For those of us who live in the SF Bay area the choices for ethnic cuisine are endless. SF is a mish mash of people from all over the world and the city is a showcase of different cultures and cuisines. Many of our restaurants and fast food places here draw from different cultures and the result is a dizzing array of wonderful restaurants to sample and choose from.

One of my favorite dishes is Pho. Pho is a vietnamese rice noodle soup served in clear broth and featuring sliced meat or veggies. Along with the Pho they offer a plate of toppings that the customer can then choose to add to the soup. The toppings usually consist of, thai basil, lime, mung beansprots, scallions and sliced hot peppers. A spicy vietnamese hot sauce is also usually offered. I like to add soy sauce most of the time too if it needs salt.

I like to start with a pork bun and follow that up with a big bowl of Pho. I usually get chicken Pho.

I swear this soup is therapeutic. It warms you up, fills you up and satisfies your soul.

Here is a modified recipe from Andrea Nguyen. I am using her recipe because it does a very good job explaining how to keep the broth clear which is an important part of traditional Pho. You can also take a short cut and use any broth you have on hand or make your own broth to your liking. I have modified her ingredients a little because here in SF we have great access to traditional asian markets and ingredients but that is not the case everywhere, so where I could I substituted ingredients for easier to find things. You could also easily do a vegetarian version of this soup as well.

As far as the pork bun, I am not going to attempt it right now. My suggestion is to come to the Bay area and let me take you out for great Dim Sum!

Serves 8

2 yellow onions unpeeled
fresh ginger unpeeled
1 chicken cut up
3 pounds chicken backs, necks, or other bony chicken parts
6 quarts water
1  Tbs salt
2 Tbs fish sauce
1 Tbs apple cider vinegar

1 tbs coriander seeds, toasted in a dry skillet for about 1 minute until fragrant

4 whole cloves

1 1/2–2 pounds small flat rice noodles, dried
Cooked chicken, at room temperature
1 yellow onion, sliced paper-thin, soaked in cold water for 30 minutes and drained
3 or 4 scallions, green part only, thinly sliced
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro, leafy tops only
Black pepper

Optional garnishes
3 cups mung bean sprouts (about 1/2 pound)


10 to 12 sprigs mint  10 to 12 sprigs Thai basil

2 or 3 Thai or serrano chiles, thinly sliced

2 or 3 limes, cut into wedges

Make the pho broth

1. Place the onions and ginger directly on the cooking grate of a medium-hot charcoal or gas grill and char until the skin is burned.

After 15 minutes, the onions and ginger will have softened slightly and become sweetly fragrant. There may even be some bubbling. You do not have to blacken the entire surface. When amply charred, remove from the heat and let cool.

2. Rinse the cooled onions under warm running water, rubbing off the charred skin. Trim off and discard the blackened root and stem ends. Use a vegetable peeler, paring knife, or the edge of a teaspoon to remove the ginger skin. Hold it under warm water to wash off any blackened bits. Halve the ginger lengthwise and bruise lightly with the broad side of a cleaver or chef’s knife.  Set the onions and ginger aside.
3. To achieve a clear broth, you must first parboil and rinse the chicken parts. Put them in a stockpot (about 12-quart capacity) and add cold water just to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat and boil vigorously for 2 to 3 minutes to release the impurities. Dump the chicken parts and water into the sink (make sure it is clean), and then rinse the parts with water to wash off any clinging residue. Quickly scrub the stockpot clean and return the chicken parts to the pot. Put the chicken into the pot, breast side up.

4. Pour in the water and cover the chicken. Bring to a boil over high heat and then lower the heat to a gentle simmer. Use a ladle or large, shallow spoon to skim off any scum that rises to the top. Add the rest of the broth ingredients and cook, uncovered, for 25 minutes, adjusting the heat if needed to maintain a gentle simmer.

At this point, the chicken is cooked; its flesh should feel firm yet still yield a bit to the touch. Use a pair of tongs to grab the chicken and transfer it to a large bowl. Flush the chicken with cold water and drain well, then it set aside for 15 to 20 minutes until it is cool enough to handle. Meanwhile, keep the broth at a steady simmer.

5. When chicken can be handled, use a knife to remove each breast half and the whole legs (thigh and drumstick). Don’t cut these pieces further, or they’ll lose their succulence. Set aside on a plate to cool completely, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate; bring to room temperature before assembling the bowls.

6. Return the leftover carcass to the stockpot and adjust the heat to simmer the broth gently for another 1 1/2 hours. Avoid a hard boil, or the broth will turn cloudy.

7. Strain the broth through a fine-mesh sieve (or a coarse-mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth) positioned over a pot. Discard the solids. Use a ladle to skim as much fat from the top of the broth as you like. (To make this task easier, you can cool the broth, refrigerate overnight, lift off the solidified fat, and then reheat before continuing.) Taste and adjust the flavor as needed. There should be about 4 quarts (16 cups) broth.

Assemble the pho bowls
8. Cover dried noodles with hot tap water and let soak for 15 to 20 minutes, or until they are pliable and opaque.

9. Cut the cooked chicken into slices about 1/4 inch thick, cutting the meat off the bone as necessary. If you don’t want to eat the skin, discard it first. Set the chicken aside. Ready the yellow onion, scallions, cilantro, and pepper for adding to the bowls. Arrange the garnishes on a plate and put on the table.

10. To ensure good timing, bring the broth to a simmer over medium heat as you are assembling the bowls. (For an extra treat, drop in any unused white scallion sections and let them poach in the broth. Add the poached white scallion sections to a few lucky bowls when ladling out the broth.) At the same time, fill a large pot with water and bring to a rolling boil.

For each bowl, place a portion of the noodles in a mesh strainer and dunk the noodles in the boiling water. As soon as they have collapsed and lost their stiffness (10 to 20 seconds), pull the strainer from the water, letting the water drain back into the pot. Empty the noodles into a bowl.

11. Top each bowl of noodles with chicken, arranging the slices flat. Place a mound of yellow onion in the center and then shower some scallion and cilantro on top. Finish with a sprinkle of pepper.

12. Raise the heat and bring the broth to a rolling boil. Do a final tasting and make any last-minute flavor adjustments. Ladle about 2 cups broth into each bowl, distributing the hot liquid evenly to warm all the ingredients. Serve immediately with the garnishes.

Copyright 2007, Andrea Nguyen, All rights reserved.  Recipe from Into theVietnamese Kitchen (Ten Speed Press, 2006)

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