I have been craving pho for something like two months, but haven’t been able to make it – until today. There aren’t any good Vietnamese restaurants where we live, which is an absolute tragedy. A packed traveling schedule the last few months has meant Kevin and I weren’t around for long enough chunks of time to eat an entire batch, and Thanksgiving meant our fridge didn’t have room for a massive container of soup. But oh, today. It has been circled on my calendar as PHO DAY for weeks now. And I am just as happy as I dreamed I’d be, my belly full of warm and spicy soup.
I got my pho recipes from a Vietnamese friend in town, whose mother taught her to cook. We joke her house is the only restaurant worth visiting here, but I actually think it’s totally true. She taught me and a few other friends how to make both pho ga (chicken) and the traditional pho bo (beef). I actually prefer pho ga, not least because it is a little easier to make. Neither recipe is terribly challenging, but they require some ingredients that might necessitate a visit the Asian grocery store. I’m just writing up the pho ga recipe today – I will dig out the pho ba recipe one of these days.
Small whole young chicken, gizzards removed (neck is tasty though!)
1 medium white onion
Fresh ginger, whole and unpeeled
2 Tbs whole coriander
1 cinnamon stick
4-6 whole cloves
2 whole star anise…anises? No. Stars of anise. Let’s go with that.
1 mm rice noodles, like these
1 medium white onion
Chives or green onions
Thai basil, if you want
Sriracha (cock sauce!)
Put a giant pot of water on to boil. Big ol’ stock pot filled up to 4″ from the top or so. While that’s heating up, you’re going to char the onion and ginger. I char the whole white onion (peeled and ends just cut off) and my ginger over the gas burner set to high. I also use metal tongs, because I melted our nice plastic/silicone pair doing this a couple years ago. You want to char them until they are pretty black – the ginger will get a bit squishy too. I usually run out of patience with the onion, so when I’m done they look about like this:
After they are cool enough to touch, you want to rinse/rub the char off. My friend’s mom says charring amps up the flavor, but the best pho broth has to also be clear, not all gunked up with black shit. Who am I to question her, right?
Next up, you want to toast the two tablespoons of coriander seeds over medium high heat. Don’t burn them – keep moving them around until it smells delicious. Now you assemble the rest of the spices into a spice ball, or cheese cloth will work. Just stick everything – coriander, cloves, anise, cinnamon – into the ball and set aside.
Now take you little chicken and give it a good rub down under running water. Clean it and rinse it. It’ll help with your beautiful broth. Once that’s done, check if your water is boiling. Yes? Time to dump in the chicken. It’s nice if you break/cut the wings off, just so some bone is exposed and they are easier to fish out later, but I always forget and it’s not a big deal.
Boil you chicken for 10-15 min all by itself, and then skim the scuzzy crap that’s floating on top. Get rid of that junk. As my friend’s mother says, animals are gross and now it’s clean. After that junk is gone, you can toss the onion, ginger, and spice ball into the pot, cover it, and simmer for about two hours. 30 min before its done, add about a cup of fish sauce (don’t smell it, it’s disgusting by itself) and two tablespoons of sugar.
While that is cooking, prep the garnishes. Juice the limes, and then thinly slice the onion and put it all in the lime juice in the fridge. That is my absolute favorite part, by the way, the lime pickled onions are delicious. Then chops up the green onions and set aside. Slice the jalapeño into uh.. medallions or whatever. Circles. You can leave the seeds in, it’s for spicy people. Clean, de-stem, and roughly chop the cilantro. The basil just gets used as is.
Once your broth is done simmering, fish out the ginger, onion, and spices and toss ‘em. Carefully pull out the chicken (it’ll be kind of falling apart) and once you can handle it, start breaking it down – pulling meat off the bones.
Boil some water and cook the rice noodles. This should only take a few minutes, and its easiest if you have a spider strainer.
- Assembling you delicious soup:
Get a giant bowl – pho is better in giant bowls – and put a bunch of broth in it. Then add your strained noodles. Probably it’s a good idea to cut the noodles into manageable shorter length with some scissors, now. Then add about a tablespoon of fish sauce, sriracha (I use about a table spoon, yum), and then throw a shit ton of chicken, onions, green onions, cilantro, jalapeño and basil in there. I’m telling you, the onion is the best part, so definitely a lot of that. Then give it a little stir and start shoveling it down. Worth all the effort, which looks like a lot all written out, but I was eating it within 2 hours and 15 minutes of going to the store, and I took a nap. Also, it cost $17 for what will last us a week. Make it! Enjoy!