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My first attempt at PHO GA (Viet chicken noodle soup)

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  • Carb Lover Mar 9, 2006 10:59 PM
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Who doesn't love a good chicken noodle soup from any cultural tradition??!! It's just so comforting and warming and goes down easily when you're sick or when you're spanking healthy.

While I have many memories of my mom making a pot of pho bo (beef), I don't remember her making much pho ga. Instead, she often used homemade chicken broth as a base for chao (rice porridge).

Since I had another bag of fresh pho noodles (banh pho tuoi), I decided to attempt pho ga at home. BTW, my mom told me she bought these from Lion Market in San Jose, CA (possibly the freezer section). I modified a recipe from Authentic Vietnamese Cooking by Corinne Trang. Photo of my bowl is below. It wasn't as good as my last pho bo (linked below), but still good. See my questions for perfecting below.

What I did: Butcher a whole chicken into 8 pieces and keep all bones. Remove most of skin. Rub a little S&P on chicken and allow to briefly marinate while you prep other ingredients. Char a 2" piece ginger w/ skin on. Rotate over gas flame til outside is blackened. Cool for min. and then peel w/ spoon. Slice into a few rounds and bruise to release juices.

In stockpot, add a tsp. of canola oil over med. heat. Saute quartered onion and two cloves garlic til tan and fragrant. Deglaze w/ a little shao xing (not traditional but I like it!). Add ginger, 3 scallions that have been bruised, 4 peppercorns, bay leaf, and chicken. Cover w/ about 5 qts. water. Bring to boil, reduce heat to barest simmer, and skim off any foam. Leave uncovered.

After 30 min., remove breast meat and return any bone. After another 15 min., remove leg and thigh meat and return any bone. Skim off any foam or fat. Let simmer for another 1 hr. 45 min. Taste and then slowly season w/ salt, fish sauce, pinch sugar if desired, and wonton soup base if desired. Add each slowly so that you can refine by taste. I didn't plan on using the soup base for this version, but felt something missing when it wasn't in yet.

Gently simmer for another 30 min. (this is 3 hrs. total) and adjust seasoning if necessary. The broth will have reduced to about 3-4 qts. During that time, prepare the noodles, meat, and condiments. Plunge noodles into boiling water for a sec., rinse, and nest into bowls. Tear the reserved meat into large chunks and place atop noodles. Chop scallions and cilantro. Make pickled onions if desired. Pour boiling broth over noodles and meat and add garnishes (lime, mint, sriracha, etc) at table.

While the broth was delicious and drinkable to the last drop, I thought that it was missing something. I actually was really missing the star anise flavor, but I believe that star anise or clove isn't really used in pho ga. Thoughts? Should I have used more ginger? Any other tips for improving?

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  1. First off, I'm afraid I can't shed any light on your missing flavor. But can I just say how inredibly impressed I am? I love pho ga and I could never imagine making it at home. But now I know I must!

    It sounds like a lot of work, but it also sounds like an excellent way to spend a rainy afternoon.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Absonot

      Thanks, I'm glad it's inspired you! It's actually not that much work; it just takes some time and a little tending to.

      I know that some people think it's not cost effective to make pho at home, but this batch of pho must have cost me a total of $7 to make and it gave us 4 big bowls. The nice thing about making at home is that you can use really good ingredients if you want (like free-range, organic chicken, etc) and make sure the chicken isn't overcooked. I also boiled the chicken organs and tossed those into my husband's bowl.

      1. re: Carb Lover

        Looks and sounds terrific - pass me the giblets too! All I need to find now is a retailer who has "unborn" or "young" eggs... Yimster & ChowFun found them a couple of years ago but that place doesn't have them anymore and I haven't found them anywhere; don't know if it's some kind of health dept thing or what.

        Thanks to another post several weeks ago, I now know that to order this I would have to either say or show this printed out: Pho Ga Dac Biet Long Trung Non (Chicken noodle soup with unborn egg)... :-)

    2. m
      Melanie Wong

      Maybe some lemongrass? Also, adding a pig's foot creates more depth and sweetness.

      9 Replies
      1. re: Melanie Wong

        Thanks. I thought about lemongrass, but I think it would be too acidic and not subtle enough.

        The pig's foot idea is interesting. I do have one in the freezer that I need to use. Am also thinking that chicken's feet and/or some extra wings wouldn't hurt.

        1. re: Carb Lover

          I'm not sure star anise is what you want either. The first thing that clicked in my head was "Fat. Needs more fat."

          More wings/necks/butts would certainly help in any chicken stock. It's incredible how sometimes a dish will just come together if I add a tablespoon of pork lard, so I would imagine pho ga would be similar.

          1. re: nooodles

            Actually one of the wonderful things about Vietnamese stocks is how light and greaseles they are. It wouldn't have the same character with more fat, though I agree with you that fat would add flavor. I would suggest more bones to give it that minerally taste.

            1. re: nooodles

              you may be right. to make my pho ga broth i use the old carcasses of at least 2 chickens, then add a load of chicken wings, since you can buy them so cheaply. but i skim the fat off, so not sure.

            2. re: Carb Lover

              Lemongrass lifts the aroma and gives that savory herbal backdrop if you don't over do it. Funny, I don't think of it as acidic.

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                I really can't stand lemongrass. I love lemon, but I can't abide that grassy flavor. Alone, it evoke a visceral negative reaction. In other things, it's fine but I'd still rather they used a squeeze of lemon. I know, I'm strange.

                1. re: nooodles

                  I have the same reaction with cilantro but in very small amount I can tolerate it. I would try it but just a small bit. When I first read this topic and that something was missing my first thought was something fresh and green. Like a bit of fresh basil perhaps. Or even fresh bean sprouts.

              2. re: Carb Lover

                I agree about the chicken feet & wings - gives your base some more body and mouth feel. If you find the lemongrass too acidic or grassy - maybe some lime zest ( flavor without acidity ) or lemon zest. we have a meyer lemon tree and that zest / juice has a nice floral quality to it that might be good, although not traditional.

                1. re: Gordon Wing

                  Thanks for your and others' ideas. I do add a squeeze of fresh lime at the table, but don't think I would like zest in the broth. I may add a short piece of bruised lemongrass next time. Perhaps acidic was the wrong choice of words for lemongrass...I was afraid lemongrass would be overpoweringly herbacious, but could use a small dose.

            3. beautiful photo. my recipe does call for star anise, but no clove. it also calls for charring both the onion and ginger before adding them to the pot to make broth. i've never had chicken pho out, though, so i'm not sure if it's done that way. my recipe comes from a vietnamese cookbook, though.

              6 Replies
              1. re: hobokeg

                Thanks, which cookbook? I haven't eaten much pho ga out either since I prefer beef versions, but I do like star anise.

                1. re: Carb Lover

                  Mai Pham's book Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table her Pho Ga uses star anise toasted 2 minutes and whole cloves also toasted along with the charred ginger and onion.

                  1. re: Candy

                    Thanks, Candy. I thought that star anise in pho ga was a no-no, but looks like there are recipes out there w/ anise. I like the aroma and sweet flavor it lends...

                2. re: hobokeg

                  when you say charring the onion, should you blacken a whole onion over your gas burner then toss it in the soup, or chop it up first? And should you peel it to get rid of the blackened layer first?

                  Thanks!

                  1. re: gooseberry

                    sorry for the late reply...i slice both the ginger and onion--thick slices. then put them under the broiler till they're blackened a bit. not totally charred, though. then slice the ginger so that the full flavor comes out in the broth.

                  2. re: hobokeg

                    My VIetnamese Mom doesn't eat beef so pho ga is the only kind she makes. Her recipe was passed down from her Mom, so it's traditional and "authentic". Like hobokeg, she broils the onion and ginger until they're charred.

                    Also, you MUST have star anise or else it's no longer pho! Plus, there is NO bay leaf and NO lemongrass in traditional pho broth. (My Mom, the purist, would definitly not approve, LOL). To add more flavour, add fresh Vietnamese/Thai basil when serving.

                    Of course, there's nothing wrong with experimentation and culinary evolution, so, if you're going for fusion, then by all means, add whatever you want.

                  3. My mother is a pro at pho ga and I haven't tasted anything that comes close to it at restaurants. The way mom makes it is she buys 2 types of chicken. An old hen (at least, that's what it's called in Chinese/Vietnamese) for stewing to produce the broth, and a fresh chicken for cutting up and eating as the actual meat. She also puts in some dried scallop (the ones you can get at the Chinese market) for flavor.

                    She stews the old hen for about 3-4 hours.

                    Also, no star anise and ginger.

                    Hope this helps.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: PandanExpress

                      Hmmm...the two types of chicken sound good. I'll consider the dried scallop as well. Some say yes on the star anise; others say no--I better ask my mom to be the tie breaker on this one. Thanks to Sam F. for his suggestions below, too.

                      In all honesty, I haven't attempted pho ga at home again since I posted this (almost 2 yrs. ago!), but my motivation has been renewed w/ this thread's revival! Anyone else tried making pho ga at home??

                    2. Perhaps break the drumstick bones with the back of your cleaver for a part of the flavor. Also simmer the gizzards, diced. Strain all prior to putting the pho back together. Use palm sugar if you have it. Also the pepper should be white.

                      1. Star anise?