Growing up in rural Mississippi, pho wasn't a meal that we had easy access to. Our little town had a few local diners, one Chinese buffet, one Mexican restaurant, and a small handful of fast food chains. I was actually oblivious to the delightfulness of pho until my 20's, when I moved to Jackson, MS. My first experience with homemade pho came only a few summers ago, while visiting my California gal pals in the Bay area. It was a great weekend packed with lots of outdoor adventures and lots of good food!
I love trying to recreate experiences in my own kitchen, but also experimenting and putting my own ideas into the dish. This past weekend, my fiancé caught that dang winter crud that has been running rampant. It was also a cold and snowy weekend, so I decided to make pho to warm our bones. I was able to find the ingredients needed at a local grocery store without having to venture further in the snow to the Asian market (I LOVE going to Asian markets any other time!)
Back in my kitchen, I took some shortcuts here and there to save time in the cooking process (I was also canning homemade sauerkraut that day and needed to share time with that as well). I just made sure not to skimp on flavor, and the results were amazing! Cayenne pepper is said to help aid symptoms of the common cold, not to mention that it is my favorite spice, so I invited it into this pot of goodness with a generous hand! You can skip the cayenne if you can't handle its heat, or simply adjust the level to your preference.
SPICY CHICKEN PHO
Yield: 8 servings
- 1 whole chicken (3-5lbs)
- 5 quarts of water
- 1/4 cup fish sauce
- 1 box rice noodles (14oz)
- 1-2 cups tofu (diced)
- 1 yellow onion (quartered, skin on)
- 1 fresh fennel bulb (quartered, or 1 teaspoon fennel seed)
- Chunk of ginger root (peeled & cut into about 6 thumb size chunks)
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 3 cardamom pods
- 1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon allspice berries
- 2 star anise pods (or 1 teaspoon anise seed)***
- 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
- 1 2/3 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon honey (or brown sugar)
- Lime wedges
- Green onions
- Bean sprouts
***Star anise is a common spice in Vietnamese dishes, but I have left it out before when I couldn't find it. I just made sure to use the fennel bulb, as the flavors are similar. Adding both just makes it extra yummy!
Bring water to a boil in a large stock pot. Add 1 tablespoon of salt and the whole chicken, breast side down. Boil on medium for 30 minutes.
Turn off heat, remove the chicken (leave liquid in the pot for later) and transfer it to a bowl of ice water. When it has cooled enough to handle, discard ice water.
Remove skin (do not discard). Separate meat from the bones and place meat into a separate bowl, shredding into bite size pieces as you go. When you are finished, you will have a puddle of juices in the bowl you were working in. Pour the juice over the bowl of meat, cover, and place in the fridge for later. Note that chicken may not be cooked all the way through during this step. This is fine, as it will be cooked more later in the process.
Dump the chicken skin and bones back into the stockpot. Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium and let this simmer for at least 1 hour.
Add onion, fennel, ginger, garlic, star anise, cardamom pods, coriander seeds, black peppercorns, and allspice berries. Bring back to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low and simmer 45 minutes. Make sure not to let it cook too long because the vegetables will begin to turn bitter.
Strain broth, discard the solids. Bring broth back to the stovetop and add the bowl of chicken meat, 2 teaspoons salt, cayenne pepper, and honey. Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium low and simmer for 10 minutes, or until chicken has finished cooking. Drain the tofu to remove loose parts. Add tofu and fish sauce to the chicken broth. Leave this on low while you prepare the rice noodles.
Rice noodles are simple to prepare. For dry noodles, just boil water, remove from heat, drop noodles in, let them set for 8-10 minutes stirring occasionally, strain, and serve.
Assemble bowls with the chicken tofu broth, rice noodles, and garnishes. Enjoy!