Pho Real

I won't pretend the recipe presented here is quick. However, it is easy and it is incredibly delicious. If you've come to expect phở, the classic Vietnamese noodle soup, to be an eating-out treat, it's time to learn to make it at home. While time-consuming, it's very easy to put together and it can easily be assembled in stages to make final assembly a fast, simple process. And, when you're done, you can sit down to a bowl that looks like this:

The key to amazing phở is a rich, beautifully-flavored broth and lots of amazing garnishes to be added at the table. When you realize that, the cooking part really comes down to making a good broth. My version of the broth takes a few steps, but leaves you with a complex broth that lends everything you want to a steaming bowl of soup. You begin by roasting onions and ginger until they are nearly blackened. You then take the softened, slightly charred aromatics and combine then with chicken thighs and some additional flavor elements in a stockpot. Add enough water to cover everything and you're ready to begin the long simmering process. Along the way, you'll take the meat off the bones and return the bones and skin to the stockpot, add a generous handful of sprouts to give it a little something extra, and have some filtering to do at the end of the long simmer. Because it takes a while, I tend to make the broth a day or two ahead of time so that I can focus on the other important part of making phở when it comes time to assemble a bowl: the garnishes.

I've listed a lot of items for garnishing in this recipe. You can pick and choose as you'd like, although I really love all of them for a perfect bowl of phở. While the noodles are soaking, I gather together the garnishes and set out bowls of each at the table. Then I have everyone get a bowl of noodles, toss a few scallions on top, and ladle a generous helping of the broth over the top. Then, at the table, it's up to each diner to finish their bowl of phở as they see fit. Swirls of sauces, fresh herbs, fried shallots or red onions, and crunchy sprouts and sliced hot peppers all come together to make this a soup that really is a very special meal.

Because of the nature of this dish, I like to set out both spoons and chopsticks for enjoying a proper bowl of phở. You can use the chopsticks to easily pluck noodles and garnishes that have soaked in the delicious broth and the spoon makes sure you don't waste a drop of that amazing soup. If you've never tried making it at home before, I recommend planning ahead a little and doing just that. It's an experience you'll want to adopt as a tradition.

Chicken Phở

For the Broth:
  • 2 unpeeled yellow onions, quartered
  • 3 slices of unpeeled fresh ginger, 1/2-inch-thick and smashed
  • About 4 quarts cold water -- see below
  • 3 pounds chicken thighs or mixed dark meat chicken
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • Additional spices (optional): Cinnamon, star anise, black cardamoms, coriander seeds, fennel seeds and/or cloves
  • 1/4 cup Asian fish sauce
For Assembling:
  • 1 pound dried rice noodles, bánh phở if you can find them
  • 4 large scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 pound mung bean sprouts
  • 1/2 cup torn Thai basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves
  • 2 limes, cut into wedges
  • 2-3 jalapeños, thinly sliced
  • Asian chili-garlic sauce
  • Hoisin sauce
  • Fried shallots or red onions

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Put the onions and ginger on a lightly oiled baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes, or until softened and browned at the edges.

Add the roasted onions and ginger to a large stockpot. Add the chicken, salt, sugar, and any of the optional spices (I added half a cinnamon stick, coriander seeds, and fennel seeds). Add enough water to fully cover everything in the pot and bring the water to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer until the chicken is cooked, about 30 minutes.

Remove the chicken to a plate and let cool slightly. Remove the meat from the bones and refrigerate the meat for later. Return the skin and bones to the stockpot and simmer for an additional 2 hours. At this point, I also added a generous handful of the mung bean sprouts to the pot. This is an optional step, but I like the subtle texture and flavor the sprouts add to the broth. After the broth has simmered another 2 hours, strain it into a large soup pot and cook over high heat until reduced to 12 cups. Stir in the fish sauce; adjust to taste. (At this point, the broth can be refrigerated for up to two days prior to final assembly and serving. I love ladling the broth into canning jars because they store nicely. You'll need 3-4 jars for storing this amount of broth.)

When you are ready for serving the soup, warm the broth in a stock pot. Add the reserved chicken to the broth and simmer until heated through. In a large bowl of warm water, soak the noodles until softened and pliable, about 20 minutes or according to the package instructions, if they differ. Drain well.

To serve the soup, Divide the noodles between 6-10 bowls (depending on the size of your bowls and the appetites of those at the table) and sprinkle with the scallion. Ladle the broth and chicken over the noodles. Serve with the bean sprouts, basil, cilantro, lime juice, jalapeños, chili-garlic sauce, hoisin sauce, and crispy shallots or red onions. Given the variety in the bowls, I like to serve this soup with both spoons and chopsticks.

  • Yields: 6-10 servings
  • Preparation Time: 3 hours and 20 minutes

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