You will fall in love right away on the first slurp of this chicken pho broth. It has a complex flavor that you could taste the different layers of herbs and spices used but not overwhelming- instead, it has that delicate elegance flavor.
It was a cold snowy month in February of 2013 when I first met the "Big bowl" a Vietnamese restaurant that offers different varieties of Pho. The warming aroma of herbs and spices welcomes you in as soon as you open the door. A big sigh of relief after a stressful citizenship examination.
This was the beginning of my love affair with Vietnamese food.
I don't think traditional pho recipes were written in stone, but if you want to be authentic, you need to have the best tongue to taste it. For non-Vietnamese like me, eat it, drink it to the last drop and burp it out. Thus, you must have enjoyed it, and more importantly, you must love it. My feelings from the experience of eating pho soup at Big bowl restaurant taught me to balance the flavour profile and taste myself. I enjoyed it, I fell in love with the first slurp of their broth and I knew I'd eat it again and again. Pho has the x-factor that is more than just a recipe.
By the way, to the Vietnamese, "to burp after eating a bowl of pho is a sight of appreciation and gratitude to the cook or chef."
One of my inspirations whom I learned a lot about Pho soup was Andrea Nguyen, acclaimed Vietnamese American cookbook writer and James beard winner. In her book "The pho", she pointed out, "In Vietnam, Rice is the dutiful wife that you can rely on while Pho is the flirty mistress that you sneak away to visit." In other words, rice is a staple food and pho is really delicious but it is something you can not have every day.
This Chicken pho soup recipe was inspired by my love for this Papaya and mango salad with ginger-lime vinaigrette on this site. Should you want any dessert to finish your dinner, This almond-olive oil and orange cake is perfect to end the meal.
What is pho?
"Pho is the only meal with no class. It makes no difference: the poor people eat pho, the rich people eat pho. Intellectual people eat pho. Not-educated people eat pho, too. But some places are only for the high class, some places are only for poor people. Third, pho is the only meal that artists are interested in. They have poetry for pho, they have songs for pho, pictures for pho. Now they have films for pho, and they also have some drama, too. No meal has this character!!"
Rachel Khong, what's true about pho, Best food writing 2017, p.113
Pho pronounced as "fuh" is the most recognized dish around the world. It is a nourishing and aromatic staple dish and is loved across Vietnam and around the world. Its origin is very murky, Some historians say, is a French influence from one pot beef stew "Pot-au-feu while others say, from Chinese communities who sold dish noodles with beef. Rice noodles and spices are undoubted of Chinese origin but at that time, beef is not the daily meat of Vietnamese. It might be safe to say Pho is a combination of both French and Chinese influences.
Traditional Pho is made for long hours simmering beef bones with spices and aromatics. Actually, I've memorized every step and ingredient from many many years of eating it. Blanch and rinse the bones, and then let it simmer for hours and hours with charred onions and garlic, an array of spices, seasoned with sugar and fish sauce and finally, serve with rice noodles and the right garnishes. With sincerity, that's just about it, really easy.
As pho soup evolves over the years from traditional beef pho, now chicken and there's even vegan, it gives us choices that fit the bill and time.
Chicken stock makes the best substitute. With the right amount and balance of spices, aromatics and seasoning, it is as good as eating authentic.
Ingredients needed to make Chicken Pho
This chicken pho soup recipe requires spices, aromatics and seasoning for the broth and serve with shredded or sliced chicken, rice noodles and proper garnish for the bowl.
- Cinnamon stick - smells warm, slightly fruity, peppery and vanilla-like.
- Star anise - Powerful, warming and liquorice-like that ensure authentic touch in the preparation of many chinese dishes.
- Black cardamon - pungent, smokey and almost like menthol flavor.
- Coriander seeds - earthy, sweet with floral aroma that releases when toasted.
- Cloves - intensely aromatic and subtly sweet flavor that lends plenty of warm to any dishes.
- Cooking onion - assertive and spicy when raw, strong and sweet when cooked
- Scallion - the white part has a sharp and sulfur-y taste like a regular onion but milder while the green part has a fresher and grassy flavor.
- Ginger - hot, zesty, and biting but sweet and warming. It has a mild woody flavor, aromatic and really flavorful.
one of the most important parts of pho is balancing the fish sauce and sugar.
- Fish sauce - salty and savory umami
- Cane sugar/light brown sugar - to add sweetness (the name, duh)
4. Chicken stock - the heart of the chicken pho soup. Preferably homemade, but a good quality store-bought will work just fine when you're in a hurry.
- Rice noodles - flat rice noodles
- Beansprouts - add crunch and a bit of sweetness
- cooked chicken - shredded or sliced
- Thai chili - not meant to be eaten but for heat and flavor
- Lime juice - provides snappiness
- Garnish - cilantro leaves, mint leaves, sliced green part of scallion and or thai basil
See recipe card for quantities.
How to make Chicken Pho soup?
→Chicken pho soup starts by dry roasting the spices until they smell fragrant as what home cooks and chefs said, "let it bloom". Off the heat, add the aromatics and continue to dry roast for a couple of minutes at the same time to cool the pan for a little bit. Add the stock and bring and pan back over high heat to boil. When the stock reaches the boiling point, lower the heat and let it simmer steadily for 30 to 40 minutes.
→For the last 10 minutes, add the chicken breast and let it poach until cooked through. Remove the chicken, and then fish out all the aromatics and spices or strain using a mesh strainer.
→Next, add the seasoning, taste, add more seasoning and taste again until you reach the savoriness- it should lean to the saltier side to give a taste to the noodles, chicken and sprouts once you put them all together.
→In the meantime, while you are cooking the pho broth, place the rice noodles in a large mixing bowl and pour hot water until the noodles are all submerged. Let it soak for 10 minutes. Drain and wash with cold water to remove all the starch.
→Now, bring the clear broth to a full boil, add the noodles and cook for one minute. Divide the noodles among the bowls, add the sprouts, chicken, chilli and garnish.
→Finally, pour the hot broth into the bowl.
How to eat Chicken Pho Soup?
I know some of you will go straight to the floating salad of herbs atop, I was there too until I learned that those greens have other purposes.
First, sip some of the broth and savour the complexity. Pay attention to the broth and appreciate the time that has passed before this sublime liquid sits at your table. Second, with your chopstick, push, swirl until you mess up altogether. The chilli, herbs and beansprouts will add another layer of flavour to the broth at the same time. Third, dig in!
Chicken pho broth can be made in advance, store in the fridge for up to five days or put in a freezer-proof container and stored in the freezer for up to 6 months.
Don't get deterred to make this chicken pho soup recipe when you don't have all the spices listed. I understand the hesitation, it's a lot of money and the time you invest and what if it doesn't work and it will be a fucking failure. But what about, taking the risk for something you love?
Coriander seeds and cloves alone are good to start with as you get comfortable. Be generous with fish sauce, if you season the broth just enough before adding the noodles, beansprouts, and chicken, the broth will go bland.
Not unless you want to leave the prep and washing of dishes to someone else, maybe it's time to slip away and enjoy a good slurp to your favorite Vietnamese restaurant as Vietnamese do, just like what Andrea Nguyen said.....
How to make Vietnamese inspired chicken pho soup
- 2 quarts saucepan
- 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
- 1 star anise
- 2 black cardamom pods, crushed exposing the seeds
- 2 cinnamon stick
- 2 clove
- 2 inches ginger, sliced in two and then crushed using the side of your knife
- 2 small cooking onions, peeled and quartered
- 4 scallions, separate- white part for the broth, green for the bowl
- 8 cups chicken stock, preferably home-made
- 1 teaspoon cane sugar or light brown sugar
- 2-3 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 pound (2) chicken breast
- 300 grams dried rice flat noodles
- cooked chicken breast (from the broth)
- cilantro leaves
- scallion green parts
- mint leaves
- 1 lime, quartered
- Heat the saucepan over medium heat. Add all the dried spices and dry roast, tossing around until it smells amazing, about 3-5 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the heat and then add the ginger, shallots and white part of the scallions. Stir all together until you can smell their fragrance and the pan cools down a little.
- Add the chicken broth and bring the pan back in the heat. Increase the heat to high and bring them to boil. Add the sugar and fish sauce. Lower the heat to medium-low, and let the stock simmer for 30 minutes.
- Add the chicken breast and let it poach for 10 minutes. When the chicken is cooked all the way through, remove the chicken, put it on a separate plate and slice. Strain the broth using a mesh strainer. Discard all the herbs and spices.
- In the meantime, while the broth is cooking, place the rice noodles in a large mixing bowl. Pour hot water until the noodles are fully submerged. Let it soak for 10 minutes. Drain and wash with cold water to remove the starch. Set aside. (this can be done ahead of time)
- Bring the stock to boil. Taste and adjust the seasoning. It should be tasty and a little salty on the side. Drop the noodles and let them cook for a minute.
- Divide the noodles between the bowls. Arrange the chicken pieces, the sprouts, sliced red onion, chilli, scatter the green herbs on top and then ladle the hot soup into the bowl. Serve with a slice of lime. Soy sauce or chilli sauce, and extra herbs on the side.