I love pho, especially when I get to share it with friends. I think I first enjoyed this flavorful Vietnamese soup when I was living in Paris, and the many places that serve it in DC continue to keep me satisfied. My favorite pho truck even stops by my office every week, so I can slurp up rice noodles and bean sprouts on the regular. I usually opt for beef pho, but when my friends and I saw a recipe for chicken pho pop up online, we immediately made plans to get together and make it in an event that was sure to span a long and wonderful day. We were not disappointed. We spent a glorious 12 hours eating (cheese, pickled grapes, candied chickpeas, Vietnamese coffee ice cream, and pho, of course), laughing, attempting yoga poses, and generally rejuvenating our souls. This pho is an invitation to make soup and happy memories.
If you’re going to make the chicken stock on the same day that you plan to eat the pho, then you have quite a few hours ahead of you. We loved having that time to lounge around, but, if you’re on a more expedited schedule, I think it would be perfectly fine to start with already-prepared chicken stock, modifying the recipe as I’ll indicate below.
But if you’re starting from scratch, heat your oven to 400º F. Quarter 2 onions, and smash 3 pieces of ginger (1/2 inch each) with the side of your knife. Put the onion and ginger on a baking sheet, and char them in the oven for about 30 minutes. While the charring is underway, fill a very large stock pot with 4 quarts (16 cups) of water, and bring it to a boil. While the water boils, cut the back bone out of a 3.5-4 pound chicken. Then, use a sharp knife to quarter the chicken- cut the chicken in half lengthwise between the breasts, and then use the knife to separate the thighs from the breasts. Alternatively, you could use an already cut-up chicken or 4 pre-butchered chicken quarters. When the water boils, add the chicken back and quarters to the pot along with 1.5 pounds of additional chicken wings, the charred onion and ginger, 1 tablespoon of kosher salt, and 2 teaspoons of sugar. Add in the aromatics as well: 2 cinnamon sticks; 4 star anise; 1 tablespoon of green cardamom pods, 1 teaspoon of coriander seeds, 1 teaspoon of cloves, and a few basil and/or cilantro stems. Phew!
Reduce the stock to a simmer, and let it cook gently, uncovered, for 30 minutes until the chicken quarters are cooked through. Remove the chicken quarters (not the chicken wings) from the stock, let them cool slightly, and then pull the meat off of the bones. Refrigerate the meat, and add the bones back into the pot.
Allow the stock to simmer for 2 hours.
If you’re making pho using already prepared chicken stock, then begin by filling the pot with 4 quarts of stock. Add the smashed ginger, a quartered chicken, and all of the aromatics. Simmer the stock for 30 minutes until the chicken cooks, remove the meat from the bones, and then let the stock simmer for another 30 minutes or so until the flavors are infused. Proceed with the rest of the recipe.
Strain the stock to remove all of the chicken bones, herbs, and spices. Remove the fat from the chicken stock – I prefer using a fat separator, but you could also try to skim it off with a spoon. Alternatively, if you plan to eat the pho on another day, allow the stock to cool, refrigerate it, and then remove the fat once it has hardened. Keep the stock on a low simmer, and add between 1/8 and 1/4 cup of fish sauce to taste. Return the chicken meat to the pot to re-warm.
In a separate bowl of warm water, soak the rice noodles for about 20 minutes until they are pliable, or prepare them according to their package’s instructions.
While the noodles soften, prepare your toppings. In a small saucepan, heat 2 cups of vegetable oil over medium-high until it reaches 275° F. Use a candy thermometer if you’d like to be precise and avoid burning your toppings. While the oil heats, thinly slice 4 shallots. Add the shallots to the oil, and fry them until they are a golden brown color. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the crispy shallots to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Sprinkle the shallots with salt. Try not to eat too many of them before the soup is ready…it’s a true challenge! Prepare your other garnishes- gather some bean sprouts, basil, cilantro, lime wedges, and sliced jalapeño.
Once everything is prepared, assemble your bowls! Add in some of the rice noodles. Top the noodles with your very flavorful broth and chicken. Add a few jalapeño slices, some basil and cilantro leaves, a handful of bean sprouts, and a squeeze or three of lime. Top the soup with the crispy shallots. Grab your chopsticks and spoon and enjoy! If you like, you can also stir some hoisin sauce or sriracha into the soup for added flavor (not that it needs it). I hope this healthy, hearty, and warming bowl of happiness gives you a reason to bring the people you love together.
This recipe is adapted from Smitten Kitchen.
- Onions- 2
- Fresh ginger- 1.5 inches
- Whole chicken- 3.5-4 pounds
- Chicken wings- 1.5 pounds
- Kosher salt- 1 tablespoon
- Sugar- 2 teaspoons
- Cinnamon sticks- 2
- Star anise- 4
- Green cardamom pods- 1 tablespoon
- Coriander seeds- 1 teaspoon
- Cloves- 1 teaspoon
- Fish sauce- up to 1/4 cup
- Rice noodles- 1 pound
- Bean sprouts
- Vegetable oil- 2 cups
- Shallots- 4