Phở Gà (Chicken Pho)

May 7, 2012

Reason respects the differences, and imagination the similitudes of things.
~Percy Bysshe Shelley

Deceptively simple yet complex, aromatic gàgà heaven in a bowl. Phở Nạm Bò (beef pho) was the talk earlier here, but it should be remembered that before the French incursion, cattle were cherished beasts of burden in Vietnam. They tilled rice fields and were not usually slaughtered for fodder. More of a pollo-pescatarian society except for the divine sus. So, the Việts have also embraced the less extravagant, more native, and still luscious chicken kin, Phở Gà — which is embellished with more or less depending on the region. While each kitchen ladles its own brand of phở, the further north, the focus is on intense, clear broth and far fewer garnishes. Less bling in Hà Nội than in Hồ Chí Minh City bowls.

Was phở born of feu? Some opine that the word phở is a corruption of the French feu (“fire”). So, maybe phở is a local adaptation of the French pot au feu or beef stew. As with pot au feu, cartilaginous, marrow rich bones and roasted vegs are simmered for hours to make a broth with the scum skimmed and discarded. Not a stretch really.

CHICKEN PHO (PHO GA)

1 – 4 lb chicken or leg thigh quarters, excess fat removed
Chicken back, necks, or other bony chicken parts
2 qts chicken broth
1 qt water

2 onions, peeled & quartered
3 – 1 1/2″ slices ginger, also sliced lengthwise
2 T coriander seeds, toasted
6 cardamom pods, toasted
6 star anise, toasted
2 cinnamon sticks, toasted
4 whole black peppercorns, toasted
4 whole red or pink peppercorns, toasted
4 whole green peppercorns, toasted
1 lime, quartered
4 stalks lemon grass, crushed and sliced
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
4 sprigs fresh mint leaves, stalks bound
6 sprigs fresh cilantro, stalks bound
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Pinch of sea salt

1 T fish sauce (nước mắm nhi)
2 T raw sugar
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1 lb flat rice noodles (bánh phở)
Sea salt

Garnishes
Hoisin sauce
Hot chile sauce (e.g., Sriracha)
Lime wedges
Bean sprouts
Scallions cut in half, then lengthwise into tendrils
Thai or small Italian basil leaves
Thai or serrano chiles, stemmed and thinly sliced
Cilantro leaves, roughly cut
Mint leaves, roughly cut

Preheat oven to 350 F

Arrange onion quarters, rounded side down, and ginger pieces on baking sheet. Roast until onions begin to soften, about 20-25 minutes. Cut off dark, charred edges if any. In a heavy, medium pan over medium heat, carefully toast coriander, cardamom, star anise, cinnamon sticks and peppercorns until fragrant.

Leave whole or cut chicken into 6-8 pieces or so. To make the broth, put the chicken, back, neck or other bony parts in a large, heavy stockpot. Add the remaining ingredients (onions, ginger, coriander, cardamom, star anise, cinnamon, peppercorns, lime, lemongrass, garlic, mint, cilantro, red pepper flakes, salt) and bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Throughout the process, use a ladle or large, shallow spoon to skim off any scum that rises to the top. Cook until the flesh feels firm yet still yields a bit to the touch, about 25-30 minutes. Carefully lift the chicken out of the broth and place into a large bowl or on a deep platter. Keep the broth at a quiet simmer.

Once adequately cooled and the chicken can be handled, remove the chicken skin, pull the chicken off the bones and set the meat aside in a foil tented bowl. Do not cut into smaller pieces yet.

Return the leftover carcass and bones to the broth in the pot, add fish sauce (nước mắm nhi) and raw sugar, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Adjust the heat to simmer the broth gently for another 1 hour. Then, strain the broth through a fine mesh sieve or a coarse mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth into a saucepan. Discard the solids and again use a ladle to skim fat from the top of the broth. Leave some fat for flavor.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the noodles and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Cut the cooked chicken into slices about 1/4″ thick and bring the broth to a gentle simmer in the saucepan. Now build…nest noodles in bowls, arrange the chicken slices over, and ladle the broth on top. Then, serve promptly with whatever garnishes suit your palate (hoisin, sriracha, lime, bean sprouts, scallions, basil, cilantro, chiles, mint and friends).

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