Phở, or Vietnamese rice noodle soup, is a meal so quintessential to Vietnamese cooking that I was bound to post a recipe sometime or another. I don’t make it that often, but for you pho-natics out there, here you go!
The best phở really does come from home – both my mom and Phong’s can make some killer phở gà (chicken phở). And it’s easy too, as long as you learn some tricks of the trade that were passed down to me by my mom and Phong’s. The main thing is to make your broth as flavorful as possible. My mom taught me how to taste and appreciate the broth, and that if you had to add an overwhelming amount of condiments to it (ie, hoisin and sriracha), then you’re basically trying to cover up some inherent flaw in how it was made. Sometimes I’ll add a little bit of both when I go out to phở restaurants, but at home, my phở stays as is – maybe a sliced jalapeno on the side for some heat.
Here’s some Pho-1-1 pho you (I know, I really can’t help myself!):
1. Lesson from my MIL: instead of boiling the rice noodles while they’re dry, soak them in COLD water for about an hour. Then drain. Now they’re more pliable.
Now, in a small saucepan, boil some water. Take a small strainer and fill it with some noodles. Dip it in the saucepan, oh, for about 20 seconds, swishing the noodles back and forth with your chopsticks, until they become cooked…
Now they’re done! No boiling the heck out of them for long at all! And the best part is, the noodles come out perfectly al dente, not those soggy kinds that you’ll get if you left them raging mad in the pot too long.
2. Char the onion before putting it in the broth. But as you can see from the picture above, I don’t have a gas stovetop to do that over the stovetop, unfortunately, but I do have a grill plate that I placed onto my stovetop and was able to char my onion that way. Or, you can do as Jaden does for her pho ga at Steamy Kitchen, and broil it in the oven to get that depth of flavor.
3. If you want to buy one of those pho seasoning sachets at the Asian grocery store, go ahead. It’s filled with spices like ginger, star anise, and cinnamon. I just made what I had on hand – my mom and mom-in-law rarely use the sachets and just rely on a really flavorful broth with hints of charred onion, ginger, and star anise. So I do what they do!
4. What’s that daikon radish doing in the recipe?! Relax, just keep reading, and relax. This is optional, and a secret from my mama, but it does lend a clean, slightly sweet flavor to the broth. It becomes really tender, so if you want, you can slice it and put it in your bowl at the end too, for some more veggie intake. Or just leave it in the pot and let it work its magic.
5. For the thinly sliced onion garnish, soak the sliced onion in ice water for a few minutes, then pat dry. This is done if you don’t want an overly “raw,” or “stinky,” as my MIL calls it, taste.
6. I poach the chicken with the skin on, so that when it’s cooking and making the broth, the meat inside doesn’t dry out. That’s why I initially call for 16 cups of water, because I eventually skim off about 4 cups from excess fat in the broth and other scum.
7. I usually poach a whole chicken, but the grocery store only had ready-cut whole chicken. So I got that, and it actually worked better for me, because I could leave in the backbone and neckbone to extract more flavor while I was shredding the rest of the chicken.
8. If you’re confused about which types of fish sauce I recommend, go to Wandering Chopsticks’ blog and scroll down to the pic of different nuoc mam bottles – the one in the middle and right are what I use (Phu Quoc is good, but Three Crabs Brand is the only one I buy if I have a choice).
Chicken Phở for the Soul
serves anywhere from 4-6
16 cups water
2 tsp sea salt
1 whole chicken, cut into pieces (2 breasts, backbone, 2 thighs, 2 drumsticks, 2 wings, and neck bone – discard the gizzards)
1 yellow onion, peeled, halved, and charred
1 small daikon radish (about a 6-inch long radish), peeled and left whole
1 stalk of ginger, about 4-5 inches long, peeled, and cut in half lengthwise
5-6 star anise pods
4 Tbsp good-quality fish sauce (I like the Vietnamese Three Crabs Brand or Phu Quoc)
1/2 tsp granulated sugar, or to taste
1 package (12 or 16 oz) pho noodles, soaked in COLD water for about an hour
A couple handfuls of bean sprouts
Thinly sliced yellow onion (let soak in ice- cold water for about 5 minutes, then pat dry)
Thinly sliced green onion
Freshly cracked black pepper
Optional: Hoisin sauce and sriracha hot sauce, thinly sliced jalapeno peppers
1. In a large stockpot over high heat, boil the water. Add the sea salt, and then the chicken pieces. Bring back to a boil, for about 5 minutes, then reduce the heat to medium-high. Skim the scum and fat off every 5 minutes or so, until the broth runs clear (I skimmed off about 4 cups of the stuff after an hour of cooking). After the first 15-20 minutes, take out the wings, thighs, drumsticks; take out the chicken breasts about 5-10 minutes after that when cooked through. Allow the pieces of chicken to cool for about 20 minutes before shredding.
2. Meanwhile, while you’re waiting for the chicken to cool, turn the heat down to medium-low. Add the onion halves, daikon, star anise, ginger, fish sauce, and sugar. Allow to gently simmer, with the backbone and neck bone still in the pot, for about 1 hour. Adjust seasonings to taste (add more fish sauce, salt, or sugar to balance out the flavors).
3. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, discard the skin and excess fat. Shred the chicken and place into a separate container (I put it in a tupperware because this pho lasts us a couple meals, and I can take out however much I need at a time).
4. Prepare the pho rice noodles according to secret #1 as indicated above.
5. Slice up all the green onions, roughly chop the cilantro, and thinly slice about 1/2 a yellow onion. Soak the thinly sliced onion in ice water for about 5 minutes, then pat dry and set aside.
5. To assemble your pho, place some noodles into your bowl. Top with a few pieces of heated chicken (you can nuke the chicken if it’s been in the fridge, covered, in the microwave for a minute or until hot). Ladle hot pho broth over the noodles and chicken, and top it off with bean sprouts, thinly sliced onion, green onions, and cilantro. Add Thai basil and jalapeno if desired (I didn’t have any today). Finish it off with freshly cracked black pepper. Serve with hoisin sauce and Sriracha on the side, if desired.