Sorry for the long break between posts. A 10-day trip to LA became a 18-day blogging hiatus. How you ask? Well, before the trip there was a 5-day period of frantic errand running and packing, or in my case, over packing. Then after the trip there is a 3-day period of painful re-entry as I struggle to re-stock the fridge, pack lunches, cook meals, do laundry, deal with toddler, and then there’s still the unpacking. So, here I am 18 days later, still sleep-deprived and exhausted but ready to get back to the food. And speaking of LA, stay tuned for a play-by-play post of our food adventures! But until then, here’s a recipe for a Vietnamese classic: pho ga.
I may be biased, but pho ga, Vietnamese chicken noodle soup, easily beats the American version. Brew up a pot and let me know what you think.
4 1/2 lbs. whole chicken, cut up into quarters if possible
2 lbs. chicken backs
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 medium onion
1 4-inch piece of ginger
1/4 cup fish sauce (or more to taste)
1 package of pho spices (or 3-inch cinnamon stick, 10 cardamom pods, 6 star anise, 1/2 teaspoon cloves, and 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns.)
2 package fresh or dry pho noodles (also known as pad thai noodles)
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1 small onion, thinly sliced (about 1/2 cup)
3/4 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup fried shallots
10-12 sprigs Thai basil, rinsed and dried
2 cups bean sprouts, rinsed and dried
1 lime, cut into wedges
2 red bird chili, optional
Soup: Place chicken and chicken backs in a large stock pot (about 8 quart capacity) and add enough water to cover the chicken. Do not add too much water as your broth will be diluted. Add salt and simmer (but do not boil) for 1 hour, skimming off fat and impurities as needed. As soup simmers, char ginger and onion either directly over a flame or broil in oven. Watch ginger and onion closely and turn frequently to char as evenly as possible. And when I say char, I mean BLACK–see photo. Once cool, peel charred ginger and onion skins. Add whole onion to soup pot. Cut ginger into several section, bruise each piece with a pestle or knife handle and add to the soup pot. Place spices into a cheesecloth, tie close and add to soup pot. Skim off fat and impurities as needed. After one hour of simmering, remove chicken and place immediately in a large bowl of cold water so that the meat doesn’t turn brown. Once chicken is cool, remove meat from bones and shred into bite-size pieces. Alternatively, you can remove large sections of breast and thigh meat and slice into pieces. Continue to simmer soup stock for another 1 hour (replenishing water as needed), then remove chicken backs, ginger, onion and spices.
Noodles: I much prefer fresh pho noodles (pictured) to the dry ones, but use whatever you can get. If using the dry noodles, soak them in some warm water for 10 minutes and drain before cooking. Cook noodles in small portions, dunking each portion into boiling water for 45 seconds (longer if using dry noodles), using chopsticks to swirl them for even cooking. Place cooked noodles into individual serving bowls. Note: each package of dry yields 4-6 portions, packages of fresh noodles yield about 4 servings.
Assembly: Add a few pieces chicken atop the noodles in each bowl, sprinkle with green onions, cilantro, sliced onions, fried shallots and a dash of black pepper. Bring soup to a low boil and ladle some into each bowl. Serve immediately with a communal plate of Thai basil, bean sprouts, lime wedges, and chili peppers.
This recipe yields about 8 servings.