Chicken Pho (Pho Ga)

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You may not know this, but…  Sometimes, I actually do behave like a real-life 20something-year-old.  I just have to nap first.

But yes, sometimes I go out.  Sometimes this happens in cold weather.  In my book, if you can see your breath and you’re in for a long Reno night (no such thing as last call here, after all), there’s no better place to start it than the Vietnamese restaurant sandwiched between a pawn shop and a liquor store.  I mean, really–cheap, authentic, relatively quick, massively delicious food.  It’s at the top of “things I miss about Reno” lists of all Reno expats who know what’s good.

Specifically in terms of preparing you for evening revelry, you can’t go wrong with Vietnamese coffee (Red Bull is for college kids, not that there’s anything wrong with that) and a bowl of hot, steaming pho.  Filling, but not sluggifying, it warms you from within for that trek to your first watering hole of the night.

So why am I even bothering to make this at home?  I don’t know.  Because I can?

Pho really consists of three parts: meaty broth, noodles, accompaniments.  Soaking rice noodles takes practically no effort, and all those pho “accessories,” if you will, are obviously easy to prep, too.  The time-consuming, effort-requiring component is the broth; you want a really good, flavorful one.  Cartons of low-sodium won’t do, and neither will my default (stock made from all the vegetable scraps I used to throw away).  No.

We’ll need to char some ginger and onion, toast some seeds, hack up a chicken to expose lots of savory, rich marrow.  Great care will be taken.  Scum will be skimmed from the top.  We will be patient and conscientious.

Chicken will be shredded.

Then, everything is doused in sriracha.  It’s the grand finale!  Or should I say, pho-nale.  (I tried to resist all the delicious puns, and I just wasn’t strong enough.  Maybe tomorrow.)


Chicken Pho (Pho Ga)
(recipe adapted from Steamy Kitchen

For soup:
1 whole chicken 
1 whole onion, unpeeled and cut in half
3-inch piece of ginger, unpeeled
2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds
4 whole cloves
2 whole star anise
1/4 cup sugar (I used coconut palm sugar) 
1/4 cup fish sauce
1 bunch of cilantro 
14-16 ounces dried rice noodles (around 1/4-inch wide)

For serving:
Bean sprouts
Shaved red onions or sliced scallions
Lime wedges
Sriracha hot sauce
Hoisin sauce
Sliced jalapenos
Thai basil 

Preheat broiler and put ginger and onion on a baking sheet, a few inches from the broiler.  Broil for around 15 minutes or so, turning occasionally, until onion skin is darkened and ginger is soft.  Cool, peel both and chop the onion into large chunks and slice the ginger.

Toast coriander, cloves and star anise in a small pan over medium heat for a couple of minutes, until fragrant.

Carve the breast meat from the chicken.  Trim off excess fat if you’d like, and chop the rest of the chicken into 3-inch pieces, cutting through the bone to expose as much marrow as possible.

Fill a stockpot with water and add chicken pieces (not the breast).  Bring to a boil and boil for 5 minutes.  Drain chicken and rinse under cool water, then wash stockpot thoroughly.

Refill stockpot with 4 quarts of clean, cold water.  Cut the stems from the cilantro bunch and rinse.  Wrap cilantro stems, coriander, star anise and cloves in cheesecloth and tie with twine.  Add chicken, including the breast meat, onion, ginger, sugar, fish sauce and cheesecloth bouquet garni, cover and bring to boil over high heat.  Then, turn heat to low and prop the lid up a little.  After 15 minutes, remove the chicken breast, cool, shred and set aside.

Continue simmering for another 1 1/2 hours, skimming the surface scum every 20 minutes or so as it comes up.  Strain the broth.  Discard chicken pieces or reserve for another use (I hate wasting food, so I skinned and deboned them for later use).  Taste broth and adjust seasoning with additional fish sauce and sugar, if you’d like.

Prepare rice noodles according to package directions.  Divide them among bowls and top with shredded chicken, then ladle broth over.  Serve with accompaniments on the side, so that each person eating can customize the soup to taste.

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  1. says

    I just pressure cooked a whole chicken this morning. And now I think I’ll have to head to the market to get the ingredients for pho. We have pho restaurants on pretty much every block where there are shops but I have yet to stop into any of them. Shhh….don’t tell anyone. I’ve lived in Seattle for almost three years without purchasing pho.

    ps…If you have a pressure cooker I highly suggest cooking a whole chicken in it for the meat and stock. I don’t know what happens exactly but it makes the meat taste like turkey that has been roasted. mmm…mmm.