Though less widely consumed in its native Vietnam than its beefy cousin, chicken pho is a wonderfully light soup infused with the same ginger, cinnamon and star anise flavors. This pho has the added benefit of being on the table less than two hours after you start cooking.
If you wish to use MSG to accentuate the chicken flavor, add 1 1/2 teaspoons to the broth when you add the salt.
- For the broth
- 4-inch piece unpeeled ginger root
- 14 medium shallots, peeled
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 2 (48 ounces) chickens (preferably free-range for best flavor)
- 3 whole scallions
- 5 star anise
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 piece (1 ounce) Chinese rock sugar (may substitute 2 teaspoons palm or light brown sugar
- For the assembled pho
- 1 pound dried or fresh rice noodles
- 1 bunch cilantro leaves
- 1 to 2 bunches finely chopped scallions (white and light-green parts)
- 1 to 2 bunches Thai basil sprigs
- 4 to 5 jalapeño peppers, seeded and cut crosswise into thin slices
- Chili sauce, such as Sriracha
- Freshly ground black pepper
For the broth: In a 425-degree oven, roast the ginger and shallots until slightly softened and lightly browned, about 30 minutes for the shallots and about 45 minutes for the ginger.
Meanwhile, in a large pot bring 4 quarts (16 cups) of water to a boil. Take note of the water level. Season with salt.
Wash the chickens thoroughly under cold water, removing any packages of gizzards from the cavity and any excess fat from near the cavity opening. Gently lower the chickens into the boiling water. Cook at a light boil for 20 minutes, removing any scum that rises to the surface. Remove from the heat, cover and set aside for another 10 minutes to allow the chickens to poach in the hot liquid. Using a sturdy wooden spoon inserted into the cavity, lift the chickens one at a time, tip them to drain any liquid and transfer to a cutting board to cool.
Return the pot to medium-high heat and return the broth to a boil. Replenish any lost liquid that evaporated with boiling water. (There should be a rim of fat and scum where the original water line was.) Wrap the ginger and shallots in cheesecloth, if desired. Add the ginger, shallots and scallions to the broth, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 25 minutes.
In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast the star anise and cinnamon until browned but not burned. If desired, wrap the cinnamon and star anise in cheesecloth or tuck inside a tea infuser. Add the spices and sugar to the broth and continue to cook for another 10 minutes. Strain the broth through cheesecloth or a fine sieve, pressing gently on the shallots to remove any juices. Discard the solids. Measure broth and add water as needed to bring total amount of liquid to 16 cups.
For maximum flavor, let the soup rest an hour or so before serving, or make it a day ahead so the flavors have a chance to meld. (May refrigerate for up to several days. Any fat in the broth will congeal on the surface and can be spooned away, but leave some for flavor and texture.)
Carve the chicken into pieces and use your fingers or a knife to remove the meat from the bones. Cut the meat into bite-size pieces, leaving skin intact if desired.
For the assembled pho: Preheat large, deep serving bowls in a 200-degree oven.
Bring the broth to a boil.
If using dried rice noodles, place them in a large bowl or deep casserole and cover with boiling water. As the noodles wilt, press them into the hot water until softened completely. Drain and set aside.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Place a portion of the cooked or fresh noodles in a large strainer and dip them into the boiling water until heated through, 5 to 10 seconds. Transfer the noodles to a bowl and repeat with the remaining noodles.
Place some chicken, cilantro and scallions in each bowl. Ladle about 2 cups of hot broth over everything. Repeat the process for each bowl.
Pass the bowls to individual guests and allow them to add the remaining basil, bean sprouts, chili peppers and condiments to taste.
From Le Thiep.
Tested by Renee Schettler.
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