Pho Ga (pronounced fu ga), or Chicken Pho is an iconic Vietnamese dish (it ranked 28 on the 50 Most Delicious Foods list, compiled by CNN Go) and its one of the many noodle soup offerings by the Vietnamese. It has a little bit of table drama too – you serve the basic broth, meat and noodles and let the diners add their own condiments to it – which I can never get enough of. Its extremely easy to make and it’s the ideal thing to make after a long, hard day at work. It reminds me of one particular section of Nigella Lawson’s Express called Quick, Quick, Slow. And that’s all there really is to it – quick charring/dry roasting of vegetables and spices and slow boiling of everything resulting in a bowl of contentment. The recipe did call for star anise and to the best of my efforts, I wasn’t able to find it so I just skipped it out and used bay leaf instead. Don’t get put off by the different elements – I know it means a long shopping trip but its definitely worth it. Although, an added bonus was that some of the spices that are required are something not entirely unfamiliar to us – Indian households are well equipped with them. Of course, you can always buy powdered chicken broth and add some of the spices to them but I urge you to try this – you wont be sorry!
Adapted from: Wandering Chopsticks
Serves: 4 – 6
For the broth:
3 litres of water
500 gms chicken drumsticks
1/2 tsp cumin powder
6 – 7 cloves
2 large bay leaves
1 2″ piece of ginger
1 – 2 pieces of cinnamon sticks
1 large onion, split into two (although it didn’t specify – I used white onion)
2 – 4 cardamom pods
1/2 head of garlic
2 sticks of celery, cut in half
Fish sauce, to taste (I added about 2 tablespoons – I didn’t want my broth to be particulary fishy but it does add to the flavor so don’t skip it)
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
For the assembly:
Bean sprouts, boiled and dried
Thai Basil, dried or fresh (I used the regular one which I had growing in my little window garden)
Sriracha Sauce or Hot Garlic Chilly Sauce
Garlic flakes, fried in a little oil till they turned golden brown
Begin by taking a large pan and dry roasting (roasting on medium flame without any oil) onion, garlic pods, ginger, cloves, bay leaf, cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods. Let it char nicely – this will add the smoky sweet flavor to your broth so don’t skip this. Dry roasting will also help with releasing the flavor of the spices.
While the spices and vegetables are roasting, in a large stock pot, add 3 litres of water. Add the dry roasted vegetables, spices and chicken drumsticks to this and season well with salt and a good grinding of fresh black or white pepper. Cover with a large lid and on medium low flame, let the broth boil for at least an hour. About half way through (for me it was around 40 minutes), the impurities (or fat) from the chicken will swim upto the top – its important that you take them out with a ladle or a slotted spoon. Discard the fat.
Once the chicken is cooked, add the cumin powder and fish sauce. Taste here for intensity and balance of spices. Adjust seasonings if required and continue to boil for a few minutes more so the broth can absorb the recent flavors. While the broth is still boiling, remove chicken drumsticks with a large spoon(s) or a slotted spoon on a clean plate and shred the drumsticks to remove the meat. Add the shredded chicken back to the broth and continue to boil for a bit longer – the key to a good broth is to let it boil for as long as you can. If you cover with a lid, it helps to capture the flavor too.
Just before serving, soak the rice noodles in some warm water or according package instructions and set aside. Prepare condiments and set aside. Now, to serve the broth, carefully remove the spices and vegetables with a slotted spoon or a large ladle. Alternatively, you skip adding the chicken in the step above, strain this mixture and then add the chicken.