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Pho Ga - Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup

January 20, 2015
During the cold winter months, on days when it's cold and wet, a good bowl of soup is just what the doctor ordered.  I'm a fan of the chunkier soups vs the pureed soups (I get so hungry so fast after, don't you??!).  Since moving to Austria over a year ago, a good bowl of pho isn't often a phone call away or made lovingly by my mother... so, I've had to make it on my own.

I've researched several recipes on pho ga and  Christine Ha's recipe for her 'Mama's Chicken Noodle Soup' has gotten me rave reviews every time.  If you don't know about Christine, you must look her up.  She was the winner of the third season of 'MasterChef' and she's blind.  It's incredible what she does by feel in the kitchen.  Very inspiring!

The Ingredients

Printable Version - click here!

1 yellow onion - peeled and halved
1 piece (4") ginger - unpeeled and halved lengthwise
4 garlic cloves - whole and halved lengthwise
1 medium whole chicken - rinsed and lightly salted
2 star anise
4 whole cloves
12 coriander seeds
12 peppercorns
1 piece (2") cinnamon stick
1 Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
1/4 cup fish sauce

flat rice noodles
1 small red onion - thinly sliced
3 scallions - mostly green section, thinly sliced
lime/lemon wedges
fresh black pepper

First things first - broil the ginger, garlic, and onions.  I throw them on the highest rack in my oven and turn the heat on full blast (425 deg F).  The trio of scents that fills my kitchen remind me of my childhood home when my mom used to make this for us - ahhh!  This step is important because it greatly adds to the smoky flavor of the pho broth and not to mention the poached chicken.  I've read that you want 50% charring of the aromatics.  But as you can see above,  I barely got any charred bits (because of my oven).  Don't worry trying to get everything nice and charred.  If you do this process with a gas stove, then you will have better results.

Christine also roasts the spices over medium heat.  I skipped this part.

While the broiling is happening in the oven, I give the chicken a nice cold rinse and salt the exterior and interior.  Let the chicken sit while you go flip the aromatics broiling in the oven.

Place the chicken in a large enough stock pot to fit the chicken with enough space for it to turn and do backflips.  Fill with enough cold water to cover the chicken.  Cover with a lid and bring to a boil.   The first few minutes you find a bit of scum float to the surface.  Do your best and spoon this out.  After the first removal of the scum, add the remaining ingredients.  Christine says to put the seasonings into a sachet before putting into the pot.  I don't have a sachet and I'm also too lazy.  I filter out everything in the end with my fine mesh strainer. 

Let the broth come to a complete boil and after a few minutes, turn the heat down to low.  Let the stock sit at a low simmer for 40 minutes to an hour.  I flipped the chicken twice during this time and continued to spoon out any scum from the surface.

Remove the chicken and set it aside to cool slightly.  Once ready, remove the meat from the bones.  I use a fork and pull all of the meat off.  It doesn't need to be pretty.  Later, you will shred the meat further into bite-size pieces.  Put the chicken carcass back into the stock pot and simmer for another two hours.  Taste the broth and adjust for salt, sugar, and fish sauce.  Don't let it boil.

Once ready, use a sieve and remove all of the ingredients from the pot.  All that should remain is a wonderful soup broth, ready to be enjoyed.

Soak the pho noodles in warm water for ten minutes.  Bring a pot of water to a boil and add the noodles.  Boil for 2-3 minutes til al dente.  Don't over boil the noodles - better to be very al dente then too soft because once the hot soup broth enters the picture, soft noodles will fall apart.  You want to maintain a bit of 'bite' in the noodles... but not too chewy.  I know, I know... you gotta have a Goldilocks approach to this... practice makes perfect!

Grab a large soup bowl.  Place the pho noodles in first, then the shredded chicken, and then the broth.  Add the final garnishes and a some fresh ground pepper.  Let your guests add the hoisin or Sriracha sauce at the table.  Voila!

Chicken Pho for the Soul

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