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Now reading Pho Ga

Mint and chicken pho are a perfect pairing. Add fresh chili, and you’re golden in terms of the optional garnishes. If chicken backs aren’t available, use other inexpensive parts, such as drumsticks. When buying the rock sugar at the Asian market, look for fresh pho noodles for an extra treat.

This is excerpted from The Pho Cookbook, by Andrea Nguyen (Ten Speed Press, 2017)

Broth

Makes 8 servings
  • 1 chubby 4" section ginger, unpeeled (about 4 oz)
  • 1 lb yellow onions, unpeeled
  • 3 lbs chicken parts, such as backs, necks, wings, feet, and drumsticks
  • 1 4-lb chicken, rinsed and patted dry
  • 5 quarts water
  • 2 T coriander seeds
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1 small bunch cilantro (1 oz)
  • 1/2 oz yellow Chinese rock sugar
  • 1 1/2 t fine sea salt (I use La Baleine)
  • 3 T fish sauce (I use MegaChef’s premium blue bottle [you can use the standard brown bottle])

Bowl of Pho

  • 1 1/4 lbs dried narrow flat rice noodles, or 2 lbs fresh pho noodles
  • + Cooked chicken from the broth, cut or torn into bite-sized pieces about 1/4" thick
  • 1/2 medium yellow or red onion, thinly sliced against the grain and soaked in water for 10 minutes
  • 3 or 4 thinly sliced scallions, green parts only
  • 1/2 C chopped fresh cilantro, leafy tops only
  • + freshly ground pepper (optional)

Optional garnishes

  • 3 C bean sprouts
  • 10–12 sprigs mint (hung)
  • 10–12 sprigs Thai basil (hung que)
  • 12–15 sprigs fresh culantro (ngo gai) leaves
  • 2 or 3 Thai or serrano chilies, thinly sliced
  • 2 or 3 limes, cut into wedges

Preparation

Make the broth

Broth
  • 1 chubby 4" section ginger, unpeeled (about 4 oz)
  • 1 lb yellow onions, unpeeled
  • 3 lbs chicken parts, such as backs, necks, wings, feet, and drumsticks
  • 1 4-lb chicken, rinsed and patted dry
  • 5 quarts water
  • 2 T coriander seeds
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1 small bunch cilantro (1 oz)
  • 1/2 oz yellow Chinese rock sugar
  • 1 1/2 t fine sea salt (I use La Baleine)
  • 3 T fish sauce (I use MegaChef’s premium blue bottle [you can use the standard brown bottle])
  1. Char the ginger and onion. Place them directly on the cooking grate of a medium-hot charcoal or gas grill or a gas stove with a medium flame, or on a medium-hot burner of an electric stove. Let the skin burn, using tongs to occasionally rotate and to grab and discard any flyaway onion skin. After 15 minutes, they will have softened slightly and become sweetly fragrant. Bubbling is okay. You do not have to blacken the entire surface.

  2. Remove from the heat, cool, then rinse under warm running water, rubbing off the charred skin. Trim 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, cut into chunks, then bruise lightly (use the broad side of a knife or a meat mallet). Set aside with the onion to add to the stockpot.

  3. Prep the chicken parts. Wield a heavy cleaver or knife suitable for chopping bones to whack the bones and parts: Break them partway or all the way through to expose the marrow, making the cuts at 1 1/2-inch intervals. Work efficiently, with the flatter side of each part facing down. Direct the action from your wrist (not elbow). Imagine vanquishing a foe.

    Switch your attention to the whole chicken. Look in the body cavity for the neck, heart, gizzard, and liver. If included, add the neck (first give it a few whacks), heart, and gizzard to the parts bowl; the liver may dirty and impart an off flavor, so save it for something else.

    Since wings tend to fall off during cooking, detach each one: Bend it back (like a long arm stretch) and cut it off at the shoulder/armpit joint. Whack each wing a few times, and add to the parts bowl. Set the wingless bird aside.

  4. To achieve a clear broth, parboil and rinse the chicken parts; use a medium stockpot, about 12-quart capacity. After rinsing off the impurities, quickly scrub the pot, and return the parts to it. Add the wingless chicken, breast side up. Pour in the water and make sure the chicken is submerged. Partially cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Uncover and lower the heat to gently simmer. Use a ladle or skimmer to remove scum that rises to the top. Add the ginger and onions, plus the coriander seeds, cloves, cilantro, rock sugar, and salt. Readjust the heat to gently simmer, uncovered, for 25 minutes.

  5. After 25 minutes, the wingless chicken should be cooked; its flesh should feel firm yet still yield a bit to the touch. Use tongs to grab and transfer the chicken to a large bowl. Flush it with cold water, drain well, then set aside for 15–20 minutes to cool. Meanwhile, keep the broth simmering.

  6. When the 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 on a plate to cool completely, then cover, and refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months; bring to room temperature for bowl assembly.

     

  7. Return the leftover carcass and remaining bony bits to the stockpot. Adjust the heat to gently simmer for 1 1/2 hours longer. Total simmering time is roughly 2 1/4 hours, depending on the chicken’s cooling time. When the broth is done, let it rest for 20 minutes to settle the impurities and further concentrate the flavor.

  8. Skim some fat from the broth, then use a slotted spoon to remove most of the bony parts, dumping them into a bowl for refuse. Strain the broth through a muslin-lined mesh strainer positioned over a large pot. Discard the solids. (It should yield about 4 quarts.) If using the broth right away, season it with the fish sauce and extra salt. When making the broth ahead, partially cover the unseasoned broth, let cool, then refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months; reheat and season before using.

Prep and assemble the bowls

Bowl of Pho
  • 1 1/4 lbs dried narrow flat rice noodles, or 2 lbs fresh pho noodles
  • + Cooked chicken from the broth, cut or torn into bite-sized pieces about 1/4" thick
  • 1/2 medium yellow or red onion, thinly sliced against the grain and soaked in water for 10 minutes
  • 3 or 4 thinly sliced scallions, green parts only
  • 1/2 C chopped fresh cilantro, leafy tops only
  • + freshly ground pepper (optional)
  1. About 30 minutes before serving, ready the ingredients for the bowls. Soak dried noodles in hot water until they are pliable and opaque; drain, rinse, then let drain well. If using fresh noodles, untangle or separate them, and snip as needed. Divide them among 8 soup bowls.

  2. For each bowl, place a portion of the noodles in a noodle strainer or mesh sieve and dunk in the boiling water. When the noodles are soft, in 5 to 60 seconds, pull the strainer from the water, shaking it to let water drain back into the pot. Empty the noodles into a bowl. Top with chicken, then add the onion, scallions, and cilantro. Finish with freshly ground pepper.

  3. Taste and check the broth flavor again, adjust if desired, then raise the heat and bring it to boil. Ladle about 2 cups of broth into each bowl. Serve immediately, with any garnishes at the table.