Sikander loves South Asian cooking for their fresh flavours and very little use of oil. A few weeks ago, I was down with flu and he took upon himself to cure me with his soup menu for the weekend. The first on the list was the Vietnamese pho soup.
The Vietnamese chicken pho soup is a delicate clear soup with tender meat, chewy noodles and crunchy toppings. The most important part of the soup is the clear and very aromatic broth. Seasoned with charred onions, ginger and roasted spices; the broth is deeply rich and savoury.
It’s also very beautiful when served with all the toppings on the side. Each bowl is unique.
It took him almost 5-6 hours to make the broth but as Andrea Nguyen (whose recipe he mostly followed) says, it is mostly passive cooking. The quick version would be to use ready stock but this slow-cooked Vietnamese Pho from scratch is peerless. I say that from first hand experience. If you have time and want to enjoy some slow, aromatic and pleasure cooking, try the Pho.
Vietnamese Chicken Pho Soup (Phở Gà)
By Sikander Siraj
Preparation time: |Cooking time: |Serves: 4-6
for the broth
1 small chicken, about 1-1.25 kgs, excess fat and tail removed
2 onions, peeled and sliced
4 inch ginger, peeled and sliced
6-8 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
5 whole cloves
2 star anise
3 1-inch sticks of cinnamon
2 tsp coriander seeds
5 litre water
3 tbsp dark soya sauce
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1/2 cup fresh chopped coriander with stem
garnish for the bowls
1/2 kg instant rice noodles (Pho noodles)
5-6 spring onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup fresh herbs – mint, sweet basil and coriander
2-3 Thai chillies, sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 lime, cut into wedges
- Place the sliced onions, ginger, garlic and dry spices (cinnamon, coriander seeds, cloves and star anise) on a baking tray placed 4-5 inches away from the broiler. Broil for about 10 minutes, turning them once, till the onions start to toast from the sides and the spices are very fragrant. (In the original recipe, the chef has charred the onions on flame but since we don’t have a gas oven/ stove, Sikander used the broiler.)
- The following parts comes directly from Andrea Nguyen’s recipe. (I was sleeping throughout the preparation and frankly speaking I was quite amazed when I learned later what all Sikander did)
- Rinse the chicken under cool water. Detach each wing by bending it back and cutting it off at the shoulder joint. Add the wings and neck, if included, to the chicken parts. If the heart, gizzard, and liver have been included, discard them. Set the wingless chicken aside.
- Remove and discard any loose pieces of fat from the chicken parts. Wielding a heavy cleaver designed for chopping bones, whack the bones to break them partway or all the way through, making the cuts at 1- to 2-inch intervals, depending on the size of the part. This exposes the marrow, which enriches the broth.
- To achieve a clear broth, you must first parboil and rinse the chicken parts. Put them in a stockpot (about 10 litre 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.
- Pour in the water and snuggle the chicken in between the parts so that it is covered with water. 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 broiled onions, ginger, garlic, spices and rest of broth ingredients. Simmer uncovered on medium heat for 20-30 mins.
- At this point, the chicken is cooked and its flesh would yield if you try with a wooden spoon. Using tongs, remove the chicken from the broth and transfer to a large bowl. Run under cold water to stop the cooking and set aside for 15-20 minutes till it is cold enough to handle. Meanwhile, keep the broth on a steady simmer.
- When the chicken is cold enough to handle, shred the meat off the bones using your hands. Keep the shredded chicken aside and return the bones to the broth. Simmer covered on low heat for another hour.
- Strain the broth using a fine sieve. Discard the solids and skim the fat from the top of the broth. Adjust the seasoning for salt, sugar and soya sauce.
- Bring a pot of water to boil and prepare noodles according to packet instructions. It usually takes just about 5-8 minutes for the thin rice noodles to cook through. You should prepare the rice noodles just before assembling the bowls otherwise they quickly stick to each other into a lump.
- In each bowl, first add a serving of noodles. Add the shredded chicken pieces.Now ladle about 2 cups of hot clear broth into each bowl.
- Add some of the garnishes and serve the remaining garnishes on the table with each bowl.
Assembling the bowls