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Vietnamese Chicken Pho

Chicken PhoI haven’t often posted recipes for my failures, but this time I’m going to post the sucker that was so much work to be so “meh”.  I’d always wanted to make the Vietnamese soup called “Pho” (pronounced “fu” not “foe”).  I researched and read at least a dozen recipes for a chicken version.  I was ready to be amazed at my efforts.

Several things combined to make this a really memorable and disappointing exercise in cooking.  I had three large chicken breasts and all of the seasonings.  I needed to stop by the grocery store for the remainder of the ingredients.  I had the day off and was in a cheerful mood.  Really, I had no idea how bad my day was going to be.

Cooked chicken breasts

Cooked chicken breasts

I picked up the ingredients: rice noodles, a serrano pepper (they didn’t have red chili peppers), a red onion, two limes, fresh cilantro, fresh basil and fresh bean sprouts.  I hadn’t had breakfast so picked up some cut up watermelon for my lunch and headed home.  After putting away what needed to be refrigerated, I put the chicken breasts into a big pot, filled it with water to cover, added the seasonings and brought it to a boil.  I turned it down to medium low and let it simmer for an hour.

In the meantime I ate a few pieces of watermelon and it wasn’t good.  It really had very little flavor and I lost interest quickly.  I put the container of watermelon into the fridge and ate a handful of Cheetos.  Yeah, I was eating healthy, don’t scold me.  I’d had a large sugar free caramel latte.  I had it covered.

Rinse bean sprouts and set aside

Rinse bean sprouts and set aside

Back to Pho prep.  I rinsed the bean sprouts and set them aside in a container.  I lowered the noodles into hot water and let them soak for several minutes.

Slice onion thinly and set aside

Slice onion thinly and set aside

I carefully scooped the seeds out of the serrano pepper then halved it and sliced it thinly.  I cut the lime into quarters and set it aside.  My green onions were already chopped in the fridge.  We use them so often that I keep them stocked in a container.

Slice pepper thinly and set aside

Slice pepper thinly and set aside

When my chicken breasts were done I removed them to a platter to cool for about 30 minutes.  Using my fingers, I removed the meat from the bones and put it into a container.  I shredded up one large breast worth of meat and set it aside in a separate container for the Pho.

I strained the chicken broth and put it into a slightly smaller pot.  I brought it to a boil and reduced it down awhile to intensify the flavors, but it just wasn’t very flavorful.  I added 2 cubes of my vegan chicken broth to the pot and that brought flavor, finally.  Each cube makes 2 cups of broth.  I had about 5 cups of broth from reducing down the water the chicken was in.

Lower noodles into hot water and let soak for several minutes

Lower noodles into hot water and let soak for several minutes

Learning from a previous nightmare where my rice noodles were overdone to the point of major mush, I put a good handful (about half the package) into some boiling water for a few minutes and let the noodles soften.  I removed them from the water into a bowl, knowing they would soften more when I served them in the soup.

Assemble ingredients in bowl and add broth

Assemble ingredients in bowl and add broth

I put the shredded chicken into the broth and let it come to a boil and heat through.  I used tongs to remove the chicken, portioning it out into two large soup bowls.  I put the rice noodles into the other side of the bowl, then poured broth into the bowls.  I added some bean sprouts, chopped cilantro, chopped basil, sliced onions and a sprinkling of sliced peppers to the bowls.  I set the bowls on a plate and put more of each condiment on the plate in case we wanted more.  Pho is all about the condiments.

I squeezed a lime wedge over each bowl of Pho, place more wedges on the plates, and served my authentic looking bowls of Vietnamese chicken noodle soup.  Then I promptly got sick.  My P.S. (Pho loving Spouse) continued to eat and watch our cooking show on the dvr while I spent a lot of time in another room.  I was wickedly sick for several hours.  We won’t discuss that.

I decided it had to be the watermelon, it was the only thing I’d eaten besides the Cheetos.  Perhaps it was cut up with a contaminated knife at the grocery store.  I’m only guessing and wouldn’t say which store because I am not sure.  I threw the remainder out, just in case, and didn’t eat my Pho for many hours.  Food was not welcome.

Vietnamese Chicken Pho

Vietnamese Chicken Pho

My P.S. commented that he usually had pork or beef Pho.  He thought the chicken didn’t seem right for the dish.  He wasn’t impressed with it but didn’t say much about it since I seemed to be feeling cruddy enough.  He did say he thought the chicken was overcooked and I didn’t agree.  It wasn’t tough or rubbery to me.

When I had my Pho later I thought it was good.  The broth seemed lacking in excitement but the rest seemed to have a traditional Pho taste.  With all the work it takes to make this dish, I think we’ll stick to going out to dinner and ordering it at a restaurant.  Someone else’s labor sounds like a good plan.  I’m going to associate the dish with a bad outcome for quite awhile.  Pun intended.

Vietnamese Pho

2 chicken breasts; on the bone, with skin
2 star anise
4 whole cloves
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
Fresh bean sprouts; rinsed
Fresh cilantro; roughly chopped
Fresh basil; chopped
1 red chili pepper (or serrano); finely chopped, seeds removed if desire less heat
6 Green onions; chopped
2 limes

Place chicken breasts in large pot and just cover with water.  Add star anise, cloves, coriander seeds, ginger, cinnamon and garlic powder to a spice ball or tie it in a piece of cheesecloth and add to the pot.  Add fish sauce and sugar.

Allow the pot to come to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low and cook for one hour.  Remove chicken to platter and strain broth, removing spice ball or cloth.

Pour broth back in a saucepan and boil for 10-15 minutes, letting it reduce.  Taste and add bouillon cubes if necessary.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Place rice noodles into a bowl of boiling water and let soften.  While still al dente, remove and place in a container.

Shred chicken breasts and add to broth, bringing to a boil.  When chicken is fully heated, place in soup bowls.  Add rice noodles to broth and let heat, then place in soup bowls.  Pour broth into bowls.

Add condiments or let people add their own choices.  Squeeze a lime wedge over each bowl and serve with more wedges on the side.

Makes 4 servings

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