There is something about Vietnamese food, that find myself craving more often than not. It is my number one food that I want to eat, but NEVER make for myself. I’ve sort of convinced myself that I cannot make it, like it is too good for me. Then I learn, while out to a Pho lunch with some friends of mine, that one of them has attempted to make it and it turned out “pretty good”. He may as well have waved a red cape and stared me in the eye, he didn’t mean to, but he presented a challenge. I smiled politely slurped my soup and vowed to make my own.
Once the self induced this Pho challenge was set, I knew that I had been selling myself short this whole time. There are four main components to Pho, broth, protein, noodles and fresh accoutrements. To me the most important part is the broth. It’s a flavor I cannot put my finger on but find myself craving. I also love the fresh accoutrements, usually consisting of, mung bean sprouts (the big ones), Thai basil, lime, jalapenos, and if you like, hoisin sauce and sriracha sauce. The noodles I could skip, it’s not what I crave in that soup, plus they are so filling I usually just try to eat around them, especially when I’m on a healthy eating kick.
The newest, hottest, latest, bestest health craze right now is “Bone Broth”. I poke a little fun, because I’ve been making my own stock for years. I guess there is a little difference in how it is made, bone broth cooks longer and has less veg. I’ve taken a few of the bone broth techniques and added them to my own style of stock making. Mainly I just cook the whole stock longer, overnight, to ensure pulling out as many nutrients possible. No matter how you make your broth/stock, know that you are not pouring something out of a box and that is awesome!!
If I can make my own stock then surely I can make Pho. So as I usually do with a new cooking endeavor, I hit up the ole Google, and found 3 or 4 recipes for Pho. I like to look around and see what recipes have in common and wing it from there using what I know from my own taste experience to fill in the gaps. Turns out the secret ingredients that I could not put my finger on are star anise, ginger, and fish sauce. I also decided that if possible I was going to skip the noodles.
After a bit of research I realized how silly I’ve been. Pho is just not that hard at all, the stock is certainly the most intensive part, and I pretty much get it started and let the crock pot work it’s magic over night! I bought a couple of whole chickens about 3 pounds worth. You can use chicken bones or wings, but at the grocery store a whole chicken and the wings were the same amount per pound. Since I new I needed breasts too for the protein as I was going to poach them later, I just decided to purchase the whole chickens and break them down, keep the breasts for the Pho, freeze the thighs and legs for later and use the carcass to make stock. I’ll say to keep it simple, purchase 3 lbs wings, and 4 chicken breasts and you can skip the whole “breaking down the chicken part”.
The most you have to do with this stock is roast the veggies for a bit. Take two onions, cut into quarters (leave the skin on it adds flavor and color to your broth. 1½ inches of ginger cut into thirds and smashed a bit, roast in a 400º oven for 30 mins or until things start browning and caramelizing. Meanwhile, set your crock pot to low, put your chicken into the crock pot and fill it up with water, about 12 cups. Get your star anise and bruise it by smacking it once with your knife to help open up the flavor a bit. When the veg is done roasting, add it to the water with 3 star anise and let it slow simmer over night. I usually prep my stock while I’m getting dinner ready, or just after while I’m doing dishes. squeeze in a couple hours of simmer time in the crock pot, during the night time kiddo routine, and a “Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce” TV veg out session. Then set the timer again when I go to bed and let it simmer over night. That usually gives us about 10 – 12 hours simmering time.
In the morning I turn off the crock pot and let it cool a bit, take your shower, get your work out in, wake up the kids, just make sure the liquid isn’t so hot that when you strain it you burn your hands. I’ve done it and it hurts bad, both hands burned, owie. Strain out the bones and veg into a stock pot. This can sit in your fridge while you are taking the kids to school, or if you live in Minnesota and it’s below 35 degrees, cover it and put it on your back porch…not an uncommon approach around here.
At this point you are halfway done. Next you have to add the chicken into the broth, if you have chicken left over from the night before, chop it up and add it to the broth and warm it all back up to a slow simmer. If you bought chicken breasts for the affair, slice the breasts thinly and add it to a slowly simmering broth, cook until warmed through. Because I’m picky I like to pull out the cooked chicken and strain the soup through a cheesecloth, so that any lingering chicken bits that were clouding up your broth are gone. Add the cooked chicken back into the pot and let the tasting begin.
Imagine Pho from your fave Vietnamese place. That broth is complex with flavor. You’ve built your base, now you have to coax out the flavor. Start with the fish sauce, add between 2Tbsp and ¼ cup. Fish Sauce is necessary to making Vietnamese food. It is in tons of dishes. You don’t taste the fishiness, but it adds that unctuous umami flavor that you can’t quite put your finger on. So get your fish sauce in there, don’t skip it, then start bringing out that flavor. A large pinch at of salt, a tablespoon of sugar, keep adding until your Pho tastes like what you are used too. Like this, “Salt, Sugar, Sip”, repeat until you find the flavor that you recognize. It might take a couple of salt/sugar attempts, but you’ll start to see the flavors come together and blossom as you add. Please note that the salt and sugar ratios that I provide are only guidelines, you’ve got to trust yourself a little bit.
If you want to add noodles, cook them according to the directions on the box. I would put the cooked noodles in the bowl and pour the Pho around it. That way the don’t get too gummy.
Make yourself a big ole bowl, add your accoutrements little by little so that they don’t get soggy and loose their freshness. I like to add a lot of sprouts since I don’t have the noodles, it gives my chopsticks something to do! Don’t forget to take a picture and send it to me!! Let me know how you did!
Here’s the recipe
Phonomenal Noodless Pho
3 lbs Chicken Bones
2 ea Yellow Onions (skin on)
1 ea Knob ginger (about 2.5 inches long) cut in 1/3’s and smashed.
3 ea Star Anise
12 cups Water (enough to cover the bones and veg w/ maybe a little extra)
4 ea Chicken Breasts sliced thinly
1/4 cup Fish Sauce
4 ea Scallions
Accoutrements – Add as much or as little
Mung Bean Sprouts, Thai Basil, Cilantro, Sliced Jalapeno, Lime Wedges, Sriracha and Hoisin.
Preheat oven 400º. Quarter onions and smash ginger. Place on roasting pan in oven and cook for 30 mins or until slightly caramelized. While the onions and garlic are roasting, place chicken bones in crock pot or stock pot. Add star anise, roasted onions and garlic to the pot and cover with water. Cook stock for a minimum of 3 hours and up to 12 hours (the longer you go the better it is).
When you are done add sliced chicken to broth and simmer until chicken is cooked. Add fish sauce, then slowly add salt and sugar. Remember you may need more so taste as you go. Finish with scallions.
Pour the broth into a large bowl adding lots of sprouts, basil, cilantro, a couple of slices of jalapeno, a squeeze of lime and a dash of sriracha and a smidge of hoisin (actually I skip the hoisin but a lot of people like it).
Eat it. Take a Picture of it. Lemme know how you did!
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