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Pho-ish Chicken

‾‾Our daughter, Sara, just got back from a 10-day trip to Vietnam. According to her, one of the highlights of the trip was a boat ride through the fascinating and lovely Mekong Delta. Now I know I’m going to really date myself here, but I’m of the generation that has trouble not thinking of the Mekong Delta as the place where John Kerry commanded a Swift boat, patrolling those waterways and seeking out “hostile forces” and getting shot at. What a joy to think it’s now a much-heralded spot to visit.

Anyway, after hearing Sara rave about that fabulous food of Vietnam, I’m determined to make some for Andy and me. I love Sara’s Banh Mi recipe from her Picnics cookbook (shameless pitch), but I want soup on this chilly day, not a sandwich. We love beef Pho but have never tried chicken Pho, so here we go. I got my ideas from a Smitten Kitchen post and she got her ideas from Charles Phan of SF’s Slanted Door. And I also used ideas from a blog by Nadia Lim.

Pho-ish Chicken

  • Servings: 4
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This is a very simplified way to fix a Chicken Pho (pronounced Fuh, not Pho. It rhymes with Duh, not Dough. Obviously, homemade chicken stock is better, but we're in a hurry.

Ingredients

  • 2 unpeeled yellow onions, quartered
  • 1 ½” piece of ginger, cut into 3 pieces and smashed
  • 6-8 c good quality chicken broth or stock
  • 3 whole star anise
  • ½ cinnamon stick (about 3”)
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs (I used Mary’s chicken – 7 thighs were in a pound, but the only reason that matters is that the cooking time might need to be increased with bigger thighs).
  • 1 T (or to taste) fish sauce (I use Red Boat)
  • 8 oz thin dried rice noodles, cooked according to package directions
  • Garnishes: Your choice of sliced green onions, bean sprouts, torn basil leaves (Thai basil is perfect but regular works too), chopped cilantro leaves, thinly sliced jalapenos.
  • Serve with quartered limes and sriracha sauce and/or hoisin sauce

Directions

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Line a pan with aluminum foil, place the onions, cut side down, and the ginger on the foil and roast in the oven for 30 minutes. Rinse the onions to cool and then peel off outer layer and cut off tops and bottoms.   Add the onions and the ginger to the chicken broth. Add the anise, cinnamon, coriander, and sugar, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. With a slotted spoon or small strainer, remove the chunky things from the broth. Add the chicken thighs to the strained broth and simmer for another 15 -20 minutes or until the thighs are just cooked. Remove the thighs and either cut up or shred with forks.   If you want a clear broth, as is typical in pho, you should strain the broth, using a fine mesh strainer.

Add about half of the cut-up thighs back into the broth and stir in the fish sauce.  Reheat, if necessary.

Dish up the cooked noodles into soup bowls; add the chicken and broth and top with the garnishes of your choice (see above).

Save the remainder of the chicken for a Banh Mi sandwich, a chicken salad, or fried rice. Freeze leftover Pho for another day.

Recipe provided by Big Little Meals and Andy and Ann

Homemade Chicken Broth

You’ll never regret doing this.  Pick a day when you’re a little bored and have a lot of time.  Turn on some music, enter your kitchen and make broth!  A really wild and crazy cook with lots of big pans might make several kinds of broth (pork? vegetable? chicken?) all on the same day, but most of us aren’t quite that hard-working.  So pick chicken as your go-to (unless you’re a vegetarian, of course).  Our friend, David (married to Frankie, my roommate from my junior year at Colorado College – oh so many years ago), says he only cooks by looking in the refrigerator and using what’s there.  This is ideal for that.

Pick your biggest pot for the top of the stove.  My mother gave me mine, saying that everyone needs a really big pot, and I’m still using it, probably 45 years later (fyi – it’s 6″ deep and 12″ across, but a slightly smaller one would work too).  Once your chicken has cooked for hours and hours and has been cooled and strained, divide the broth into the perfect size (for you) freezer containers and freeze.  I think 4 cups is ideal for 2 people and 2 cups for 1 person.

Homemade Chicken Broth

  • Servings: depends
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I kid you not.  You don’t need a recipe for this.  If you have some cooked leftover chicken, add the bones and skin to the pot, if it doesn’t have any super-intense spices on it.  If you’re buying uncooked chicken, don’t bother with buying a whole one.  The white meat will be wasted and doesn’t add much, except dry meat.   Instead buy wings, backs, necks.  I don’t do feet, but maybe you do.  Buy as much as you can get into your really BIG (not little) pot, maybe 4-5 pounds?  You want lots of bones and skin.

The next step may be controversial.  I’ve adopted the Chinese way of putting the chicken in the pot (nothing else at this point), filling the pot with cold water, barely covering the chicken, bringing it all to a boil, letting it boil for about 2 minutes (it will get really nasty and foamy looking) and then dumping that all into a colander in the sink, rinsing everything, including the chicken and the pan, off, putting the cleansed chicken back into the cleansed pot, re-filling the pot with cold water until it barely covers the chicken, bringing the water back to a simmer, and  then starting the real broth-cooking, adding the vegetables, etc. at that time.  The only catch to this is that it’s very tricky and scary when you pour out the water, because the pan is heavy and hot.  The advantage to this approach is that the time-consuming, slightly-annoying task of skimming off the scum for about 10 minutes has pretty much been alleviated.

If you don’t want to risk scalding yourself (or your dog who is beneath your feet, watching you), do this instead:  barely cover the chicken with water, bring it all to a hardy boil, turn the heat down to a simmer, stir, and skim off the scum which comes to the surface until it quits coming.  My mother would even take a paper towel and go around the edge of the pot to remove scum, so, of course, I do that too, if I’m using the scum-removing approach.

In either case, once your broth has had the scum removed, add lots of what you’ve got on hand.  Parsley?  check.  Carrots?  check.  Celery? check.  Onion? check.  Same with garlic.  Thyme?  Oregano? perfect – about 1 tsp each.  A leek? fabulous.  Salt, of course.  Start with about 1 T of kosher salt.  Pepper – about 1 tsp.  Tony Chachere’s Seasoning? YES! to taste.  Bay leaves?  1 or 2. Or you could go the Asian route and add ginger, scallions, lemongrass, maybe some cilantro,  a few slices of a jalapeno pepper, fish sauce, and/or star anise.

Simmer everything – with no lid or with a lid just partially on – for as long as you are willing, hopefully about 3 hours or more.  Do NOT let it boil hard.  I did that recently and ended with very cloudy stock.  Add hot water, if necessary, to keep the chicken covered.

Then cool, strain, and freeze.  FYI – my 4# of chicken backs yielded about 10 cups of broth.

Once cooled you’ll want to remove the fat that has come to the surface.  If you do this after it’s been frozen, you’ll have to kind of scrape it off before it defrosts.  I usually divide my broth into freezer containers, refrigerate it over night, remove the fat, and then freeze.

Recipe provided by BigLittleMeals and Andy & Ann

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