The October 2009 Daring Cooks’ challenge was brought to us by Jaden of the blog Steamy Kitchen. This recipe is from her new cookbook, The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook.
As a broth-based soup, Pho (pronounced Fuh? as if you were asking a question) is only as good as the stock used for its foundation. Sure you can create a quick meal with a store-bought version veiled with spice additions, but it will never achieve the depth of flavor and overall satisfaction that comes from slow simmering in the DIY vein. The provenance of the stock I used kindly came from an earnestly adventurous and slightly River Cottage-obsessed friend. He learned to butcher and process a pasture-raised broiler chicken at Back Forty Acres, a farm just in the next town over. If you are familiar with the writing of Michael Pollan or the philosophy of Joel Salatin, than this is the stuff of which Polyface Farms is made: sustainable, pasture-based, local farming. Ironically, I used to live a short distance from Polyface, but never knew of its existence until I moved to Michigan, and the sustainable farming notion resurged with national press.
That very evening of the kill I was invited to dinner. AT LAST! This was my chance to taste fresh chicken, the chicken of the past, chicken that wasn’t raised in a CAFO and actually dined on grass: a chicken that genuinely tastes like, well, chicken. I gladly partook in the family-style roasted chicken feast and then knowing Pho was in my cooking queue promptly inquired as to the intentions for the stock. This particular stock was made from the carcass simmering for over half a day with carrots and kale and leeks and onion and garlic and thyme and bay leaf. It had the familiar aroma of Thanksgiving. Lucky for me plenty was available for this comforting soup, making it that much more special or, if you will, in more colorfully descriptive terms: pho-king amazing!
Pho Ga Recipe
1 onion, unpeeled and cut in half
1 3-inch piece of ginger, unpeeled
2 TBS whole coriander seeds
4 whole cloves
2 whole star anise
2 quarts chicken stock
1 whole chicken breast (bone in or boneless)
1 to 2 TBS sugar
1 to 2 TBS fish sauce
1 lb. dried rice noodles (¼-inch wide)
2 cups bean sprouts
½ cup sliced red onions
1 lime, cut into wedges
Sliced fresh chili peppers
Place ginger and onion on a small baking sheet. The top of the onion should be about 4-inches from the heating element. Set to broil on high for 15 minutes. Turn the onion and ginger occasionally, to get an even char. The skin should get dark and both should get soft. After cooling, rub the onion to get the charred skin off; peel the ginger and cut into thick slices.
Heat a frying pan over medium heat. Add the coriander seeds, cloves and star anise. Toast until fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Transfer to a small dish to prevent burning.
In a large pot combine broth, charred onion, ginger, toasted spices, chicken, sugar and fish sauce; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer for 20 minutes, skimming the surface if necessary. Meanwhile, prepare rice noodles as directed on the package.
Once chicken breasts are cooked, use tongs to remove. Shred the meat with your fingers, discarding the bone if applicable. Strain broth and discard solids.
To serve, ladle the broth into bowls, add shredded chicken breast and noodles. Allow each person to customize their own bowl with additional accompaniments.