I'm Pho Realz: a Quick Way to Make Phở Gà (Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup)

Hi everybody,

As a Vietnamese, I love my phở as much as everybody else. After all, it is what we Vietnamese consider our national culinary treasure. Overseas, phở is the most popular Vietnamese dish. We have phở gà or chicken noodle soup and phở bò (beef noodle soup.) Both are equally time-consuming to cook. However, a year ago, one of my aunts told me the rotisserie chicken sold at Costco or Sam's Club would make a nice pot of chicken noodle soup. My mom did a much better job than I do, but after fudging with the formula, I finally got it right.

This post is a long-time request from my friend Christine. I finally remembered to take the pictures to make a post. This is more or less of a tutorial but hopefully, you will get the idea of how to make this delicious Vietnamese dish in a bowl :)

First of all, we need a rotisserie chicken, preferably just out of the oven. I bought mine at Sam's Club since I am a member. Sometimes, the chicken is meatier than usual, which means I score a jack-pot. If I get a bony chicken, it would be fine with me as I may throw half a chicken breast in the broth to boost the protein count.

At home, I remove the skin, bones, and meat into three piles. The skin and bones can be in one pile, it doesn't really matter as long as the meat is in a different location. Also, the lid makes a nice container for this step. After I'm done with this step, I put the chicken aside and wash my hands before proceeding to the next one.

What goes in the broth: I roughly chop a small onion, a couple cloves of garlic (that's about 5 cloves in the picture since I like things a tad galickier than normal people do), a piece of ginger the size of my thumb. Nope, I didn't even peel the skin as most of the good stuff is in there. Also, my ginger was pretty old, therefore, it is spicier than the fresh ones.

More stuff to go in the pot: phở seasoning blend. My mom sent this to me from the motherland. I'm sure if you go to an Asian store, you will find a variety of phở blends. But if you prefer to make your own, I'll tell you what's inside of the bag a little bit later.

Usually, we put the blend in some sort of bag or mesh tea ball or just a square of cheese cloth. Since I'm more of an environmentally friendly hobo these days, I go with the tea ball. It costs me around $2.50 at the health food store and it's totally reusable. There are various sizes but if you use it for phở, make sure to get the biggest size available.

What's in the blend:
Ok, if it were twenty years ago, aka the Pre-Google Era, you cannot extort this kind of information out of a Vietnamese. You see, the difference between the fantastic phở and a so-so one is pretty much in the blend. I tried various blends and so far, the one my mom sent me is the best.

This blend is about a palm size of dried aromatic spices with some medicinal properties. We have dried cinnamon, star anises, cloves, cardamom pod, peppercorn, fennel seeds, and licorice. The dried tangerine skin is an extra but it does make the broth taste better.

The little plastic baggie contains a mix of dried onion, garlic, and ginger powder. It adds a nice touch but I probably didn't need it since I already got the fresh one.

Wanna know how to cook this Vietnamese chicken noodle soup? Jump!

For most of my soup-cooking endeavors, I use a pressure cooker. It makes my life easier since the temperature inside the pot can get above 100 degree Celcius, aka boiling point. The only downside of cooking phở with the pressure cooker is the broth would not come out as clear as the traditional method. And by "traditional method," I mean you shimmer the broth on the stove until the cows come home. To me, the broth from the pressure cooker method tastes the same, albeit being a tad murkier. But my hungry stomach can't tell the difference so I'm down with it.

Remember the bones and skin we separated before? Well, it's time to dunk them in the pot. If there is some juice in the container, dump it in the pot, too. I usually fill the bottom part of the container with water to get the extra juice out of it and transfer it to the pot. I would do it until I have enough liquid to fill the limit line in the pressure cooker. Then, I put the chopped onion, garlic, and ginger in the liquid and turn on the heat.

At some point, the scums will rise up and I will extract them from the broth. That way, the broth will look a lot clearer afterward.

Then, I would turn down the heat, put the spice mix in the mesh ball, and drop the ball into the broth. The last step is to close the lid and let the pressure cooker do its thing. Usually, I would let the pressure ball jiggle for about 10 minutes before turning it off and go away. The flavor will develop while I'm gone.

From my own experience, phở tastes the best after you leave it alone overnight. However, my tummy begs to differ so I would do my best to get out of the house for at least three hours. When I come back, I will season it with good fish sauce, a little bit of sugar, and a tad of salt. The broth should have an aromatic fragrance with a touch of saltiness. I can't tell you how much seasoning to put in there but for the rotisserie chicken, sometimes I just need to season a little since the chicken has already been seasoned quite well.

Also, I would throw the chicken skin away and remove the extra fat on top of the broth. An easy way to do so is to put the pot of broth in the fridge overnight. The next day, just remove the frozen fat on the surface. I would keep the bones and spice mix in the broth to help the flavor develop further.

How to serve phở:

It's a complicated matter. You need a lot of stuff. I'm sorry I didn't take pictures of how I assemble my phở but I can coach you through.

  1. You need phở noodles (bánh phở): the fresh one tastes the best. You only need to dunk it quickly into a pot of hot water to revitalize it. Microwave would work, too, although the noodle would be a little bit dry. If you don't have fresh phở noodles in the supermarket like I do, dried phở noodles would do. The name you would look for is "Dried Vietnamese Rice Sticks" (which is a misnomer, btw). The brand I usually buy is the Sun Voi with the elephant on the bag. Usually, the bag costs somewhere between a dollar to two dollars and can comfortably serve 4 people. Or two if you are very hungry.
  2. Herbs: back home, when you go out and eat phở, they will serve you a plate full of various herbs. In the U.S, herbs cost a fortune and it's rare to see such a blossoming plate of herbs unless you live in California. We don't eat lettuce with phở, btw. No grated cabbage, either. That's a garnish for a totally different kind of noodle. What go with phở are: bean sprouts, mint, and Thai basil.
  3. Garnishment: this is what you would add on top of the chicken before adding the broth. It's a mix of sliced onion, chopped cilantro, and spring onion (aka scallion.) Usually, I would slice and chop them and mix everything in a bowl.
  4. Other stuff: you also need thinly-sliced japaleno (this is more of an American Vietnamese thing but somehow the flavors go well together,) hoisin sauce, and Siracha hot sauce. The last two usually serves in a tiny plate as a dipping sauce for the chicken. The Siracha hot sauce is hot so eat it carefully.
How to assemble a bowl of phở:
  1. Add enough phở noodles (fresh or cooked from dried version) for one person to a bowl. If you prefer your bean sprouts cooked, add it first, then add the noodles.
  2. Add the meat on top of your noodles. If you prefer white meat, just add the shredded chicken breast. If you prefer the heartier red meat, use the part from the thighs. If you have a cat named Belly who's hovering around your legs while you cook, give him the white meat.
  3. Add the garnishment on top of your meat.
  4. Add the broth, enough to cover the surface. My mom would sprinkle some black pepper on top but I don't like it.
How to eat your phở:
  1. Some people eat phở without bean sprouts or herbs. I don't blame them. However, it is more fun to eat with herbs and sprouts. I prefer my sprouts cooked al dente while my herbs fresh. I remove the mint and basil leaves from the stems, rip them with my fingers to release more fragrance, and add them to the bowl of piping hot soup.
  2. If you prefer your phở to be spicy, please feel free to add sliced jalapeno and Siracha hot sauce to your broth. What doesn't burn your tongue will unclog your nostril.
  3. The hoisin sauce is there just in case your broth is not salty enough. Back home, phở restaurants have a bottle each of fish sauce, hoisin sauce, and Siracha hot sauce as condiments. For some reasons, I never really used the fish sauce to season. A little bit of hoisin sauce is enough to add a touch of sweetness and saltiness to the broth.

Not my picture, I ate all of my phở before I remembered that I needed to take a picture
Last but not least, if the tabby cat named Belly still comes around asking for chicken, it's better to give it to him than hearing him meow through dinner. I swear to God, Belly knows whenever I cook phở gà. He always comes to my place looking very eager to eat. That cat knows good food when he smells it.

Cooking phở is fun and this method does cut down the time. If I am in a hurry, I can get a decent bowl of phở after an hour. Of course, the flavor would not be as intense as when I let the broth sit overnight. If you have more broth than you can eat, you can freeze the remaining and reheat when you have a phở attack again.

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