Pho is a labor of love. It can take hours, sometimes even a couple of days to create the famously flavorful broth. But this Chicken Pho can be on the table in under 2 hours! I have a couple tricks to coax maximum flavor with minimal effort; in fact the hands-on time of my Chicken Pho is just 20 minutes. You can make the components ahead of time and reheat it when you’re ready.
Why would we post a noodle soup in the middle of summer? Although it may sound crazy, many Asian cultures believe that sweating out toxins is not only good for you but should be actively encouraged to naturally cool down the body. If you see people slurping down bowls of ramen in Tokyo or spicy hand cut noodles in Shanghai, all without central AC in the blazing heat, you’ll understand what I mean. Plus the fresh herbs, sprouts, and lime garnish in Pho are incredibly refreshing. Whether you decide to go the natural route or sit down in an air conditioned space, noodle soups are not just cold weather food. So let’s get into it!
Chicken Pho Broth
The first trick to creating a richly flavored broth is to toast the spices. Use a clean skillet and moderate heat-spices can burn quickly if you use high heat. In just a couple minutes, the lovely fragrance will let you know you’re done.
The next trick is to deeply char the onion and some ginger. That adds loads of complex, smoky flavor. DO NOT skip the charring. It’s critical to a good broth. And don’t worry, the broth gets strained so you won’t be serving any burnt bits. If you prefer to do this step under a broiler, put the onion and ginger as close to the elements as possible.
Now it’s time to get out the soup pot! Put the chicken in and cover with the water.
After that 90 minutes the chicken will be fall apart tender. Carefully remove it to cool while you strain the broth.
Once the broth is strained, I use a fine mesh skimmer to degrease the broth. You can also use a paper towel to blot the broth or even refrigerate it overnight and let the fat congeal before removing.
Both the broth and chicken can be stored separately in the fridge for a couple days if you don’t plan on serving Chicken Pho that day. I’ve also frozen both the broth and the chicken with good results. You will have quite a bit of chicken, more than you can use for the servings of broth. Use your leftover chicken for fried rices, salads, quesadillas, omelettes…you get the drift.
Chicken Pho Noodles and Garnishes
While the broth is cooking, I get together a platter of garnishes. Part of the fun is that everyone gets to customize their own bowls so I like to have a nice variety of garnishes as well as some favorite condiments, like sriracha, hoisin sauce, and fish sauce. One of the trademarks of pho is a bounty of fresh herbs. Thai basil is worth seeking out for its faint licorice flavor that echoes the star anise in the broth, but regular basil will work too.
Bean sprouts are important but highly perishable. Only buy them when you know you will be serving Pho within a day. If you find your bean sprouts not looking their best, one trick is to blanch them really quickly in boiling water (for literally 2 seconds). Then plunge them into ice water and drain them. You will be able to save your bean sprouts from the trash bin.
And of course our Chicken Pho would not be complete without noodles! I prefer using fresh pho noodles because they have a great chewy texture, but you can use dried rice noodles if you prefer. Generally, if you don’t live in an area with a lot of Vietnamese people, the “fresh” pho noodles are kept frozen. Let them defrost in the fridge overnight. Do not try and cook frozen noodles. They will be tangled in a giant frozen ball and the exterior will be a mush before the center even begins to defrost.
Bring the broth back to a simmer while you prepare the noodles. The noodles take seconds to cook so that broth better be hot! And by cook, it’s really more like a quick swish. I like to keep a strainer in the pot and swish the noodles in the strainer once the water is at a furious boil. Strain them out and shake out the excess water. I do one portion at a time, but you could also cook the noodles at once and strain them in a colander in the sink.
Serving Chicken Pho
Now is when everyone gets to make their Chicken Pho exactly how they want it. I like mine with tons of herbs, someone always like theirs extra spicy with sliced chiles, some want extra funk and salt and they liberally add the fish sauce… I put out little dishes so folks can mix and match condiments to their heart’s desire.
Two of the main condiment bottles you always see on the table at Pho places are hoisin and sriracha. These sauces are used to season the meat-not the broth. Squirting the sauces directly into the bowl is considered poor manners, particularly since the broth is where so much time has been spent preparing it. Instead use some small sauce dishes. Put a little of each condiment into the dish and dab your chicken into the sauces.
Make Chicken Pho this weekend and let me know how you like yours! Love the fresh flavors of Vietnamese cuisine as much as we do? Check out some of our most popular Vietnamese recipes, like these Mussels, this Noodle Salad, or this Eggplant Salad.
For the stock:
- 1 2-inch piece of ginger, washed and slightly smashed with the side of a knife
- 2 large yellow onions washed and halved (you can leave the skin on)
- 1 Tablespoon oil
- 4 whole star anise
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 3 whole cloves
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- ¼ cup fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 whole chicken (about 4–5 pounds)
For the Noodles:
- 1 lb frozen/fresh pho noodles defrosted if frozen (you can also use dried)
- 2 scallions, chopped
- 2 shallots or ¼ yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 1 large handful fresh bean sprouts
- ½ bunch of thai/holy basil
- ½ bunch cilantro or culantro leaves
- 1 jalapeno or Serrano chile, thinly sliced
- 2 limes quartered
- Hoisin sauce
- sriracha chile sauce
- extra fish sauce for the table
- Place the spices (star anise, cinnamon stick, cloves, fennel seeds, and coriander seeds) in a small pan over medium heat and toast them for several minutes, shaking the pan regularly. The spices should be aromatic once toasted. Set the spices aside.
- Place the pan back on the stove and heat on medium high heat for several minutes. Add the oil and place the onion halves and ginger in the pan. Sear for 3-5 minutes until charred and flip and sear the other side for another couple minutes. Set aside.
- Place the chicken in a large pot, breast side up, and add 12 cups of water to the pot. Add the toasted spices, the charred onions and ginger, fish sauce, salt, and sugar.
- Bring the pot to a brisk simmer over high heat, cover with a lid leaving a small crack, and then reduce heat to medium low heat. Simmer for 1 and a half hours, skimming the surface of impurities occasionally.
- Remove the chicken gently by using a wide spatula and a pair of tongs (it will break apart easily) and put on a plate to cool. Pour the soup through a colander into a clean pot/container and skim any surface fat with a skimmer or paper towels. You can also refrigerate the broth overnight to congeal the fat. Scrape and discard the fat.
- The broth can be cooled and refrigerated until ready to use. You should have about 12 cups of broth. Add a little water if you’re short.
- Taste the broth. It should be more salty than you would normally drink since the noodles and vegetables will dilute the broth. Adjust with some salt if needed.
- Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, peel the skin off and pull the meat from the bones. It should be soft enough that you should be able to easily debone it. Cut the meat into bite sized pieces (I like to leave my chicken on the larger side so it’s easy to find in the bowl). Either refrigerate the chicken if you are serving another day or proceed with the noodles.
- Wash the bean sprouts, culantro, cilantro, and basil and mound onto a large platter. Add the other garnishes to the plate and refrigerate until ready to serve the noodles.
- Bring the stock to a simmer before preparing the noodles. If you need to reheat the refrigerated chicken, take a little of the stock and put it into the pan with the chicken. Heat it covered with a lid over medium heat for several minutes.
- Bring 2 quarts of water to boil and add the noodles to the pot. Stir the noodles with chopsticks and immediately drain into a colander. Using tongs or chopsticks to separate and portion the noodles. (You can also leave a strainer in the boiling pot and put the noodles directly into the strainer. Swish the noodles with chopsticks, then take the strainer out, shake out the excess water, and place the noodles into a bowl. This works well if you’re only doing 1-2 servings at a time.)
- Divide the noodles into 4 deep soup bowls and top with some of the chicken, some sliced shallot/onion, and a sprinkling of scallions.
- Then ladle about 2-3 cups of the hot broth over the noodles.
- Serve the pho with the garnishes.
- Everyone can add their favorite garnishes and adjust the flavor of the pho with the condiments at the table.
*I prefer fresh pho noodles which have a chewier texture and fresher flavor than dried. You can find the noodles in the freezer or refrigerator section of most Asian grocery stores. If you’re using dried rice noodles, purchase the medium width noodles and follow the package instructions for preparation.
*You can freeze both the prepared broth and chicken. Defrost both before reheating.
Keywords: pho, chicken, noodles, vietnamese, rice noodles, noodles