot and add cold water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat and boil vigorously for 2 to 3 minutes to release the impurities. Throw away the water, rinse the chicken and scrub the pot clean. Return all the chicken pieces and chicken to the pot, breast side up.
  4. Add the onions, ginger, salt, fish sauce, rock sugar, coriander seeds, cloves, coriander and star anise. Pour over the 5 litres of water.
  5. Bring to boil and lower heat to a gentle simmer (it is necessary to maintain a gentle simmer to achieve a clear broth). Simmer uncovered for 25 minutes.
  6. The chicken is now cooked. Use tongs and a big spoon to transfer the chicken to a large bowl. Be REALLY careful when you do this - once I burnt myself very badly with the liquid from the centre of the chicken. Keep the broth at a steady simmer.
  7. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove each breast half and the whole thighs. Set aside to cool. Return the leftover carcass to the pot and simmer gently for another 1 and 1/2 hours
  8. Strain the broth through a fine mesh sieve. Discard the solids. Taste and adjust flavor with additional salt, fish sauce and rock sugar.
Assemble the bowls.
  1. Prepare the rice noodles according to packet directions.
  2. Cut the cooked chicken into slices.
  3. Prepare the garnishes into separate bowls for people to help themselves (cut the onion, coriander, chili, mint, prepare the bean sprouts and the lime).
  4. For each bowl, place a portion of the noodles inside, place chicken on top. Ladle broth into each bowl. Serve immediately and allow people to add own garnish.