Monday, February 2, 2015

Pho Ga

The confluence of chicken carcasses building up in my freezer and the miserable weather brewing outside led me to thoughts of chicken soup this weekend, and when I consulted my fridge and pantry my thoughts were immediately pulled East to pho. Pho Ga is a lighter, brighter alternative to the delicate yet unctuous (and better known) beef pho, and proved to be just what I was craving. Piquant with fresh chili and sriracha spice, pungent from lime and fish sauce, aromatic wafts of ginger and warm spices rising with the steam... it's already a bowl of absolute comfort before you even get to the tender chicken and toothsome noodles! I can't recommend it enough as a curative to the winter blues 'n greys.

The recipe is an accumulation and synthesis of various tips gleaned from friends and on Chowhound, but the necessary framework came from Andrea Nguyen , whom I always consult first on all matters Vietnamese. Grab your chopsticks and your slurpin' spoon and enjoy!

Pho Ga
Makes 6 servings

*1 small chicken, cut up (whack at the bony pieces with a cleaver to expose more marrow)
*At least one other chicken carcass, chopped into pieces
*2 onions, unpeeled
*Chubby piece of ginger, about 4 inches, unpeeled
*3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
*2 tablespoons coriander seeds, toasted lightly
*2 cloves
*2 star anise
*1 inch piece cinnamon stick
*1 heaping teaspoon demerara sugar
*3 tablespoons fish sauce
*Small bunch of cilantro stems
*1 lb dried rice noodles (banh pho)
*Any combination of the following, for garnish: bean sprouts, cilantro leaves, Thai basil, mint, finely sliced hot chilis, lime wedges, thinly sliced scallions, sriracha, hoisin sauce...

Set a toaster oven or regular oven to broil. Place the ginger and onion on a baking sheet and broil, turning occasionally, for 15 minutes or until nicely charred.  Add the garlic in the last couple minutes. After they've cooled to the point where you can play with 'em, remove the charred skin from the onions and ginger, and peel & smash the garlic (you may have to use the back of a spoon with the ginger).

Fill a stockpot with enough water to cover your cut-up chicken and any parts you're using. When the water boils, add all the chicken sections, the carcass, and any other carcass parts and boil on high for a couple minutes. You’ll see lots of foam and gunk roil up to the surface. Drain, rinse your chicken of the scum and quickly rinse the pot. Refill with 3 1/2-4 quarts of clean water. Add the chicken and pieces, onions, ginger, cilantro stems, fish sauce, sugar and all of the spices to the pot. Turn heat to high – let it come to boil, then turn the heat to low. After 15 minutes or so, remove the chicken breasts, shred with your fingers when cooled and set aside. With a large spoon, skim the surface of any impurities in the broth every so often to keep the broth clear. Simmer for about an hour and remove the rest of the chicken pieces, leaving the carcasses in the broth; shred & set aside the chicken meat. Continue simmering the stock for a bit longer, perhaps another 1/2 hour. Taste and adjust seasoning with more fish sauce and/or sugar.

Strain the broth in a colander lined with cheesecloth and discard solids. Pop the broth in containers and store in the fridge for a while, until you can skim the congealed fat off the surface (which I always save because hey, Vietnamese flavored schmaltz!). When ready to serve the pho, reheat the broth. Prepare noodles per directions on package. Ladle broth into bowls, add shredded chicken and soft noodles and have your selected garnishes on hard for each person to add to their bowl.

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