Saturday, January 3, 2009

Chicken Pho - Vietnamese Noodle Soup

This is more traditional made with beef (and it's various parts considered inedible by me). But you can order chicken pho at a Vietnamese noodle house too. Traditionally you would actually serve the beef raw and thinly sliced and then pour boiling hot broth over it to cook it. This less daring technique seemed to work out fine. The recipe I found only talked about chicken, so I've only tried this with chicken but I bet it would work with beef too. The recipe orignially called for mushrooms in the soup and mint sprigs for garnish but I didn't include that since it's a bit unorthodox from my experience. I think doubled this recipe the first time so I could have leftovers but regretted it since the bean sprouts and other fresh stuff goes bad so fast and we couldn't eat it fast enough. But if you have a crowd to feed...

One note I have to add is that fresh spices seem like they really do matter on this one. Fancy cooks will tell you this is ALWAYS true, but I guess I'm too low-brow to notice most of the time. But I did notice with this recipe. Seems like each time I've made it as the spices got older, it was a little less good. Still good, mind you, just a little diminished.

Vietnamese Noodle Soup
(Chicken Pho)

4 ounces flat dried rice noodles (bahn pho) or linguine if desperate
3 green onions, thinly sliced on diagonal
2 garlic cloves, peeled
6 basil sprigs (preferably Thai basil if you can find it)
6 sprigs fresh cilantro
4 cans (14.5 ounces each) low sodium chicken broth or 7 cups homemade chicken broth (I've done this with bouillon cubes too and it turned out fine. If you're concerned about it being too salty you could just skip a couple bouillon cubes.)
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 cinnamon stick (3 inches)
2 large skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (1 lb) (although I thought breast was a bit dry and the wrong texture in this - thigh might be better, but I never have it around)

1. In large bowl, soak rice noodles in enough warm water to cover 20 minutes, or cook linguine as label directs. Drain.
2. Meanwhile, in 3-quart saucepan, combine one-third of green onions and all of the garlic, basil and cilantro sprigs, chicken broth, coriander seeds, and cinnamon stick; heat to boiling over high heat. Reduce heat; cover and simmer 10 minutes. Strain through sieve set over bowl; discard solids. Return broth to saucepan.
3. Cut chicken breast halves on diagonal into thin strips. Stir chicken, drained noodles, and remaining green onions into broth; heat to boiling over high heat. Reduce heat; cover and simmer until chicken loses its pink color throughout, about 3 minutes.

Makes about 9 cups

In my opinion, the garnishes is where this dish really shines, so don't skip this last part. If you order this at a Vietnamese restaurant you will usually be offered the following items for garnish: raw bean sprouts, lime wedges, sliced fresh jalapenos, more fresh basil and cilantro sprigs, hoisin sauce, and Sriracha (aka rooster sauce). Add garnishes to taste. (I only steep the japaleno slices in my broth for flavor without actually eating them. Also, I think you usually pick the leaves off the basil and cilantro and only add the leaves to your soup.)

This is HEAVEN on a cold day. It's what I crave when I have a bad cold, not that namby pamby American chicken soup.

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