Up until recently, I didn’t believe that pho could be made without the expertise of a little Vietnamese aunty looking over your shoulder. Seeing as I didn’t have one, I opted for restaurants or friend’s houses stubbornly refusing to believe that any pho I made could stand up to those I’d had at restaurants on Melbourne’s Victoria Street or little plastic tables on the side of the road in Vietnam.
As it turns out, it only took one Icelandic lady to prove me wrong. When my friend Asdis invited me around for lunch, she made a pho that was as good as any I’d tasted in shops and infinitely better than I’d had at the local Vietnamese restaurant. I Googled pho recipes for hours – they all looked pretty straightforward. Maybe I was missing something. Or could something that I discounted as ultimate restaurant-only comfort food really be as that simple to make at home? I was skeptical that mine would be as good as home made, but there was only one way to find out.
I settled on a recipe from Vietnamese guru Andrea Nguyen who has clearly laid the steps all out on her blog Viet World Kitchen. I’ve noticed a couple of other blogs have tweaked or adapted her recipe almost word for word and not given her credit, and that kinda pisses me off. The blogging world is about sharing and acknowledging sources – it’s really important to give credit where it’s due. We all want recognition for our work right?
I’ve tweaked her recipe only a tiny bit – poaching the chicken breast just before serving so that it stays tender. I have also used chicken pieces and not a whole chicken as more surface area = more flavourful stock.
Surprisingly enough, to me at least, the pho was pretty good. The stock of broth does take a while, but it’s not an involved process. I think most people would be able to cook this recipe without instructions after making it once. And of course, using good quality chicken made it miles ahead of many bowls of pho I’ve eaten over the years. It might lack a little in home cooked Vietnamese magic, but I’m going to consult my good friend’s mum, Mama Bui on that and get back to you with her tips. Let’s just say if I lived anywhere in Australia or Vietnam, I’d be heading to my local pho place, but outside of there – this is a pretty darn good bowl of noodle soup.
- 2 big onions, about 1 pound total, unpeeled and halved
- 70g ginger, washed and with peel on
- 1 whole chicken approx 1.8kg, or 1kg chicken bones and 4 chicken breasts
- 2L water
- 1½ tsp salt
- 3 tbsp fish sauce
- 30g rock sugar
- 2 tbsp coriander seeds
- 2 whole cloves
- 1 star anise
- 1 small bunch coriander roots and stems (reserve leaves for garnish)
- 400g dried flat rice noodles - also called rice stick
- ground white pepper (optional)
- 200g bean sprouts
- 1 large onion, cut in half and sliced as thinly as possible
- 2 red chillies, thinly sliced
- 3-4 limes, cut into wedges
- 2 spring onions, thinly sliced
- coriander leaves
- mint and/or thai basil leaves
- Preheat your oven to 200C on the grill setting. Place the onion, skin side up and ginger on a tray in the top half of the oven and roast for 20 minutes. You can also char them on the gas stove but I opted for the oven as I didn't want to be cleaning up charred onion skin from all over the stove.
- Rinse the chicken (or chicken bones) under cold running water making sure to clean the cavity. Discard the internal organs if they've been included. Remove the chicken breasts and set aside - I like to gently poach these later so that the breast remains tender.
- Break the rest of the chicken down - the easiest way to do this is to remove the wing tips, wings and the drumsticks and thigh parts, then chopping the remaining carcass up with a meat cleaver. If you are using only the carcass, roughly chop into large pieces. Breaking up the bones exposes the marrow and adds flavour to the stock.
- To get clear chicken broth, it's important to parboil the chicken, rinse the chicken parts and remove the scum. Put the chicken parts in a large pot and add cold water just to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat and allow to boil for 2-3 minutes.
- Tip the whole pot (water and chicken parts) into an empty sink then rinse the parts with water to wash off any clinging residue.
- Quickly rinse the stockpot and return the chicken parts to the pot. Add the water, bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat to a gentle simmer. Using a ladle or small strainer, skim off any scum that rises to the top.
- In a small frying pan, toast the spices for 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Alternatively, place the spice on a baking tray and allow to roast in the oven for 1-2 minutes (the ginger and onion will still be in there).
- Remove the onion and ginger from the oven, then take off the charred bits and cut the ginger into pieces.
- Add the onions, ginger, salt, fish sauce, rock sugar, coriander seeds, cloves, star anise and cilantro and cook, uncovered, for 20 minutes, adjusting the heat if needed to maintain a gentle simmer. Do not allow to boil rapidly.
- If you have used a whole chicken - use a pair of tongs to remove the meaty chicken pieces from the pot and place in a bowl to cool. When the chicken is cool, pick off the meat and reserve for the pho bowls. Return the bones to the pot and cook the broth for a further 30 minutes.
- If you have used bones only - cook the broth for a further hour.
- Strain the broth through a large sieve over a pot. Discard the solids. Use a ladle to skim as much fat from the top of the broth as you like. Taste and adjust the flavour with additional salt, fish sauce, and rock sugar.
- Place the dried rice stick in a large bowl and cover with warm water. Allow to rehydrate for 15 minutes.
- Bring the broth back to a light simmer then add the (raw) chicken breasts and allow to gently poach for 15-20 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool, then slice thinly.
- Assemble the pho bowls. You can choose to cook the noodles in boiling water for 10-20 seconds or to just add them to the hot broth for the same amount of time.
- Remove the noodles and separate into two bowls. Top with a pinch of ground white pepper and chicken then ladle over the hot broth.
- Place the other garnish ingredients (beansprouts, onion, chilles, limes, spring onion and herbs on a shared plate for guests to help themselves to at the table.
For my friend Abby, who may be reading this or who might just pretend that she reads my blog, pho always makes me think of you.