As a Vietnamese, I could eat a bowl of pho at breakfast, lunch and dinner. There is something so nourishing about about a steaming bowl of slippery noodles, fragrant with fresh herbs and laced with spicy chillies for that much needed kick.
When I have the time and can manage to find all of the ingredients (which is not always possible in Zurich unless I get to the Asian grocer on the same day as they get their shipment and I am organised enough to pre-order the oxtail from the butcher), I like to make a double batch of Beef Pho which will sustain us (happily) for several meals over several days.
When time is a bit shorter, a Chicken Pho is an easy, but always welcome, alternative.
Recently, I discovered an even quicker shortcut to pho heaven, one which might prompt purists to recoil in shock, and even my own mother might not talk to me again if she found out. Although I have much love and devotion for the humble stock cube which I use freely and merrily in many dishes, I rarely ever use it in Asian broths where the flavour and quality of the broth is so important that one ought to never cheat in this regard.
But, of course, there are always exceptions. This Chicken Curry Soup uses a stock cube as its base and still tastes fabulous, and it is one of our favourite dishes at home. And perhaps the soup which I make most regularly using a stock cube is the wonderfully-titled Noodle Soup for Needy People by Nigella Lawson.
So, one night, I had a craving for pho but had neither the ingredients or time to make it from scratch. I was, however, organised enough to marinate some chicken thighs and drumsticks earlier in the day, intended to be served with plain steamed rice and sautéed pak choy. A quick search in the pantry revealed a packet of dried flat noodles, and my balcony was already boasting a container of coriander (cilantro) and Thai basil which had been planted the previous week.
I set about infusing the chicken broth (made using a stock cube) with some ginger and star anise over a very low heat while the marinated chicken roasted in the oven until golden and crispy. Once cooked, sliced and added to the finished dish, the sticky sweetness of the chicken added a lovely colour and savoury boldness to the soup, and the addition of coriander (cilantro) and Thai basil gave the soup a suitably Vietnamese flavour. I loved it, and my husband loved it. Actually, this roast chicken recipe is one of his favourites, and serving it with a noodle soup was a nice change to the usual steamed rice.
I don’t think this Sticky Chicken Pho will replace my love for the more traditional pho, but it will definitely still be a regular feature in our home at mealtimes.
- 4 chicken thighs, or 2 chicken thighs and 2 drumsticks
- 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon runny honey
- 2 teaspoons Sriracha or sambal oelek (or to taste)
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon mirin
- 250 g dried flat rice noodles
- 1 litre (4 cups) chicken stock
- 3 cm (1 inch) piece of ginger, peeled and sliced thickly
- 5 star anise
- 1-2 spring onions (scallions), sliced
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce (or more to taste)
- 2 small pak choy (or 1 large pak choy sliced in half or quarters)
- coriander (cilantro), finely chopped
- Thai basil, finely chopped
- lemon or lime, cut into wedges
- Cut a few slits into each chicken thigh and/or drumstick, and place the chicken pieces into a large zip-lock freezer bag.
- Mix the dark soy sauce, runny honey, Sriracha, fish sauce and mirin in a small bowl and pour this marinade over the chicken pieces, making sure each piece is evenly coated. Set aside to marinate for at least 30 minutes, but overnight would be best.
- Preheat the oven to 200°C (390°F). Line a baking tray with foil and roast the chicken for about 40-60 minutes, or until the chicken is golden and caramelised. Turn the chicken over a few times during this time so that it colours on all sides.
- Meanwhile, cook the noodles according to packet instructions. Rinse the noodles under cold, running water and set aside to cool.
- Make the broth by bringing the chicken stock to a boil in a medium saucepan. Turn the heat down to a gentle simmer, and add the ginger, star anise, spring onions (scallions) and fish sauce. Simmer for about 10-15 minutes and taste for seasoning.
- When the chicken is ready, carefully remove the meat from the bones and slice the meat. Once you have roasted the chicken pieces for 40-60 minutes, the meat should fall off the bones easily.
- Divide the noodles between 2-3 bowls (you may not need all of it).
- Add the pak choy (or other vegetables) to the soup and cook for a few minutes until softened. Divide the vegetables between the bowls, and ladle the broth over the noodles. Top with the sliced chicken and fresh herbs. Squeeze some lemon or lime into each bowl before serving.
The first time I made this dish, I only had pak choy in the fridge. On subsequent occasions, I added other bits and pieces of vegetables, such as mushrooms (shitake and button), baby spinach and Swiss chard. You can add as many or as little vegetables as you like, but it is best not to complicate the dish. I tend to add just a handful of whatever suitable vegetables I have to hand, just so the dish is not too meat-heavy.
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