Chicken pho: A weekday edition, from a lifelong connoisseur
When you don’t have time to make a traditional broth for pho, don’t worry, said Andrea Nguyen in The Pho Cookbook (Ten Speed Press). Even the first pho was “genius make-do cooking.” The earliest version paired noodles and beef broth, and probably emerged in the early 1900s when the locals had to find uses for the beef bones left over when the French in Hanoi began slaughtering cows for steaks.
Pho (pronounced “fuhh?”) has since become Vietnam’s national dish, one that’s about both tradition and change. My quick chicken pho needs only 45 minutes cooking time, because you start by poaching the chicken in store-bought broth (I suggest Swanson’s). “The keys to this streamlined approach include toasting spices and drysautéing the ginger and green onion, which helps extract flavor fast.”
Recipe of the week
Quick chicken pho
¾-inch section ginger, peeled
2 medium-large green onions
1 very small bunch cilantro
1½ tsp coriander seeds
1 whole clove
3½ to 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups water
6 to 8 oz boneless, skinless chicken (breast or thigh)
½ tsp fine sea salt
5 oz dried narrow flat rice noodles
2 to 3 tsp fish sauce
½ tsp organic sugar, or 1 tsp maple syrup (optional)
Slice ginger into 4 or 5 coins. Smack with flat side of knife or meat mallet; set aside. Thinly slice green parts of green onion to yield 2 to 3 tbsp; set aside for garnish. Cut the rest into pinkie-finger lengths, bruise, and add to ginger. Coarsely chop leafy tops of cilantro to yield 2 tbsp; set aside for garnish. Reserve remaining sprigs.
In 3- to 4-quart pot, toast coriander seeds and clove over medium heat until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add ginger and bruised green onion. Stir about 30 seconds, until aromatic. Slide pot off heat and wait 15 seconds to briefly cool; pour in broth. Return pot to burner; add water, reserved cilantro sprigs, chicken, and salt. Bring to boil over high heat, then lower to gently simmer for 30 minutes. While broth simmers, soak rice noodles in hot water until pliable and opaque. Drain, rinse, and set aside. After 5 to 10 minutes of simmering, chicken should be firm and cooked through. Transfer meat to bowl, flush with cold water to arrest cooking, and drain. Let cool, then shred into bite-size pieces. Cover loosely to prevent drying.
When broth is done, pour through finemesh strainer positioned over 2-quart pot. Discard solids. You should have about 4 cups liquid. Season broth with fish sauce and sugar or maple syrup (if needed), to create strong savory-sweet note. Bring to boil over high heat. Put noodles in noodle strainer and dunk in hot broth to heat and soften, 5 to 60 seconds. Lift noodles from pot and divide between two bowls. Lower heat to keep broth hot. Arrange chicken on top of noodles in bowls and garnish with chopped green onion, cilantro, and a sprinkling of black pepper. Taste broth and adjust salt. Return to boil, then ladle into bowls. Serves 2.