For something that seems so simple, pho ga can be quite an undertaking to attempt at home. The trick is to co-ordinate and plan the different elements – otherwise it is actually straightforward. My recipe here produces a good and tasty broth that – baring 72 hours of simmering beef bone and the odd impossible to find ingredient – is about as authentic as it can get for homemade!
To make Pho Ga Noodle Soup you’ll need:
600g boneless chicken breasts
1500g chicken wings
Approx 650g beef marrow bones
225g wide rice noodles
200g bean sprouts
large 12cm chunk of ginger
2 large onions unpeeled
1 medium carrot
2 sticks celery
8 cloves of garlic unpeeled
2 tbs coriander seeds
4 dark cardamon pods
2 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon palm sugar, or oriental ‘brown’ sugar or granulated sugar
Handful fresh coriander roots
One bunch of spring onions
2 large red chillies – or more depending on heat
3 – 4 limes
Handful each of Thai basil, coriander and mint
Dried shallots (optional) – fresh store bought is best
Soy and Sriracha to serve
Those who rely on a regular supply of fresh stocks for their cooking will be on home ground with pho. But pho broth is slightly different – it’s traditionally made with beef bones and a few aromatics (not the leeks, carrots and bouquet garnis etc. of a European stock). The unctuous background flavour that is typical of pho is derived from extracting gelatin from simmering bones in water for several hours! So for die-hard pho fans, or regular weekend brewers of broth, stock and demi-glace – making your own pho broth will be a breeze.
However, this recipe is different – it’s a compromise between all-day bone simmering and a reasonable limit on what might be possible for the part-time enthusiast. The big debate among the Vietnamese is whether there can be any kind of pho – namely beef or chicken – that is not made with beef bones. Many Vietnamese cooks tend to use beef bones for both types of pho and dismiss chicken as devoid of flavour. However, not everybody has easy access to a local butcher who might supply a bag of beef – or even chicken – bones. So this recipe settles on the more practical chicken pho, using using easy to buy chicken wings – but also includes beef marrow bones, bought from the supermarket, to help add depth of flavour. Using chicken wings gives quick flavour from the meat and later gelatine from the bones. The stock can be used after 2 hours and up to 4 hours. After 2 hours the stock will taste fresh and flavourful, by 4 hours some of the freshness is given-up to greater depth and unctuousness.
NB: For 4 people you will need a pan which will hold up to 5 litres of water. Another requirement is a stout cooks knife or clever for cutting through the chicken wings. This method uses quite a bit of boiling water, you will need an electric kettle or to keep other pans of boiling water ready. Serving in oriental soup bowls with chopsticks and ceramic spoons add to the authentic taste.