Birthday Pho!

The attractive nuisance made me pho for my birthday! From our new favorite cookbook: Vietnamese Home Cooking, by Charles Phan.

I’ve seen pho recipes that say, simply, don’t bother. It’s too much work, just go out and have some Vietnamese grandma make it for you. We’re big fans of Vietnamese grandmas’ pho, but this was a cool experience and totally delicious. Don’t try this at home if you don’t have many hours to devote to it. And when you make the broth, be forewarned, that bag of chicken parts from the butcher may include a chicken head. (Photo taken but not included. You’re welcome.) But if you are going to make pho, this was a good recipe. It took time but it was not as difficult as some others I’ve seen. We find that eating pho is so satisfying. So you can only imagine how satisfying it is to eat pho that you’ve made yourself.

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Pho Ga: Chicken Noodle Soup (Charles Phan)

Ingredients

  • 1 (3-pound) whole chicken
  • 6 whole scallions
  • 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 3 quarts chicken stock (see chicken stock recipe)
  • Fish sauce, for seasoning
  • 1 (16-ounce) package dried rice vermicelli, cooked according to package directions
  • 1 bunch scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
  • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • Crispy fried shallots

Garnishes

  • Thai basil sprigs
  • Mung bean sprouts
  • Limes, cut into wedges
  • Jalapeño chiles, stemmed and thinly sliced into rings

Serves 6

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the chicken, scallions, ginger, and salt and boil for 15 minutes, then turn off the heat, cover the pot and let stand for 15 minutes. If your chicken is larger than 3 pounds, let stand 10 minutes longer.

2. Just before the chicken is ready, prepare a large ice-water bath. When the chicken is done, remove it from the pot (discarding the cooking liquid) and immediately submerge it in the ice-water bath, which will stop the cooking and give the meat a firmer texture. Let stand for 20 minutes, until the chicken is cool enough to handle easily, remove from the water, and pat dry. Pull the chicken meat from the bones, discarding the bones and skin. Shred the meat with your fingers; you should have about 4 cups. (This step can be done a day ahead.)

3. In a large saucepan, bring the stock to a boil over high heat. Taste for seasoning and add fish sauce, if needed.

4. To ready the garnishes, arrange the basil, bean sprouts, lime wedges, and chiles on a platter and place on the table.

5. Divide the rice noodles evenly among warmed soup bowls. Top each serving with about 3/4 cup of the shredded chicken, then divide the scallions and cilantro evenly among the bowls. Ladle the hot stock over the top, dividing it evenly, and sprinkle with the fried shallots. Serve immediately, accompanied with the platter of garnishes.

Chicken Stock

Ingredients

  • 1 large yellow onion, unpeeled
  • 3-inch piece of fresh ginger, unpeeled
  • 7 pounds bony chicken parts, such as back, wings, and necks
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 ounces light brown palm sugar or 2 tablespoons light brown sugar

Makes about 5 1/2 quarts

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the onion and ginger on a rimmed baking sheet and roast for about 1 hour, until the onion is soft and beginning to ooze. Remove from the oven and let the onion and ginger cool until they can be handled. Peel the onion and cut in half. Slice the unpeeled ginger into 1/4-inch thick coins.

2. While the onion and ginger are roasting, blanch the chicken bones: To ensure the pot is large enough to blanch the bones without boiling over, put the bones in the pot and add water to cover by 1 inch. Then remove the bones, set aside, and bring the water to a boil.

3. When it is at a rolling boil, add the bones, return the water to a boil, and boil for 3 minutes. Drain the bones into a colander and rinse under cold running water. Rinse the pot and return the rinsed bones to the pot.

4. Add the onion halves, ginger slices, salt, sugar, and 8 quarts of fresh water to the pot and bring to a boil over high heat, skimming off any scum that forms on the surface. Lower the heat so the liquid is at a gentle simmer and simmer for 4 hours, skimming as need to remove any scum that forms on the surface.

5. Remove the pot from the heat and, using a spider or slotted spoon, remove and discard the large solids. Strain the stock through a fine-mesh sieve into a large container, let sit for a few minutes (or refrigerate overnight), then skim most of the fat from the surface (leave some, as it gives the stock better flavor and mouth-feel). Season to taste with salt.

6. Use immediately, or let cool completely, then transfer to practical-size airtight containers and refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

Crispy Fried Shallots

Ingredients

  • 2 cups thinly sliced shallots (about 4 large shallots)
  • 2 cups canola oil

1. In a small saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat until it registers 275 degrees on a deep-fry thermometer. Add the shallots and cook, stirring, until light golden brown, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the shallots to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

2. Increase the heat to high and place a fine-mesh sieve over a heat-proof bowl. When the oil registers 350 degrees on the deep-fry thermometer, add the once fried shallots and cook until they are crispy and well-browned, about 1-2 seconds, watching carefully so the shallots don’t burn.

3. Immediately pour the oil and shallots through the sieve to stop the cooking, then transfer the shallots to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Reserve the oil for another use. The shallots will keep, stored in an airtight container for 1 day, but they’re best the day they are made.

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