With cooler weather trying to push summer aside, culinary thoughts start to turn to soup. But not just any soup. Oh, no… oh, Pho!
One of my favorite meals of all time is Pho Ga, or Vietnamese chicken noodle soup. Unfortunately, the “recipe” doesn’t really translate well to the standard recipe format. So instead of sweating over the format, I’m just going to tell you how we make it, since we’re having it for dinner this weekend.
A finished bowl of pho, ready for the addition of required condiments, looks like this:
Making Pho Ga is a multi-step process, but is really, really easy.
Step one – put a couple beef knuckle soup bones (the really cheap ones from Price Chopper are great) in a crock pot with a chunked-up onion, a packet of onion soup mix and a couple cups of water. We also threw in the carcass of an astronaut chicken (rotisserie chicken, for those not versed in Palahniuk) that was in the freezer. Set it to Low and let it go about 8 hours.
When you get home, your house will smell heavenly Heaven.
Step two – strain the whole crock-pot mess through a mesh strainer into a big soup pot. Add about 6-7 more cups of water, one bunch of green onions broken in to a few pieces, a couple of cinnamon sticks, a star anise pod, a chunk of ginger (peeled – use a teaspoon to peel it), two teaspoons of sugar, one or two chicken boullion cubes and two boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Sometimes, we throw them in frozen, but it turns out better if the breasts are thawed. We also sometimes throw in some dried shiitake mushrooms. Also, sometimes we don’t put any chicken in and instead get an austronaut chicken from Sam’s Club on the way home from work. We make the broth the exact same way, but put torn-up astrochicken in our soup instead. We then use the rest of the chicken in pasta or something, and freeze the carcass for use in Pho Ga – (it’s a delicious cycle of chickeny goodness, people). By the way, only use one boullion cube if you go the astrochicken route or it will be too salty.
Anywho, bring the whole thing to a boil, then turn it down to a simmer for about 40 minutes or so. If you want really tender chicken, keep the water temp at about 160 degrees or so. It’s fine if you go over that, though – it’s all still good.
Step three – Remove the chicken breasts and set them aside. Strain the whole soup pot mess through a mesh strainer into another pot (we usually use the crock pot again so we don’t have to wash another pan) so you’re left with delicious, clear, aromatic broth. Then pour the broth back into the empty soup pot and bring that to a boil.
While the broth is boiling put your noodles on to boil. The best best best ones are the ones in the fridge section of the Chinatown market here in KC. They are in a pink package. We’ve tried other ones and these are by far the best. They are also sold at the 888 market in Overland Park. Boil the water, then throw the noodles in for about 45 seconds or so.
Slice the chicken breasts into strips or chunks or whatever you like.
Divide the cooked noodles into bowls. Use big, deep bowls. Asian markets have good ones. Add the chicken, then ladle broth over the noodles and chicken.
Then, you have to add garnishes. These are not optional:
Juice from half a lime
some fresh cilantro, torn in bits
a drizzle of sriracha (hot) sauce
a few dashes of Vietnamese fish sauce
A couple globs of hoisin sauce
a little bit of soy sauce
Restaurants also serve fresh bean sprouts and sometimes basil or mint with their Pho. I like the mint and will use it occasionally, but keep the sprouts out of mine, please. I don’t like them in this soup at all.
Eat with a big spoon and chopsticks. Seriously. Something about eating noodle soup with chopsticks is very calming and enjoyable and zen. You’ll thank me if you save your chopsticks the next time you eat Chinese take-out. While the pho itself is delicious, the making and eating of pho is as much about the experience as it is about the eating. So make your pho look pretty, okay?
This sounds like a lot of work and a lot of ingredients, but trust me – you will make this once and find it is so easy and satisfying and amazingly good that you will make it again and again and use all the ingredients eventually.
I can almost taste it… Oh great. I just got drool on my keyboard.