Vietnamese pho (pronounced ‘fur’) is one of the great dishes of the world. With its subtle yet complex flavour it refreshes, enlivens and satisfies the palate in ways that not many dishes do.
The reason why this dish is often shunned by non-Vietnamese home cooks, is the fact that a rich broth (a broth is the similar to a stock except that meat and bones are used not just bones) needs to be made along with the other components of the dish, which can feel time consuming and overwhelming. But don’t be scared, this recipe combines the process of the making the broth, cooking the meat all in one pot to make it a simple progression towards one of the tastiest soup recipes on the planet.
This recipe is for a chicken pho. The more traditional recipe usually uses beef bones to make the broth so feel free to substitute beef into the mix – shoulder or leg would work well. Or if you are vegetarian, roast some onions, carrots and garlic in the oven and add them into the recipe in place of the chicken (also add the raw onions and garlic etc already in the chicken recipe).
The key to the pho’s success as a dish is the fact that it has a hearty broth combined with noodles (we used egg noodles here but vermicelli are the more traditional choice) which is supplemented with the addition of fresh mung beans, herbs, fresh chilli and lemon it a fresh lift. The fresh ingredients are served in a separate bowl so they can be added by the diner at the last minute to give them maximum freshness.
Ingredients (serves two – tip double or triple recipe to eat throughout the week):
- 2 litres water
- 2-4 chicken thighs (with bone it – important!)
- 1 onion
- 1 bulb garlic
- 2 carrots
- 1 thumb ginger
- 5 star anise
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 2 cakes egg or vermicelli noodles
- 2 spring onions
- 1 bunch Thai basil
- 50g mung sprouts
- 2 green or red chillies
- 1 lemon
- 30ml sweet red chilli sauce or 2 tbsp sugar, soy sauce and a dash of vinegar
- 30ml fish sauce or sprinkle of salt
- 50ml oil (coconut is best but you can use rice bran, peanut or sunflower if you don’t mind the issues they have)
Chop the onion into quarters and carrots into chunks and add to the pot with the chicken thighs, cinnamon and star anise. Cut the ginger and garlic into small pieces and add half to the stock pot as well. Leave the other half for later. Add the 2 litres of water to the pot also. Slowly simmer for 30-40 minutes.
Slowly simmering stocks and broths is very important to keep them looking nice and clear. A thing that is particularly important in this dish.
Once the chicken is cooked and the broth is looking rich and tasty (give it a taste to double check), take the chicken out and put it aside to dry. You want to to be fairly dry for the next step to get maximum sugar caramelization. Stain the stock through a muslin cloth or clean tea towel. Anything that is super fine will work. You want this broth to be as clear as possible. Add fish sauce (or soy/salt) to season.
Slice the spring onions into little pieces (you can do this in advance) and add into a pre-heated frying pan or wok along with the oil and the second half of the ginger and garlic. The pan needs to be on a fairly low heat but the spring onions, ginger and garlic still need to be frying – you should hear them sizzle if you don’t turn the heat up. You DON’T however, want them to burn. So watch them closely, particularly if you don’t have a good quality heavy pan. You want everything to turn a beautiful golden, crispy brown. This will caramelize the ingredients and bring a beautiful sweetness to the dish. This should take about 5 min. Once done, put aside in a bowl for later.
Pour the sweet chilli sauce or sugar/soy sauce/vinegar marinade and fry in the pan or wok until the sugar around the chicken has turned golden and delicious looking. This should take about 7-10 min. Once the chicken is done slice it thinly.
Cook the noodles in the boiling water for 2-4 minutes until they are soft and strain. Run them under cold water to stop them cooking. Add the noodles and chicken into serving bowls, heat up the broth and pour over. Sprinkle in the fried spring onions, ginger and garlic. Add the mung sprouts, thai basil, chilli (finely sliced) and lemon into another bowl and take to the table with the noodles chicken and broth. Add the fresh ingredients as you go.
This dish will more than satisfy your soul and it will definitely impress anybody you cook it for.