Saturday, December 15, 2012

Chicken Pho (Pho Ga)

This chicken pho recipe has been a long time in coming.  I think we made it 3 weeks ago, but I have been pretty swamped at work (and as you will notice below, the recipe is really long) so I haven't had time to post about it.  But instead of attending a holiday party that we were invited to, I'm stuck at home this evening with a pretty awesome head cold, so I decided this was the perfect opportunity to post about the soup.  First things first - this broth was amazing.  It is totally worth the extra steps to char the onions and ginger, parboil the chicken parts, and strain it.  It was delicious and very complex.  It was also clear (hurray for parboiling) and rich.  We used the leftover broth in two more soups later that week (and the following week), including a Shrimp, Pumpkin and Coconut Soup we have already posted about and a fantastic hot and sour soup that we haven't posted about yet, because you end up with a ridiculous amount of broth from this recipe.  The recipe probably took 4 hours from start to finish, but I thought it was well worth it.  The chicken breasts were succulent and had an almost silky texture.  Andrea Nguyen says that you should start with a quality bird for this recipe and I totally agree.  We used nice locally raised organic chicken and chicken parts that we picked up from Fairway.  The soup might have been even better with some of the nice organic chickens from the farmers' market, but we used what we had.

We made another Vietnamese chicken soup called mien ga from Andrea Nguyen's Into the Vietnamese Kitchen cookbook some time ago.  I think this pho ga blew the mien ga right out of the water.  The broth was so nuanced and yet the dish had the freshness that the other soup was lacking.  The fresh herbs had a lot to do with that freshness, but it was also the broth itself.  I'm not sure how you make such a rich broth still taste light and fresh.  It was just so bright and had so much flavor.  I loved it.  Clearly this isn't a soup that you could make every day (or even every month), but it is definitely going into my lazy Sunday rotation for the future.  The broth alone is well worth many repeat visits.

Recipe after the jump!

Chicken Pho
Adapted from Into the Vietnamese Kitchen:  Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavors
By Andrea Nguyen

For broth:
2 yellow onions, quartered
chubby, 4-inch section of fresh ginger, unpeeled
1 organic chicken, about 4 lbs, excess fat and skin, organs and tail removed and discarded
3 lbs chicken parts
5 quarts water
1 1/2 tbsp salt
3 tbsp fish sauce
1-inch chunk yellow rock sugar
2 tbsp coriander seeds, toasted
4 whole cloves
1 small bunch cilantro
For soup:
1-2 lbs small flat rice noodles, fresh or dried (we used fresh)
1 small yellow onion, sliced paper thin and soaked in cold water to cover for at least 30 minutes
3-4 scallions, green parts only, thinly sliced
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
black pepper
For garnish:
1 cup bean sprouts
fresh mint
fresh Thai basil
fresh culantro
2-3 Thai or serrano chilis, thinly sliced
2-3 limes, cut into wedges

Char the onions wedges and ginger on a grill or grill pan over medium-high heat.  After about 10 minutes, the onions and ginger will have softened and should have some nice grill marks all over.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool until they are cool enough to handle.  Once the ginger has cooled, peel the skin and discard.  Halve the ginger lengthwise and bruise lightly with the side of a cleaver.  Set aside.

Rinse the chicken under cool water.  Detach each wing.  Add the wings and neck, if included, to the chicken parts.  Set the chicken aside.

Put the chicken parts in a stockpot and add cold water just to cover.  Bring to a boil over high heat and boil vigorously for 2-3 minutes to release impurities (this will help make your broth clear).  Dump the chicken parts into a strainer and rinse the parts well with water to wash off any nasty residue.  Quickly scrub the stockpot clean and return the chicken parts to the pot.  Nestle the chicken (breast side up) into the bed of chicken parts.  Add 5 quarts of water.  The chicken should be covered with water.  Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat to a gentle simmer.  Use a ladle or shallow spoon to skim off any scum or froth that floats to the top.  Add the onions, ginger, salt, fish sauce, rock sugar, coriander seeds, cloves and cilantro.  Simmer, uncovered, for 25 minutes.  Remove the whole chicken from the water and transfer it to a large bowl.  The chicken should be fully cooked at this point.  Flush the chicken with cold water and drain well, then set aside until cool enough to handle, about 15-20 minutes.  Continue to simmer the chicken.

Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, use a knife to remove the breasts and the legs (thighs and drumsticks).  Set aside on a large plate to cool completely.  Return the chicken carcass to the stockpot and adjust the heat to simmer the broth gently for another 1 1/2 hours.  

Cover the chicken breasts and legs with plastic wrap and refrigerate.  Bring them back to room temperature before serving.

Strain the broth through a sieve lined with a cheesecloth.  Discard the solids.  Skim as much fat from the top of the broth as you can.  If you want, you can cool the broth and refrigerate it overnight to remove the fat that solidifies at the top and then just reheat.

Taste the broth and season to taste with additional salt, fish sauce and rock sugar.  There will be about 4 quarts (16 cups) of broth.  Continue to simmer the broth while preparing the soup.

Cut the chicken breasts and legs into slices about 1/4-inch thick, or shred as necessary.  Set aside.  

Prepare noodles according to package instructions and place in individual bowls.  Top each bowl of noodles with chicken, yellow onions, scallions and cilantro.  Sprinkle with pepper.  

Increase the heat on the broth to a rolling boil.  Ladle hot broth into each prepared bowl.

Serve immediately with garnishes.

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