Pho Ga, Vietnamese Noodle Soup . $5.23

Chicken Soup – it’s so familiar to so many cultures – I had to try my hand at Pho Ga. Rich golden broth and rice noodles make the backbone of the soup, but it’s the garnishes that make the meal.

Pho Ga - Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup
Pho Ga – Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup

Whole chickens were on sale for dirt cheap and my baby Sis has been going on about the wonderful Vietnamese foods she’s been having while traveling. This one’s for you, Sis, and you can have it right at home.

I combed recipes and came up with a basic outline, then tweaked it again and again – So, yeah, this is an “Amerinese” version, in keeping with the spirit of the original. I tried to stay as true as possible using grocery store ingredients - a bit of brown sugar can sub for rock sugar and Thai basil was passed over in favor of what I had growing in my herb pot - but search out the ingredients if they’re available to you. Many restaurants use plain old basil & jalapeno as garnishes, by the way.

Here’s a couple of things I learned that made a big difference:

  • First of all – use the best broth possible – a rich, clear broth is the hallmark of good Pho Ga.
  • Many cooks do a short cut version of the broth, hacking it up a chicken and then going to a lot of trouble to clarify the broth – I found it much easier to simply make a good broth to start with.
  • The other big thing:  Char your ginger and onions – over a flame, grill, grill pan or under a broiler. Peel them and rub off any burnt pieces. This is a big part of what gives this dish its distinctive taste.

There’s nothing to difficult about Pho Ga, but in the interest of being fabulously frugal and not eating Pho Ga for days, I’ve broken it down into 4 steps:

  • Make your Chicken Broth (reserve part of broth and meat for another meal)
  • Use part of the Chicken Broth to make the Pho Ga Broth
  • Prepare the ingredients: bean sprouts, noodles and reserved chicken meat for the Pho Ga Soup
  • Prepare the garnishes: basil, sliced green onion, peppers of your choice, cilantro or mint, thinly sliced white or green onion, etc.

The best part of knowing how to make Pho Ga? You can have it, where ever you live, when ever you want – no traveling to a city to get your fix, searching out restaraunts all over town or precariously nesting containers in your car to bring back home – and even though Pho isn’t expensive at most restaurants, you can make for a fraction of the cost.

Pho Ga Garnishes - they make the meal
Pho Ga Garnishes – they make the meal

 

Pho Ga Broth (Vietnamese Noodle Soup) serves 4

  • 8 cups of chicken broth (maybe a little more, just to be on the safe side)
  • 1 onion, with peel, cut in half
  • 2″ piece of ginger, with peel
  • 1 teaspoon salt (to taste)
  • 2 tablespoon fish sauce
  • chunk of rock sugar, about 1/2 ounce (or two tablespoons brown sugar)
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seed, toasted for a minute in a dry skillet just until you can begin to smell them (or cilantro root & stem if you have it available.)
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 2 star anise
  • few sprigs of cilantro or saved up stems (I save them in my freezer, but if you use cilantro for the garnish, chop and just throw the stems in the broth – if you are sensitive to cilantro, use parsley. Don’t use if you already used the cilantro root and stems, above)

Put your onion (cut side down) and ginger on a baking sheet (I like to put them on a piece of foil on the baking sheet.) and broil until charred. Peel the onion and scrape off the ginger peel. Cut the ginger into slices – it will be very soft.

Place broth in saucepan with the charred onion, ginger, salt, fish sauce, rock sugar (or brown), coriander seed, cloves. star anise and cilantro stems. Simmer for 30 minutes, then strain, through a cheesecloth lined sieve.

Taste the broth – add more salt, fish sauce or sugar to taste.  Remember the broth will flavor the noodles, so it needs to be flavorful.

While your broth is simmering, prepare your garnishes and additional ingredients, below.

Pho Ga Soup:

  • 1 pound Rice Noodles – you’ll need the flat ones
  • 2 cups Bean Sprouts.
  • Reserved chicken breast – room temperature

While the broth is cooking, soak your rice noodles as directed, usually in warm water for about 15 minutes.  (I like to put mine in an old plastic pitcher.)

In large pot, bring to a boil the water you’ll use to actually heat the noodles through.

Rinse bean sprouts (pinch off any unattractive ends) and place in a small metal sieve – dunk in the boiling water for about 20 seconds. Drain and set aside for garnish.  If you don’t think you like bean sprouts, try this quick blanch – they’re beautiful and taste fantastic.

Carefully slice your reserved chicken into 1/4 inch slices.

Use your time while the broth is simmering to prepare the rest of your garnishes, below.

When ready to serve, place a serving’s size handful of noodles into your metal sieve, dunk in the boiling water for about 20 seconds, just until they wilt and heat through. Place them in a bowl, then arrange chicken over the noodles.  Add your bean sprouts and thinly shaved onion, then ladle the hot, simmering  broth over. Let everyone pick from the remaining garnishes as they wish.

Garnishes:

  • 2 or 3 Thai chiles, thinly sliced, or Serrano (you’ll need one) or Jalapeno (if you’re not as brave)
  • Thinly sliced green onion (green part only) or spring onion
  • Cilantro tops – leaves and tender stems
  • Lime wedges, quartered
  • Sprigs of mint or Thai basil
  • 1/2 cup very thinly sliced or shaved red or white onions – soak them in water while broth is cooking to take off the “bite”
  • Sriracha hot sauce
  • Hoisin

Chicken Broth for Pho Ga

Since the Pho Ga will not use all the broth, and the Pho Ga soup starts with a plain broth, make this the day before and divide out the chicken and broth for Pho Ga after it’s cooled, reserving the rest for another meal.

  • Whole Chicken, and additional parts, necks, feet, etc., if available
  • Vegetable scraps or roughly chopped vegetables, carrots, onion, celery. Separate out the onion pieces into layers.
  • Water to cover
  • 8 peppercorns

I made the broth I always use, Best Chicken Broth, but used a whole chicken and leftover scraps and pieces of vegetables. No wine, no parsley, no thyme. Pho Ga needs a clear broth, so rinse chicken, add to pot and cover with about 2 inches of water.

Add enough vegetable scraps, peels, bits and pieces of celery, onion and carrot to completely cover the water, basically a “raft,” of vegetable matter that floats on top of the water. This will clarify the stock as it simmers away.

Bring the pot up to a good simmer – not quite a boil – then turn the heat down so that it barely percolates – just a few bubbles coming through now and then. Cover the pot about 3/4 of the way with a lid, adjust the temperature again, and let it barely simmer.

Pull the chicken out after about an hour and a half, disturbing the “raft” as little as possible, remove the meat large pieces. Place the carcass and scraps back in the pot. Gently poke the “raft” back in place, making sure it covers the water. Replace the lid (3/4′s on) and adjust the heat.

Barely simmer again for about three and a half to four hours – the longer the better.  I strained the broth through a cheese cloth layered sieve, transferred to a clean container and refrigerated.  I made it the evening before so I could easily remove the fat and the recipe is more manageable.  (After the broth is made, it takes about 40 minutes for the Pho Ga noodles and garnishes.)

This "raft" of vegetation will clarify the soup without skimming or fussing
This “raft” of vegetation will clarify the soup without skimming or fussing

Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:

  • Use a coupon matching site! One of my favorites in my area is Pocket Your Dollars, but every store has a group of enthusiastic Coupon Matchers. Do not discount the savings! I check their site every week, even if I don’t “need” to go to the store and often find bargains I can’t pass up.
  • Follow my 12 Strategies – You’ll see them on the upper drop down menu of every page and how I apply them, below.
  • Don’t get discouraged if your prices don’t match mine! Keep shopping at the best prices and your fridge/freezer and pantry will be stocked with sales priced ingredients.
  • Read below for additional tips as well as throughout the recipe, for saving time and managing food.

Strategies Applied:

  • Whole Chickens:  Usually on sale for 99 cents a pound in my area, they do drop now and then to 69 cents a pound.  I pick them up then – most chickens are 3 1/2 to 4 pounds these days, so buy the largest you can.  At four pounds, if you have to pay the 99 cents, you’ll be paying $1.20 more for the chicken.  Keep in mind, though, that this protein, depending on the size of your family, will make more than one meal.  At my sales price, the cost for the chicken is $2.76 – I’ll use half, $1.38.  I’m planning on some Classic Chicken Salad for the rest.
  • Onion:  Buy onions whenever you see them drop in price and store in a cool, dark place away from any potatoes. Store the other half onion in your fridge door where you’ll be sure to see it and remember to use it.  Cost for the onion plus a half:  66 cents for two pounds at Aldi’s, cost about 15 cents.
  • Green Onion: I save the white tip in a glass of water in a sunny window – they regrow and I have green onion for weeks and weeks.  Look for a sale price of 50 cents for a bunch, especially around holidays.  Cost 0
  • Cilantro:  It’s spring here in Minnesota and I had to buy – the bunch was 69 cents.  Think of other ways to use the rest – we’ll have something Mexican later in the week.  I keep mine in a glass of water, covered with a plastic bag and a rubber band around the glass, holding the bag tight.  Less chance of spills that way.  Save the stems and toss in a Ziploc in the freezer.  If you can’t use it all, chop and freeze, covered with water in ice cube trays.  You can use those in soups and rice.  I’ll count 1/3 of the bunch – cost 23 cents.
  • Limes:  I use often to add freshness to salsas, Mexican food and marinades from everything from chicken to steak.  I rarely see on sale, but they’re generally very inexpensive.  Don’t be concerned about the color of your limes – when you buy, pick up several and choose the heaviest ones.  They’ll be the juiciest.  Cost 20 cents
  • Bean Sprouts:  If you have access to an Asian market, buy there.  My cost was $1.29 and I had some leftover – so I’ll find another recipe to use.  Highly perishable, especially if wet, remove from the bag and loosely wrap in a bit of paper napkin, then store in a loose plastic bag in the fridge. Cost $1.20.
  • Rock Sugar:  I substituted brown sugar, but if you have access to an Asian market, it’s really inexpensive and something worth picking up.  It will generally be pricey at your regular supermarket.  Cost for brown sugar, about 2 cents.
  • Ginger:  Again, less expensive at an Asian market – I keep mine in a heavy Ziploc in the freezer – it freezes barely solid, and you can cut it with a knife.  Cost 10 cents.
  • Rice Noodles:  Less expensive, (you got it) at an Asian market.  I bought mine at the regular store – cost $1.89
  • Thai Chiles – so pricey per pound, you only need three – I paid 3 cents for mine, and I’m sure the bag weighed more than the chile!
  • Fish Sauce – buy it – yep – at the Asian market.  Sometimes the regular grocery store has sales, generally around the Chinese New Year (January or February.)  Buy the most authentic one you can find.  A few tablespoons like this won’t make your recipe taste “fishy.”  Cost is nominal, about 3 cents.

Nutrition -

Cal 523.74 Cal fr Fat 11% 58 cal; tot fat 6.52; sat fat 1/3g; chol 79.73g; sod 2126mg; pot 487mg; tot carb 88.88g; fib 3.17g; sug 9.75g; prot 27.04g

Put Your Own Spin on It:

  • This recipe is all about making it what you want and like – the garnishes make it fun.  Adapt it to your favorite taste!

Chicken Pho – Pho Ga, made May 2012

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