I love this recipe because it has so much flavor despite only having a few ingredients. It’s also a healthy, high-protein recipe (just don’t go crazy on the noodles, ok?). It took me a little while to find a few of these ingredients, but now that I have a go-to Asian grocery store, it will be much easier next time! I’m hoping to make it easier for you too, so scroll down to see tips for the harder to find ingredients.
Chicken Pho (Pho Ga)
- 2 Yellow Onions
- 4″ Chunk of fresh ginger
- 1 4lb Chicken
- 3 lb Chicken Bones
- 1 1/2 T Salt
- 3 T Fish Sauce
- 1″ Chunk Yellow Rock Sugar (or 1 T of regular cane sugar)
- 2 T Coriander seeds
- 4 ea Star Anise
- 1 small bunch cilantro stems
- 1 lb Rice noodles (banh pho)
Choose as many as you want!
- Fresh cilantro leaves
- Mung bean sprouts (I usually get the 1 lb bag)
- Thinly sliced Serrano or Thai chiles
- Thai basil leaves
- Lime wedges
- Thinly sliced shallots or yellow onions (soak in water if you don’t want a strong flavor)
- Sliced Scallions
- Chile paste with garlic
- Sriracha chili sauce
Finding these ingredients
Four grocery stores later, I admit I underestimated how easy it would be to find these ingredients. I live in Los Angeles, land of diversity, so you would think I could just run to the nearest highly rated Asian supermarket and be done with it. Wrong. So wrong. Here are some tips on how to find these ingredients
Chicken and Chicken Bones
I went to the butcher counter for 4 different grocery stores, hoping to find extra chicken bones I could buy off of them. No luck. I ended up getting a pack of 2 5-lb fryer chickens on sale for $0.69/lb at a discount grocery store. I also found ~2 lb of chicken necks which will work great as chicken bones. To get the remaining 1 lb of chicken bones, I’ll carve the other chicken and use the bones from that.
I haven’t found a good butcher yet, but if you know one, that’d be a great place to go. Some places will carve your whole chicken up for you for free, especially during off hours when they’re not busy. Don’t be afraid to ask! (Honestly, I would have taken him up on it except I thought I could use the practice myself 😉 )
Chunk Yellow Rock Sugar
Head straight to the best Asian grocery store you know of for this one. Don’t bother with the one that’s closer but “might” have it. They probably don’t and you’ll definitely get a weird look when you ask them about it. You’re looking for irregularly sized chunks of a light yellow sugar. It may be labeled “Yellow Rock Sugar” or “Lump sugar”. Yellow Rock Sugar is a refined cane sugar that’s been cooked until it’s slightly caramelized. It’s not the same as raw sugar though, which is much easier to find at Mexican supermarkets around here. If you can’t find Yellow Rock Sugar, substitute 1 T of regular white sugar.
Coriander seeds and Star Anise
Coriander seeds and Star Anise were much easier to find at ethic (Mexican or Asian) supermarkets. They are also obscenely cheap. At my local Super King (Mexican/International) and Ranch 99 (Asian) supermarkets, I found them in the hanging plastic spice bags. A few ounces of coriander or Star Anise was ~ $0.89. The Asian grocery store had 1-2# bags of Star Anise for ~$3.50. I seriously considered adding more storage in my pantry just to store giant bags of obscenely cheap spices. Soon, very soon.
Rice noodles (banh pho)
I went to the closest Asian supermarket to find these. Big mistake. I ended up with 13.2 oz bags for over $3. Later at Ranch 99, I found them for just over a dollar. Lesson learned. You’re looking for dried flat rice noodles approximately 1/8″ wide, labeled Banh Pho. You can also use fresh Banh Pho noodles if they are available. (They were in the refrigerated section at the store I went to.)
Part 1: Chicken Stock
1. Remove the excess neck and butt fat from the whole chicken. I also carved off the wings for better cooking circulation. You don’t have to go crazy removing all of the fat, but by removing these big chunks, you’ll save yourself from skimming a lot fat off the surface and/or having an oily stock.
2. Separate your chicken bones as much as possible. The more the bone and marrow are exposed, the better the broth will taste. If you have a large chicken bones and a cleaver, it wouldn’t hurt to chop it into a couple smaller pieces. (As a side note, I don’t have a cleaver. Does it make me a worse cook? No. Do I feel like I lost some culinary credit. Absolutely.)
3. Put whole chicken and chicken bones in a large stock pot (12 qt or more). Fill with enough cold water to cover the bones (~5 qt) and bring to a boil for 2-3 minutes. (Hint: It will take a while to come to a boil, so while you’re waiting, you can start on the steps in the Aromatics section.)
4. Remove from heat, move the chicken and bones to a bowl or pot and set aside, and discard the water. (Usually with stock, you just bring bones to a boil, skim, then return to a simmer for 4-6 hours. The addition of chicken skin and meat in this recipe lends to a lot of coagulation and fat content that would otherwise be impossible to skim off later.)
5. Give the chicken and bones quick rinse to remove any coagulated bits that may be attached. Quickly clean the stockpot with soap to get rid of extra fat lingering around.
6. Return the chicken (breast side up) and bones to the stock pot and fill with enough cold water to cover the bones.
Part 2: Aromatics
1. Using a BBQ, broiler, or even your gas range, char the whole onion and ginger piece with their skins on. I peeled the flaky outer layers off that would have just incinerated and floated away as ash into the nether corners of my kitchen. Make sure the outer skin layer is dry though. If it’s wet, it will be harder to char it. I recommend just throwing them right on the flame on your stovetop. It will only take a few seconds to burn, so stay there with a set of tongs to rotate them.
2. Remove the burned skin on the onions and ginger. This is easiest if you hold the onion with your hand under cold running water. To remove the ginger skin, use the tip of a spoon to scrape it off.
3. Wrap Star Anise, coriander seeds, and cilantro stems in cheesecloth and tie with butcher’s twine.
If you don’t have any butcher’s twine, don’t use yarn or any other non-food product. Butcher’s twine doesn’t flake tiny threads into your food. If you don’t have any or can’t find some in the stores, ask the butcher’s counter at your local grocery store if they can spare some. I asked for some around Thanksgiving one year and the guy gave me enough to truss a 300 lb turkey. This is why I have a large purse.
4. Toss spices, onion, and ginger into stockpot with the chicken.
5. Add remaining ingredients to the stockpot: fish sauce, lump sugar, salt. Stir briefly to mix.
Part 3: Stock Time and Soup Prep
1. Bring the contents to a simmer (not boil) and simmer for 30 minutes. If you see any scum at the surface, use a large spoon to skim the surface and remove it. (If the stock boils, it will get cloudy. So make sure it doesn’t come to a boil.)
Resist the urge to stir the stock. As long as the chicken was breast side up when you started, nothing will burn on the bottom of the pot. Stirring the stock may agitate it, leading to more scum mixing in with the broth instead of rising to the top to get skimmed off.
2. After 30 minutes, remove the chicken (but leave the bones). Set aside to cool (approximately 20 minutes). Continue to simmer the stock for an additional 1 1/2 hours, skimming as needed.
- Once the chicken has cooled enough to handle, slice thinly into bite sized pieces. I found that thin slices work best because they absorb more flavor from the broth and garnishes. Thick slices end up tasting a bit bland. Set the the chicken aside and keep warm.
- Once you have 30 minutes left, put the rice noodles in a bowl or pot with enough hot water to cover the noodles. (If the package says to soak for less time, ignore it. 3 hours (yes three hours!!) of trial and error led me to ignore EVERYTHING the package said, soak for 30 minutes, and cook for only 15 sec. The package was all lies. LIES! Imagine me with sticky, gooey yet still undercooked physics-defying noodles stuck everywhere at 10 PM on a Sunday night…It’s not a pretty sight.)
- Bring a separate pot of salted water to a boil. You don’t want to cook the noodles in the broth because it will make it cloudy.
- Prep your garnishes. I like to make a large platter that everyone can pick off of.
3. Remove the stock from the heat, remove the bones, and strain through a cheesecloth into another pot. Return to the stove on low to keep it nice and hot.
4. Find a strainer that you can set into the water. This saves you from having to pluck the noodles out. This is especially important because you only want to cook the noodles for 15 seconds. By the time you manage to fish out your noodles, they’ll be overcooked. Add a serving of noodles into the strainer and dunk into the boiling water for 15 seconds. Lift the strainer out to drain the noodles and dump into the serving bowl. Top off with hot stock. The noodles may be slightly chewy after 15 seconds of cooking but by the time it gets to the table, the hot stock will have finished cooking the noodles to the perfect texture.
5. Now for the fun part. Top the bowl with your choice of garnishes. I like a good dose of spice medicine…so in addition to lime juice, sprouts, and scallions, I also throw in chilies, top with Sriracha, and sniffle/cry my way through dinner. It hurts so good.