virtually vietnamese

We’re in the thick of it now. Flu season is upon us and has been raging for weeks. When my own honey succumbed to the dreaded virus, I scrambled to bring out the big guns–chicken soup (aka Jewish penicillin)–to help cure his ills. A soothing stock would clear his head, but I wanted to give it some oomph to help clear those sinuses, too. Pho (pronounced fuh) is a popular Vietnamese street dish of beef or chicken broth served over rice noodles with lots of garnishes. Usually prepared from scratch and simmered for hours, I put that recipe on a fast track by using homemade chicken stock I already had on hand. I infused the broth with the same charred aromatics and spices used in the traditional dish, then served it with a myriad of fresh toppings. This fragrant bowl packs a punch of flavor and texture, and the best part is you can make it as savory and spicy as you like. A delicious cure-all for whatever ails you.

Faux Pho


When I set out to concoct a sped-up version of this classic dish, I needed a base to start from. Jaden Hair of has a wonderful home version of Chicken Pho (along with other great Vietnamese recipes) on her blog that I could play off of. I substituted my own stock instead of boiling and reboiling the chicken and bones, but you could use a good store-bought stock, too–just be sure to choose low-sodium so you can control the salt content. Place the broth in a soup pot and bring to a simmer over low heat; preheat your broiler. Chop a small onion in half lengthwise and place on a baking sheet alongside a 3 inch knob of ginger. Place the pan a few inches below the broiler and broil until charred, turning frequently with tongs, about 15 minutes.

Prepare a spice packet: on a square piece of cheesecloth, place the star anise, whole cloves and coriander seeds. Gather the cloth ends, tie with a piece of kitchen twine, and place in the soup pot.
Remove the charred skin from the onion and the peel from the ginger. Thickly slice the ginger; add the ginger and onion to the pot. Stir in the sugar and fish sauce and bring back to a simmer.
Add the chicken breasts to the broth and simmer for 15 minutes until the meat is cooked through. Use tongs to remove the breasts to a cutting board, let cool, then shred the meat. 
Continue to simmer the broth for 15 minutes more. Using a strainer or spider, remove the spice packet and solids from the stock. Taste the broth and adjust the seasoning, adding more fish sauce or kosher salt, if needed.
The rice noodles traditionally used in this dish are called bánh phó, or rice stick noodles–kind of like a rice vermicelli–but I also like to use thicker cut rice noodles. Prepare according to package directions, making sure not to overcook them. 
Prepare all the garnishes for the table: thickly slice the scallions on the diagonal (thinly sliced red onion works here too), prep the cilantro and mint leaves (basil is another option), slice the chiles, quarter the limes. Add whatever toppings appeal to you.
Place a nice mound of noodles in the center of each bowl. Add the shredded chicken and ladle the hot broth over all. Bean sprouts are the classic accompaniment to this dish, but I prefer the tender bite of snow pea shoots instead; top each bowl with a handful. Serve with the garnishes and Sriracha (spicy) and hoisin sauce (sweet). Everyone can customize their bowls with the toppings they like. A cold glass of beer is the perfect quencher with this spicy soup.
Serves 4:
2 quarts chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 small yellow onion
1 3 inch piece of fresh ginger
1 star anise
2 whole cloves
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon fish sauce (nuoc nam)
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast (2 halves–about a pound)
12 ounces rice noodles, rice stick or thicker noodle
kosher salt
4 scallions, cut on the diagonal
4 ounces snow pea shoots or bean sprouts
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
2 hot chiles, thinly sliced
lime wedges
hoisin sauce