Pho Ga: Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup

Pho Ga: Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup

You haven’t experienced wild until you’ve lived in the heart of Hollywood. My little duplex was squished in between movie-star wannabes, the homeless pushing shopping carts piled 8-ft high with trash treasures and gold-chained pimps proclaiming to the world, “GIRLS! GIRLS! GIRLS! Right over here!”

The location was by choice and I had a very good reason for living 2 blocks from the golden sidewalk stars. It was called, “just so I can say that I did.” I know. I was young. But seriously, where else can I shimmy into CFM boots, don an electric pink wig and just blend in without getting mistaken for $25? When the sun sets and street-level neon gas flows, Hollywood is pure freedom of expression.

After a night of clubbing 2 blocks south, my friends and I would walk 3 blocks east to a small, rinky-dink Vietnamese noodle shop to fill up on pho. Asian girly posters littered the walls and the same bad karaoke DVD played over and over. Thank goodness the steaming, hot, intoxicating bowl of pho drowned out the awful Chinglish rendition of, “Baby Got Back.” That soup was un-pho-king believable.

I don’t know what secret family recipe they followed, but after all these years, I finally mastered that bowl of chicken pho in my home kitchen, boots not required.

Pho Ga

Believe it or not, I’m actually more crazy and bold now that I’m in my mid-thirties. When I was younger, I cared deeply about what people thought of me.  Now I live in a very tame, sorta Stepford Wives-ish, suburban neighborhood (well, I guess any place is tame compared to Hollywood Blvd.) I kind of feel its my duty as an Official Ambassador of Chaos & Confusion to cause a little bit of trouble, you know, stir the pot a bit, just to make sure that my house doesn’t get sucked into the vortex of boring, bland and god-forbid…NORMAL.

My Modern Asian version of Pho Ga, Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup, takes everything that I learned from T’s Mom, Into the Vietnamese Kitchen and simplifies it just a bit for the home cook, but still as wonderful and authentic as it can be.

Pho Ga

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Pho Ga - Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup Recipe

Servings: 4 Prep Time: Cook Time:
jaden1

You can judge how good a Pho soup is by how much concentrated flavor is packed in the broth while still retaining a clean, uncloudy, clear broth. I like my Pho without Sriracha hot sauce or Hoisin sauce....I really enjoy the purity of the chicken broth without anything to hide its flavor and aroma.

There are 2 very important steps to a clear but intense broth - 1) parboiling the chicken to get rid of the impurities 2) charring the ginger and onion for a naturally sweet, robust flavor.

A note on fish sauce - I prefer the Three Crabs brand. Choose a fish sauce light in color...it should look like brewed tea. Anything darker than that (looking like Coca Cola) is inferior quality. Three Crabs fish sauce contains gluten, please check labels if you are making GF substitutions.

Ingredients:

1 whole organic chicken (4-5lbs)
1 whole onion, unpeeled and cut in half
3-inch chunk of ginger, unpeeled(A) Broth spices
2 tbl whole coriander seeds
4 whole cloves
2 whole star anise
2 tbl sugar (or rock sugar)
2 tbl fish sauce
small bunch of cilantro stems only, tied in bunch with twine(B) Accompaniments at table
1 lb dried rice noodles (about 1/4" wide)
2 cups bean sprouts, washed & tails pinched off
cilantro tops - leaves and tender stems
1/2 cup shaved red onions
1/2 lime, cut into 4 wedges
Sriracha hot sauce
Hoisin sauce
sliced chili

Directions:

Place ginger and onion on a small baking sheet. The top of the onion should be about 4" from the oven's heating element. Set to broil on high for 15 minutes. Turn the onion and ginger occasionally, to get an even char. The skin should get dark and the onion/ginger should get soft. After cooling, rub to get the charred skin off the onion and use a butter knife to scrape the skin off the ginger. Slice ginger into thick slices.
In a large stockpot, fill with water and boil. With a sharp cleaver, carve the chicken breast meat off and reserve. With the rest of chicken whacking hard through the bones to get sections about 3" big. The more bone that is exposed, the more marrow that gets in the broth (translation: rich, flavorful). You can even whack several places along the bone just to expose more marrow. When the water boils, add chicken sections (not breast) and boil on high for 5 minutes. You'll see lots of foam and "stuff' come up to the surface. Drain, rinse your chicken of the scum and wash your pot thoroughly. Refill with about 4 quarts of clean, cold water.

Add chicken, chicken breast meat, onion, ginger and all of (A) in the pot and cover. Turn heat to high - let it come to boil, then immediately turn heat to low. Prop lid up so that steam can escape. After 15 minutes, remove the chicken breasts, shred with your fingers when cooled and set aside (you'll serve shredded chicken breast with the finished soup). With a large spoon, skim the surface of any impurities in the broth. Skimming every 20 minutes ensures a clear broth. Simmer a total of 1-1/2 hours. Taste and adjust seasoning with more fish sauce and or sugar.

Strain the broth, discard solids. Prepare noodles as per directions on package. Ladle broth, add shredded chicken breast and soft noodles in each bowl. Have (B) ingredients set at table for each person to add to their bowl.

Comments 176

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  9. Molly

    Could I make the broth a day ahead, and then refrigerate it to solidify the fat for easier removal? Or would you recommend the skimming method?

  10. Mark A. Griffin

    Wow! Great job on this article. I love to cook and have ventured into cooking Vietnamese food, which is really quite easy; you just need the key ingredients.

    I do have a question. When you instruct: “Strain the broth, discard solids”, does that mean get rid of all the dark meat? Or should that be saved for another dish?

    Thank you for writing this for the Web community!

  11. holly

    Great recipe, changed it a bit though and it still came out great.
    I didn’t roast the onions and ginger, just used crushed ginger. I also omitted boiling chicken stage.
    I started by sautéing ginger with onion and skinless chicken thighs (instead of whole chicken and breast) in a tbsp of olive oil for a minute or two before I added broth and all of (A). Came out gooood and a bit less work.

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  13. Stephen B

    You have some of the best written recipes I have ever read. Made Pho successfully before but will try out your recipes because of all your trial and errors which will have surely found the best way!

  14. Cookist

    Hi, did this recipe from from Andrea Nguyen’s “Into the Vietnamese Kitchen” cookbook? (It’s very similar.) Nguyen recommends a way to store the chicken breasts while the stock simmers. How do you recommend the meat be stored?

  15. Nica

    This is the first time I’ve made a Vietnamese recipe. And one thing I can say, it’s not bad at all. Will definitely add this to my list of chicken broth recipe which includes some of those that I like in chickenbrothrecipes.com.

  16. Sharon Dodge

    Help! I need a little clarity. :)

    I’m a little confused about the stages of the cooked chicken. Question one: “When the water boils, add chicken sections (not breast) and boil on high for 5 minutes. You’ll see lots of foam and “stuff’ come up to the surface. Drain, rinse your chicken of the scum and wash your pot thoroughly. Refill with about 4 quarts of clean, cold water.”

    So you have cut off all the meat, and just put the skeletal bits and whatever you pull off in there? (What do you do with sweetbreads? Omit?) Or are you adding everything EXCEPT the breast, but all chopped up?

    Question two: “Add chicken, chicken breast meat, onion, ginger and all of (A) in the pot and cover. Turn heat to high – let it come to boil, then immediately turn heat to low. Prop lid up so that steam can escape. After 15 minutes, remove the chicken breasts, shred with your fingers when cooled and set aside (you’ll serve shredded chicken breast with the finished soup).”

    Ok, surely I’m not adding in all the chopped bones & such back in with the chicken breast? Am I? How do you ensure you don’t get dangerous bits of bone mixed in with the meat? Just carefully pull out the breasts and use the stock strainer to trash the rest once the stock is ready? And are you only going to use the shredded chicken breasts for the soup? (How do you have enough meat?)

    Thanks for anything you can add. I’m dying to learn to make this, but this is new territory for me. :)

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  18. Crab Dip

    Hello there, I discovered your website via Google even as looking for a related matter, your web site got here up, it seems good. I’ve added to favourites|added to bookmarks.

  19. Kirsten

    Hi Jaden,

    I am searching and searching your site for the Pho recipe that had all the lovely step by step pictures and can’t find it!! I am planning on making it this weekend and someone in my office was asking for the recipe, can you point me in the correct direction? I will be lost without your pho-king awesome recipe!!!!

  20. rebecca burch

    Thanks for this recipe! This recipe is perfect! I liked it so much, I made a second batch for my boyfriend, who was home sick. He swears the pho made him well. Score!

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  22. Cecília

    Hello there! I would like very much to try your Pho ga recipe, But I can’t find fish sauce here! CAn I leave it out or substitute? Thanks from Portugal!

  23. Chi-town Foodie

    Hi Jaden!

    Love your recipes! I just made the pho broth in the crock pot (per your crock pot adaptation) and it seems a little bland to me. Should I add fish sauce? Salt? Both? It definitely needs some seasoning to bring out the flavors, but I don’t want to kill all those lovely flavors either.

    Thanks!

    1. administrator

      You can add extra fish sauce or salt for a bit more flavor. Add little by little until you are happy with it.

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  25. Nalongo

    Hi
    Great recipe! Can you please clarify if the recipe means throw away the meat on the bone at the end ‘discard solids’

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  28. Rahul Pathak

    I actually had exactly the same questions as Sahron Dodge above her post is dated 1/8/12 12.18 pm. I did not see an answer to her need the same help re the chicken.
    Thanks
    Rahul

  29. Rahul Pathak

    Hi Sahron,

    Did you get a reply to your questions? I had the same ones, if you did could you let me know.

    Best
    rahul

  30. Rahul Pathak

    Help! I need a little clarity.
    I’m a little confused about the stages of the cooked chicken. Question one: “When the water boils, add chicken sections (not breast) and boil on high for 5 minutes. You’ll see lots of foam and “stuff’ come up to the surface. Drain, rinse your chicken of the scum and wash your pot thoroughly. Refill with about 4 quarts of clean, cold water.”
    So you have cut off all the meat, and just put the skeletal bits and whatever you pull off in there? (What do you do with sweetbreads? Omit?) Or are you adding everything EXCEPT the breast, but all chopped up?
    Question two: “Add chicken, chicken breast meat, onion, ginger and all of (A) in the pot and cover. Turn heat to high – let it come to boil, then immediately turn heat to low. Prop lid up so that steam can escape. After 15 minutes, remove the chicken breasts, shred with your fingers when cooled and set aside (you’ll serve shredded chicken breast with the finished soup).”
    Ok, surely I’m not adding in all the chopped bones & such back in with the chicken breast? Am I? How do you ensure you don’t get dangerous bits of bone mixed in with the meat? Just carefully pull out the breasts and use the stock strainer to trash the rest once the stock is ready? And are you only going to use the shredded chicken breasts for the soup? (How do you have enough meat?)
    Thanks for anything you can add. I’m dying to learn to make this, but this is new territory for me.

  31. Matt

    Hi Jaden,

    I am not too bothered about having cooked meat with my pho as a lot of it goes to waste, so can I do without the whole chicken and substitue with chicken backs? Surely there is more flavour in the bones?
    Thanks!

    1. SteamyKitchen

      Chicken backs, wings, necks are perfect. The more you break up the bones, the more flavorful and rich the stock. I usually use a large cleaver and hack at the bones, exposing as much marrow as I can.

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  33. David

    Answer part 1:
    This step is parboiling the bones only to remove impurities. You can throw in the sweetbreads with it to do the same thing to them since most probably have some funk to remove too. Only add the bones and optionally sweetbreads for this step.

    Answer part2:
    You were to have removed the breast meat from the bones before parboiling the bones in the previous step. You have boneless breast meat now which you add to the pot and then remove after 15 mins of cooking to be cooled and shredded. There shouldn’t be any bone to speak of since it should all be in the pot not with your shredded chicken. 2 chicken breast should be plenty for a few bowls of pho since most of your bowl of soup should be comprised of the noodles and more or less a handful of chicken on top. Not to mention you are forgetting all the meat in the drumsticks and thighs which should also be shredded along with the breast meat.

    Hope this helps.

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