Vietnamese Phở: Soothing, Spicy, Soupy Goodness

Chef Helene An's Phở
Photo: House of An
I'm ringing in this week with brand new cold. Sure, it's sucky, but it's also a chance to do what I do best: Feed a cold. Or feed anything, really. While I do love homemade chicken noodle soup, I'm really feeling a twist on that cold remedy recipe: A steaming bowl of Vietnamese Phở.

Sure, it's got chicken, noodles and broth, but the chicken is poached in a broth spiked with spicy goodness: ginger, onions, garlic, star anise, cinnamon, fish sauce and more. The noodles are transparent rice noodles, gentle on sore throats. And the soup is topped off with slices of paper-thin onion, torn cilantro, chopped basil leaves, bean sprouts and thin rings of fire...err, serrano chili.

If that doesn't whet your appetite, how about this? The phở recipe comes from Chef Helene An, executive chef and the brains behind Crustacean (Beverly Hills), AnQi (Costa Mesa), Tiato (Santa Monica) and those infamous garlic noodles. Her soup is soothing, spicy and rich with both flavor and antioxidants. So go ahead, make it and feed that cold.

Vietnamese Phở
Adapted from Chef Helene An
Makes 5-6 bowls of Phở

Soup Ingredients:
  • 3-4 pound organic free-range chicken
  • 2-3 pound of chicken bones (ask your supermarket butcher for them)
  • 1 large onion peeled and cut in half
  • 8 large garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup fresh ginger sliced in half lengthwise (about 3″ length)
  • 1 bunch of cilantro (roots and stems)
  • 3 whole star anise
  • 2″x1″ piece of (Saigon) Cinnamon (also known as cassia bark)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cracked white pepper
  • 2/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon salt (or to taste)

Topping/Noodle Ingredients:
  • 20 ounces dried phở noodles or fresh rice noodle 
  • 1/2 small onion, very thinly sliced
  • 2 scallions, chopped
  • chopped cilantro (about 1/2 cup)
  • fresh lemon leaves
  • basil
  • bean sprouts
  • 4 serrano or jalapeno chili peppers sliced thin 

Directions: Wash the chicken inside and out and set aside. Using a broiler, torch, or a gas stove, burn the cut side of the onion, both sides of the ginger and both sides of the garlic. If you have some wire mesh you can set it on the gas stove for the garlic, otherwise a torch works great for these. You want the surface to be about 50% black as it adds a wonderful smoky flavor to the soup without making it bitter. 

Place the chicken breast side up and the chicken bones into a stock pot just a little larger than the chicken, then add the ginger, onion, garlic, cilantro, star anise, cinnamon, brown sugar, fish sauce, white pepper and salt around the chicken. Add water until the top of the breast is almost covered. Cover with a lid and bring the water to a boil over high heat. When the water comes to a boil, skim off the excess fat and impurities on the top. Turn the stove to low heat (do not remove the lid), and poach the chicken for 30 minutes. 

Remove the chicken and set it aside to cool. When it’s cool enough to handle, carve all the meat off the bones and return the bones to the stock. Simmer the stock for another 1 1/2 hours. Slice up the chicken meat and put it in the fridge.

Soak the dried pho noodles in warm water for about 30 minutes to rehydrate them. Chop up your condiments and have them ready.  When your broth is done, strain it through a fine mesh sieve and skim off any excess oil. Taste the soup for salt and add more as necessary. 

Bring the stock to a boil. In a separate pot bring water to a boil to further rehydrate the noodles. (Note: will cook in a matter of seconds, so a couple swishes in the boiling water will do the trick). Drain the noodles from the boiling water and split evenly into 5-6 bowls. Top with chicken, onions, scallion and cilantro to taste, then ladle on the hot broth. One sip and you'll instantly feel better.

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