I normally make Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup) but didn't want to make the trek to the Asian grocery store to buy beef marrow bones. (A small aside about Vietnamese pronunciation. The ? accent over the O in pho makes it sound like a question. So to pronounce it properly, say pho? as if you were asking a question. Remember pho? is your friend, not foe so don't pronounce it that way. :P )
Pho Ga (Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup)
For a 5-quart stock pot, you'll need:
1-lb package of Banh Pho (Vietnamese Flat Thin Rice Noodles)
1 whole chicken
2-inch knob of ginger
1 stick of cinnamon
About 4 star anise pods
About a half a dozen cloves
About half a head of garlic
2 tsp salt
Nuoc Mam (Vietnamese Fish Sauce), to taste
Optional for serving:
Onions, thinly sliced
Sriracha chili sauce
Optional: Add about 4 cardamom pods to the broth stock if you have them
I like my broth with lots of flavor from the spices so adjust yours accordingly. Ingredients include cloves (studded into an onion), cinnamon, star anise, ginger, and garlic.
Then using a pair of tongs, char each item over a gas burner. The charring brings out the aroma in the spices. If you don't have a gas stove, then dry-fry the spices in a pan with no oil to release their fragrance.
You may wish to put the spices into a cheesecloth for easy removal. It also keeps the spices from falling apart in the broth. I use a slotted spoon to scoop out the spices later and don't mind small bits. (That's code for I'm too cheap and lazy to buy cheesecloth for the rare instances when I decide to make pho.) I just toss the charred spices into the pot with the boiling chicken. Add 2 tsp salt, lightly cover the pot, and turn the heat to medium-low so the chicken simmers for about half an hour to 45 minutes. Too long and the chicken will become mushy. Make sure to turn the chicken halfway through so that both sides are fully cooked.
Remove the chicken and shred into large chunks. Cover so the chicken doesn't dry out and set aside.
Transfer the bones back into the pot. Let the stock come to a boil again. Then turn it down to medium-low and let it simmer again for another hour or two.
When you decide you're ready to eat, take a slotted spoon and scoop out all the bones and spices until the broth is clean of any debris.
If you want to do this overnight, then turn off the pot and let it cool and refrigerate. The next morning, fat and any leftover impurities will have solidified and risen to the surface of the pot. Remove with a skimming spoon, or by dragging plastic wrap across the surface. Refrigerating it makes for easier removal of impurities and a much cleaner broth.
When you're ready to eat, taste and add fish sauce if necessary. Then add the chicken back into the pot to let it warm up.
Prepare the herb platter with basil and chopped scallions. Normally, I'd use Thai basil, but I had Italian basil in my garden.
While your broth is simmering, you can boil water for the pho noodles. Pho comes fresh or in dried packages. My trick is to upend a rice bowl into the colander. This minimizes the area the hot noodles would be poured into, thus helping to prevent clumping.
Now, when ready to eat, turn up the heat again so the broth is boiling. My grandma always said to use the biggest bowl you have, even if you don't plan to eat that much pho, because the bigger bowl will help retain the heat and keep your pho piping hot. This is more important with beef pho since the larger bowl will hold more boiling broth, thus cooking the raw beef. Not so important for chicken pho, but it's still nicer to have room for added condiments and herbs.
To assemble your pho bowl, start with noodles, add the meat on top, then ladle in the boiling broth. Condiments are usually Sriracha chili sauce and hoisin sauce. Then squeeze a quarter section of lime, add bean sprouts, basil, green onions, and sawtooth herb if you're lucky enough to have any.
My verdict? I still prefer pho bo, but it's not so bad for a first attempt at pho ga. The broth wasn't as clear as I'd like. That's mainly because of the cast iron stock pot and because I bought some cinnamon bark at the Vietnamese grocery store that seems to darken the broth a whole lot more than the cinnamon sticks I usually get at the American grocery stores. Not a problem when making beef pho, but seems a bit too dark for chicken pho.
August 14, 2009 Update:
I wanted to update this post with better pictures so I invited some friends over for dinner. Unfortunately, I got home from work late, so it took a little longer to get food on the table. I wasn't in the mood for setting up photos and figured I'd leave the post as is. Luckily, WeezerMonkey took plenty of photos and graciously allowed me to use them. So all photos below are courtesy of her.
Sawtooth herb on the left, Thai basil on the right.
She even made the bean sprouts look pretty!
I'm not a purist. I like both hoisin and Sriracha chili sauce in my pho.
Now, wouldn't you all agree that these photos livened up this old post?
We finished off dinner with Tony of SinoSoul's freshly churned Bailey's ice cream.
My other Vietnamese noodle soup recipes:
Bun Bo Hue (Vietnamese Hue-Style Beef Noodle Soup)
Bun Nuoc Leo Soc Trang (Vietnamese Rice Vermicelli Noodle Soup in Savory Broth with Fish, Roast Pork, and Shrimp)
Bun Rieu Cua Tom Oc (Vietnamese Crab and Shrimp Rice Vermicelli Noodle Soup with Snails)
Bun Thang (Vietnamese Rice Vermicelli Noodle Soup with Chicken, Egg, and Pork)
Crock Pot Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)
Hu Tieu Saigon (Vietnamese Clear Noodle Soup with Barbecued Pork and Shrimp)
Mi Hoanh Thanh (Vietnamese Wonton Noodle Soup)
Mi Vit Tiem Chay (Vietnamese Vegetarian Duck Chinese Five-Spice "Duck" Egg Noodle Soup)
Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)