Living without gluten, casein, soy, eggs and peanuts. Living with ASD and ADHD. Life is good!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Pho Ga (Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup)

I have a friend whose husband is Vietnamese. They just recently traveled to Vietnam with his family to visit family members still living in Vietnam. One of the highlights of her trip was visiting an old great aunt who lives on a farm. Everything she made for them she grew or raised on her farm, and my friend said it was some of the most delicious food she's ever eaten. I am very slightly green over that, it sounds amazing! However, I am afraid to fly and there's no chance I'd get on a plane to travel 22 hours for that experience! I'll stay here and be very happy with my friend's Pho Ga. Her sisters-in-law showed her how to make it and then happily, she showed me how to make it. I'd never had Pho Ga before and was hooked by the first bowl. It's delicious, aromatic, flavorful, and addicting! My friend has graciously allowed me to post her recipe (which I'm happy to finally do tonight as I keep losing her paper copies!).

Clear broth is a must and there are a lot of steps to this soup. However, it's totally worth it. My friend's recipe calls for culantro, which can be found at Asian markets. If you can't find culantro, cilantro is a fine substitute.

For the stock
1 whole chicken, about 5 pounds, cut into pieces
1 large onion, unpeeled and cut in half
3 inch chunk of fresh ginger, unpeeled
12 whole cloves
4 whole star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp. peppercorns
3 cloves crushed garlic
1 cup Thai basil, culantro or cilantro leaves
1 minced red chili
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. sugar
1 tbsp. fish sauce (Thai Kitchen is gluten free)

First, char the onion and ginger - this adds a lot of flavor to the broth. To do this over the range or the grill, place the onion and ginger directly over a burner set to medium-low or on a grill set to medium-high heat. Let the skin burn, rotating to char all over. Grill this way for about 10 minutes or until soft and fragrant - it does not need to be completely blackened. To do this under the broiler, set the oven to broil on high. Place the onion and ginger on a baking sheet and place 4 inches from the oven's heating element. Turn the onion and ginger every few minutes for about 15 minutes to get an even char. Remove from the heat and let cool. When cool, rinse the onion under warm water, rubbing off the charred skin. Set aside. Trim the ends of the ginger and remove the skin with a butter knife. Wash off any blackened bits. Slice the ginger into chunks. Set aside.

Next, place the cloves, star anise, cinnamon stick and peppercorns in a frying pan. Toast over low heat for a few minutes until fragrant - this releases their oils. Set aside.

Next, parboil the chicken. Place the all chicken parts except the breasts in a stock part. Add cold water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat and boil vigorously for 5 minutes to release the impurities. Dump the chicken and water into a colander in the sink. Rinse the chicken to remove any clinging residue. Scrub the pot clean. (I find this part to be a bit of a pain in the rear to do but it's essential if you want a clear broth.)

Return the chicken parts to the pot and add about 4 quarts of water. Add the uncooked reserved chicken breasts. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat to a very gentle simmer - the pot should not boil again. Gently skim off any scum that rises to the top - you don't want the scum to mix with the broth. After 15 minutes the chicken breasts should be cooked - remove them from the pot and set aside to cool. After they are cool, shred them and save them for serving with the soup later.

To the simmering broth add the reserved onion, ginger, spices, garlic, Thai basil or culantro, red chili, salt, sugar and fish sauce. Simmer at least 1 1/2 hours, skimming the funk off the top every 20 minutes or so as necessary and adding water if needed if the level gets too low. Turn off the heat.

Last, line a large sieve with cheesecloth and place it over a large pot. Strain the stock through the lined sieve. Discard the solids. Adjust the flavor of the stock with additional salt, sugar or fish sauce (last time I made this I thought it needed a bit more fish sauce). The broth should be very aromatic and flavorful. Keep the broth hot while you assemble the items for the table.

For the table
1 pound dried rice noodles, prepared according to package directions
reserved shredded chicken
2 cups bean sprouts, washed and tails pinched off
culantro or cilantro leaves
Thai basil leaves
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
1 lime cut into 8 wedges
Sriracha hot sauce

Place some rice noodles in large soup bowls. Ladle hot broth over the top. Let the guests at the table add whatever else they would like. I am partial to adding a lot of the fresh greens, lime juice and Sriracha into my bowl of soup even though the Sriracha turns the broth pink! Serve the soup with Asian soup spoons, if you have them. Any leftover stock can be refrigerated up to three days or frozen up to three months.

As you can see, I winged it for the bowl of soup above. Having no time to run to the Asian market, I used cilantro, sweet basil and Italian flat leaf parsley for the soup. It was good, but I like culantro better. I also fudged the minced red chili and used Sriracha in the broth, so the broth is not clear (my bad, that's what I get for winging it). Next time I make it, I'll post a picture of the clear broth.


Ina said...

Your soup looks delicious! Anything with Thai Basil would have me hooked right away - yummm.

JW said...

We have a Vietnamese restaurant relatively near us that has Pho at ridiculously good prices and ridiculously huge portions. It is sooooo good.

Pho, in my opinion, is a cure for a great many things.

Erin said...

Ina, thanks! I agree, Thai basil is fabulous. I also cannot get enough of dishes with lime and fish sauce in them!

JW, there is a Pho restaurant near us too, although I have not tried it yet. I love making the soup at home, it makes the whole house smell delicious, but someday it'd be nice to have someone else make it!