Friday, August 23, 2013

Love me some Pho

Sometimes it’s nice to eat light in the evening. A large lunch or a lunch eaten late in the afternoon sometimes warrants very little for dinner. In these cases, a clear soup is ideal. That was what I decided on for dinner the other night.

Pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup consisting of broth, linguine-shaped rice noodles, a few herbs and meat. It is a popular street food in Vietnam and the specialty of a number of restaurant chains around the world. Pho is usually served with either beef or chicken, but can be made with pork or tofu. Styles of pho differ by noodle width, sweetness of broth, and choice of herbs.

Pho originated in the early 20th Century in northern Vietnam. In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, refugees brought pho to many countries. In the United States, pho began to enter the mainstream during the 1990’s as relations between the U.S. and Vietnam improved. Today it is ubiquitous in the Vietnamese neighborhoods of larger cities.

The key to good pho is the broth. The broth is made especially flavorful by simmering beef bones (for beef pho) or chicken bones (for chicken pho), roasted onion, roasted ginger along with spices such as Saigon cinnamon, star anise, black cardamom, coriander seed, fennel seed and clove. The spices are often wrapped in cheesecloth or a soaking bag to prevent them from floating all over the pot. Salt is typically added at the end.

Vietnamese dishes can be incredibly healthy as they are typically served with lots of greens, herbs, vegetables, and accompaniments such as dipping sauce, hot and spicy pastes, and a squeeze of lime or lemon juice. 

Toppings for pho typically include green onions and/or white onions, Thai basil (not sweet basil), fresh Thai chili peppers, lemon or lime wedges, bean sprouts and cilantro. Hoisin sauce and chili sauce are usually sitting on the tables of pho restaurants. All these condiments are served alongside the soup on a separate plate, such as in the photo, right. 

Vegetarian variations of pho use vegetable broth as a base, along with tofu for protein and a larger variety of vegetables, such as carrots and broccoli.

Either way you serve it, pho is incredibly light and healthy. Great for a light supper when you don’t want to eat too much.

Roasted chicken bones
In my opinion, the best way to make the broth is by slow cooking it in a slow cooker all day. I do this when I make bone broth. I just throw the carcass of a roasted chicken, for instance, in the slow cooker and let it cook anywhere from 24-48 hours. What's great about this method is that the chicken was roasted beforehand, thereby providing additional flavor; the bones get a chance to be useful instead of being thrown out; the broth contains important minerals that have been extracted from the bones; not to mention that the deep rich flavor that results from cooking it this way cannot be matched by any store-bought chicken broth!
Homemade chicken broth,
deep and rich!

When you've got the broth made, the hard work is done, so that you can quickly assemble the soup in the evening. Prepare the broth the evening before by placing everything in the slow cooker insert and refrigerating it overnight. In the morning, take out the insert and place it into the slow cooker and turn the crock pot on low. When you get home, boil the chicken. While the chicken is cooking, start chopping your herbs and vegetables.

Directions for Chicken Pho

Round up some chicken bones (again, the carcass from a roasted chicken is perfect)*. Place bones, ideally with some meat left on them, in your slow cooker and cover with water. If you have time, roast the following first: 1 chopped white onion and a 1-2” piece of fresh ginger, sliced, until slightly browned. Otherwise, just add them raw to the slow cooker. In addition to the bones and water, onion and ginger, gather 1 stick cinnamon, 1 star anise, 1 tsp. each of cardamom, coriander, fennel seed and 2-3 whole cloves, and place all of the above in the slow cooker and cook all day. 

If making vegetable broth, don’t overdo it. A longer cooking time does not improve a vegetable broth. In fact, sometimes it turns downright bitter. Add as many vegetables as you can that are typically used for veg broth (e.g., carrots, celery, onion and/or leek, bay leaf, peppercorns) in addition to all the spices called for in pho.

Assembling the soup:

Boil a chicken breast or 1-2 thighs per person in some water. When cooked, remove from the water and chop into bite sized pieces, reserving the hot water. Add your rice noodles to that liquid, allowing them to sit there for 5-10 minutes. In the meantime:

Slice a white onion
Chop a few scallions
Wash some bean sprouts
Slice some white mushrooms (optional)
Chop a Thai chili (or a jalapeno)
Wash and dry some Thai basil and cilantro (chop them if you like)

Taste your broth. If it has enough flavor for you, then you’re ready. If it tastes like it needs something, you can add a shot of Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, or a teeny bit of soy sauce or tamari to it.  Taste again. If it lacks any salt at this point, add some.

Place as much meat as you want into a deep noodle bowl, then ladle 1½ - 2 cups of your homemade broth over it. Add a ½ cup of the "cooked" rice noodles, and a little bit of each of the toppings. Serve with Sriracha hot sauce and hoisin sauce as they do in the pho houses. Nom nom!

* For a traditional beef pho, check out this blog article. It's got good advice for preparing the beef bones and what kind of meat to use.

No comments :

Post a Comment

Print Friendly