A fragrant and soul-soothing beef pho is often what I crave when only a steaming bowl of noodle soup will do. But when time is sparse and I don’t have 3 hours to potter about in the kitchen, a chicken pho is a rather wonderful alternative.
According to Tracey Lister and Andreas Pohl in their delightful new cookbook on Vietnamese cuisine, Real Vietnamese Cooking, chicken pho was invented during the Japanese occupation of Vietnam in the 1940s when beef was in short supply. The broth is lighter and sweeter, but with a familiar nod to the traditional beef version, thanks to the use of the same fresh herbs and spices.
I make chicken soup at home quite frequently; it’s almost my default menu when I don’t have a lot of time to cook because I can just let the chicken simmer gently on the stove while I’m tending to something else. At other times, I simply stick the chicken in the oven to roast. But if you are in the habit of frequently making your own chicken soup or stock, turning it into a pho is a nice way of varying the menu a little. I often do the same when I have homemade beef stock to hand, and you can get some ideas on how to turn a simple stock into a pho broth in my recipe for Frenchy Pho.
The recipe below is adapted from Real Vietnamese Cooking, a fabulous collection of home-style Vietnamese recipes written by Tracey Lister and Andreas Pohl, two Australians who are passionate about the culinary scene in Vietnam. And so extensive is her knowledge of Vietnamese cuisine that Tracey Lister is also one of the directors of the successful Hanoi Cooking Centre and helped to set up KOTO, an Australian-Vietnamese charity which trains disadvantaged youths in Vietnam to cook and serve.
Something unusual about their recipe for chicken pho is the addition of thinly sliced kaffir lime leaves upon serving, alongside the more commonly used herbs. Kaffir lime leaves are not widely used in Vietnamese cooking, and especially not when serving pho. However, they do add a lovely citrus note to the dish and their addition is likely to be a regional variation.
While it’s hard to beat a chicken noodle soup in any form, I’m rather impartial to the Vietnamese version. I made a double batch of this chicken pho and felt smug throughout the week just knowing that a big, comforting bowl of noodle soup could be assembled for dinner in minutes.
Vietnamese Chicken Pho
Recipe adapted from Real Vietnamese Cooking by Tracey Lister and Andreas Pohl
- Prep Time: 30 mins
- Cook Time: 1 hour 30 mins
- Total Time: 2 hours
- Yield: Serves 4
For the broth
- 8 shallots or 2 small onions, unpeeled and left whole
- 4cm (1½ inch) fresh ginger, unpeeled but sliced in half lengthwise
- 1 whole chicken, about 1.5kg (3½ lb)
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 4 star anise
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 800 g (28 oz) fresh rice noodles
- spring onions (scallions), finely sliced
- coriander (cilantro), finely chopped
- Thai basil, roughly torn
- red chillies, finely chopped
- lemon or lime wedges
- Hoisin sauce
- Sriracha hot sauce
- Chargrill the shallots (or onions) and ginger on high heat, or over an open flame if you have a gas stove, until they are slightly charred.
- Place the chicken in a large pot and add just enough cold water to just cover the chicken. Bring to the boil and remove any impurities.
- Turn the heat down to a simmer and add the chargrilled onions and ginger, as well as the cinnamon stick and star anise. Simmer for about 1 hour. During this time, skim off any impurities from time to time, and top up with boiling water if the broth has reduced a lot. I try to maintain the same water level from start to finish.
- Remove the chicken to a large bowl, and let it cool a little before shredding the meat.
- Strain the broth through a fine sieve into a clean pot and return to the heat.
- Season the broth with the salt, sugar and fish sauce. Taste for seasoning. If the broth is too strong or concentrated, add some boiling water.
- Bring a pot of water to the boil and soften the fresh rice noodles for just a few seconds.
- Divide the noodles between 4 large bowls with a handful of shredded chicken on top of each.
- Ladle the hot broth into each bowl and serve with the fresh herbs and accompaniments.
- You will need roughly 200 g (7 oz) of fresh rice noodles per person, but use more or less as you wish. If you cannot find fresh rice noodles, you can also use dried rice noodles and rehydrate them as per the packet instructions. Make sure they are the thin and flat noodles.
- To ensure that you have a flavourful broth, use a pot which will comfortably fit the chicken and pour in enough water so that it is only just covering the chicken. If you later find that the broth is too concentrated, simply dilute with some water. Usually, my method creates a fairly concentrated broth, but it is much easier to dilute a strong broth than to add flavour to a weak broth.
- For more details and information on serving pho, please see my post on Vietnamese Pho Beef Noodle Soup.
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