A craving for noodles and broth made me hunt down a recipe for that famed Vietnamese soup, pho. Asian cuisine and I have been doing a perilous dance for a few years now and I step on its toes constantly. While I wish I had the finesse and sensibility to create authentic Asian dishes, they always elude me just a bit. I'm not sure if it's the balance of sweet/salt/sour/bitter/emame or the total lack of experience, but I never feel they are quite up to snuff. But why stop trying? I have a small following for my Thai fried rice (thank-you, ladies!) and I still think that my cellophane noodle dumplings are pretty awesome, but for the most part, my Chinese/Thai/Japanese/Vietnamese attempts have been sort of mediocre. So sure, let's try one more!
The first step, as always, was research. The Vietnamese cookbook was helpful as far as ingredients, but it completely assumed I was a smart Vietnamese person who had been cooking at Vietnamese gramma's ( I don't have one of those) knee since I was a young kid. Some of the techniques completely escaped me. So, off to YouTube I went. I was appalled. APPALLED. I watched exactly 4 videos on pho-making. Um. Hey. I don't want to add granulated bullion and MSG pho powder and WHAT?? I'll say one thing about my cooking. It is not filled with crap. I am pretty sure that Vietnamese gramma would not be adding powdered chemicals to her pho. I knew I sure wasn't going to. I went back to the book.
The recipe for Pho Ga (chicken pho) was pretty straightforward. Take some ginger, burn it over an open flame. Yup. Really. Then do the same with two onions, skin on. Burn 'em, wreck 'em. This gives pho the smoky base that authentic pho-eaters are used to. (I was excited about becoming one of those.)
After cooling the ginger and onion, it is peeled and set aside with cilantro, fish sauce, turbinado sugar, anise, coriander, black pepper, cloves. A whole chicken was also involved. There was some cleaver work with the chicken, so I put June to work. The chicken had to be boiled for 15 minutes and then dumped out into a "clean sink" - I swear, every recipe said something about the clean sink procedure- and washed to remove the impurities. The pot also needed a quick wash, and then it was returned to the stove with a fresh fill of water and all the ingredients. Soon the kitchen smelled like pho-heaven.
While the stock cooked, the rice noodles were prepared. I am a mad lover of the rice noodle. It's versatile, takes the flavor of what you add to it and can be prepared in advance. They can be found in many forms, I chose two. Rice stick is terribly thin and long- feel free to cut them with a knife or scissors after softening them in water. Personally, I like the challenge of getting them from the bowl to me without dropping- but I'm odd. I also had some linguini-type, and I cooked those as well. They took longer so I did them separately. (I always make too much when I have company over. Bad habit I can't seem to break.)
Once the stock was cooked and strained, and the chicken pulled off the carcass, it was time to assemble the garnishes. Mung bean sprouts, serrano chilies, mint leaves, Thai basil, scallion, and lime wedges. I also added baby corn because it's adorable and I love adorable food. Each garnish should be in bowls for guests (or you) to add as they like. Sriracha and hoisin bowls are also common for dipping the hot meat. Did I really just say that?
Each pho bowl gets a handful of noodles, and the hot stock is ladled over. Chicken is added, and then each pho-eater gets to garnish their own bowls. The hot stock and the cool garnishes are a wonderful contrast- and the stock has a smokey-licoricy, rich flavor that makes you dip in over and over. It's pho-nomenal. See what I did there?