Thursday, April 09, 2009

Pho Ga - Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup Recipe

Pho Ga Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup

I think some of the most difficult dilemmas in my life take place in a Vietnamese restaurant. Why does everything on the menu have to be so freaking tasty. I have tried a lot of things, but always stick to the standard pho. Just when I tell the server that I want something tasty like charbroiled pork over noodles (bun thit nuong), I end up retracting my order and getting the eye from the server. I'm just not able to shy away from it, like a needy little kid. And like most cooks with a passion for noodles, I've attempted to make my own beef pho for pride and merit. $40 and 6-8 hours later, I finally made my first soup. It tasted fine, but there was something missing, as there always seems to be with home-cooked food. Is it the boatload of MSG that goes into it? Is it the pair of chopsticks and soup spoon that need a pre-rinse with tea? Maybe the server's thumb that always seems to penetrate the scalding hot soup? Whether or not any of these factors actually affect the taste of a soup, it's just not the same. After that last time, I decided it would be less of a headache if I just coughed up a whopping $5.25 for a solid bowl of pho at Pho Filet in South El Monte or Pho Thanh Lich in Little Saigon – two places that I love at the moment.

But all of a sudden, I missed making soup from scratch. Something fast and something cheap. Something that doesn't hog up all the space in my Le Creuset. And Vietnamese chicken noodle soup (pho ga) comes to mind. How expensive was it to make 6-8 bowls? $10, if you already have the spices! Everyone has found their ideal beef pho, as the best ones seem to be very consistent. The slightest decrease in the amount of MSG and spices used can trigger off the food snobbiness. But with pho ga, as I've learned, there really isn't a standard, consistent taste – it's comfort food . With that in mind, you'll be happy to know that pho ga is not difficult to cook and you're free to get creative with it.

Pho Ga Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup

There is nothing more boring than chicken breast – dark meat for president. Instead of using chicken breast, I bought leg meat because it has more flavor. If you have to have breast meat, cut that thing in half, cross-section style – you'll be a much happier eater. Let's do this.

Shower Time
(1) Place all the chicken bones in a large pot filled with cold water. Bring to a boil, and let it roll vigorously for 10 minutes to really force out the impurities. Dump bones out into sink and make sure you rinse all the chicken bones. Set aside.

Get Toasty
(2) If you skip this next step, you're missing the whole point of Vietnamese noodle soup. If you want your pho to compete with places on the Westside and Chinatown, then don't toast your spices – because they seriously can't seem to do things right. For this recipe, I used the following spice measurement, add more as needed:

10-12 star anise
2-2.5 tbsp. coriander seeds
1 tbsp. fennel seeds
1 whole cinnamon stick
8-10 cloves

This will yield a very strong anise and clove aroma. So cut down to half or completely omit ingredients if you're not fond of those flavors – I love it. Toast these in a dry pan on low heat for 2-3 minutes, careful not to burn the spices. When the aroma is apparent, turn off the heat and remove the spices from the pan. Tie up the spices in some cheesecloth and string.

Campfire Time
(3) You'll be toasting the ginger and onions now, to wake up the flavors. Over the stove burner, turn it on high. Using tongs, set the onions and ginger on the burners. For the onions, I usually peel away the outer skin because I really want to punish those onions and make them sweat. Same applies to the ginger. You don't have to evenly char them, 60-75% is fine. Over cold water, remove any of the blackened parts.

Hot Tub
(4) Add the bones, spices, onions, ginger, whole bulb of garlic (cross-sectioned to reveal the cloves of garlic) into the pot and fill it up with cold water. Bring to a boil and add some fish sauce to taste. The fish sauce is used to flavor the soup, not be the sole source of salinity. You should have a delicate hint of fish sauce. Once you've brought it to a boil, turn down the heat to a simmer. Add a 1"-1.5" piece of rock sugar. This is crucial in giving pho that gentle sweetness. Regular sugar would be too harsh.

Dinner Time
(5) After about 2 hours, you should test out your soup once more to dot the i's and cross the t's. After simmering for so long, you may need to add more water incase it becomes salty. Scoop out any impurities and get your scallions, green onions, white onions and herbs ready. Banh pho noodles are typically used (I like the Kim Tar brand but this one is good as well.) and I've had versions with thicker rice noodles used in hu tieu. To cook the noodles, bring some water to a boil and drop the noodles in for no more than FIVE SECONDS for al dente noodles. Serve with piping hot soup and a headband if you get worked up like I do when I eat noodles.

Pho Ga Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup

Jeni and I were really happy that this turned out well. It was very simple and to tell you the truth, I don't think you can really F this up. What I might do differently is reduce the amount of cloves – too strong. And I may actually use chicken breast versus leg meat because you need to have some texture – my leg meat was tasty, but obliterated from the simmering of course. And also, pho ga is best eaten the day you make it. The refridgeration process sucks the life out of the herbs. I left the spice bag in the soup and that made the clove aroma even stronger. Bleh. Enjoy and thanks for reading.


sooishi said...

this is one of my favorites Vietnamese dish!
Thank you for the recipe

nakedsushi said...

My family makes fantastic pho ga and I still haven't found a restaurant to top its flavor. I don't know if this is traditional or not, but they use an old chicken (at least, that's what they call it) for the broth because old chickens have more flavor. And for the meat, they use a fresh recently-killed young chicken. That way, you get the flavor of the old chicken along with the tender meat of a young chicken.

Savory dumpling said...

This is my comfort food!! I have to have this when I am stressed! This is my favorite noodle soup. I need to go make some of that asap! =) I'll let you know how it turns out.

Unknown said...

i (whitey) challenged my (chinese) bf to a pho cook-off. i went first and i agree, something was missing in the flavor of the beef pho. doh! i never considered just accepting the fact that i can't duplicate the beef pho flavor and just go for chicken. i'm happier eating $5 pho at Pho Saigon.

dealinhoz said...

Sooishi, send a photo back, would love to see it.

Nakedsushi, yeah for sure chicken noodle soup finds its way into the soul of any family. whether you're from the U.S., Asia or South America. I like the yin&yang flavor combo of the young and old chicken – it makes sense. what if we fed those chickens beer and massaged them daily? haha.

Savory Dumpling, send a photo!

Brian, haha. How was your bf's version? Yes, just go for the chicken – easy win.

boody said...

Ummm....I know this post is about the pho ga recipe, but is that the back of Anthony Bourdain's head and you sweating????? hahaa. Or am I making up stuff?

Gastronomer said...

Kick ass, Dyl. It looks terrific. I'm so afraid of messing up that I've yet to attempt pho. One of these days I'll get over my "it doesn't taste like grandma's" complex.

shoe monster said...

mmm sounds delicious. however, i spy cilantro! haha. thanks for sharing

dealinhoz said...

Boody, it is! Click on the link before the image.

Gastronomer, beef pho you can mess up. I think with chicken pho, things are big more lenient ha. congrats again on the NYT mention. Try out the Banhmi-Ni

glutster said...

Hey Dylan!

All this is just getting my hyped up for that dish you were talking about that one time.

So March 25?

This will hold me over until then, haven't made any 'investment soup' since that that crab cake soup I made "Bun Reiu"...

boody said...

DUDE....I KNEW IT!!!! hahhaa. You rockstar, you. So when will I be seeing this on the travel channel?

dealinhoz said...

Glutster, we'll be eating plenty of good stuff in Little Saigon. I was thinking we should just get one thing at every place and divy them up into bowls. be prepared.

Boody, there are a lot of reruns. This was back in 2006.

boody said...

oh my gosh, i just saw you on tv, like right now!! hahhaha.

Anonymous said...


ila said...

my dad makes pho ga for me when i have a hangover or a cold. it's so much faster and easier than its beefy cousin. thanks for the beautiful photos, now i'm gonna muster one up too...

e d b m said...

Anon, hope the pho ga was good on Saturday. I enjoyed making it for an authentic Vietnamese mama ha.

Ila, I love the honesty. Does your dad say "Oh since you've been drinking so hard lately, I'm going to reward you with a soup." ha.

Unknown said...

Loved your comment about the dark meat chicken. It seems so un-PC to favor the darker and tastier meat. I don't know how haoles can eat those flavorless and dry chicken breasts. Oh well, more good dark pieces left for those who know what real food is.

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