go ahead, laugh... ). How's that for starting things off with a bang??!!
Originally, our intent was to make beef pho -- but, when we found the perfect pasture-raised chicken at the market, we changed our tune. Neither of us had ever experienced the chicken rendition of this dish -- so it would be something completely new to us.
We sped off to Viet Ho (on 49th and North) and took our time perusing the aisles. We found a (huge) bag of mung bean sprouts, a bottle of high quality nam pla (fish sauce), and a package of rice noodles... among other things. We're planning a return trip one of these weeks to delve a bit more deeply into all the great Asian ingredients.
When we got home, the first thing we did was to char the onions and ginger root. The onions blackened up gorgeously -- and we were excited about the rich flavor they would impart to the broth. In retrospect, the ginger could have used a few more minutes of heat to really intensify its flavor, and the next time I try this I'll chop the root roughly to give it a bit more surface area for browning, but it wasn't a mistake I'd lose much sleep over.
While the onions were under the broiler, we chopped up our chicken (exposing plenty of delicious, nutritious, bone marrow) and put our chicken on to par-boil. This step is meant to allow many of the impurities to be flushed out of the chicken and ensure a broth with infinitely more clarity. It made sense, but we were eager to see how effective it would really be. The chicken boiled, and the foam rose. When it had boiled for 5 minutes on high, we drained the pot, rinsed the chicken, and started all over again with a clean pot and a fresh batch of water.
This time around, we added the power-packed flavor components -- the charred onion & ginger, 2 T coriander seeds, a couple of star anise, 4 cloves, and a healthy little bunch of cilantro stems. Based on what I read on the Daring Cooks' forum, I expected to have to toast the spices (a great idea, really)... but no such directions seemed to exist in the recipe. So, I threw everything in "as is". Big Mistake. As you'll find out, our soup turned out just fine -- but the depth of flavor was definitely missing.
Of course, this mistake simply served to confirm something I've always known, deep down. ALWAYS trust your instincts. Never follow directions exactly. Even when you're completing your first Daring Cooks Challenge :)
We brought everything back to a boil and began skimming the foam that rose to the top of the pot. The recipe suggests skimming every 20 minutes for the best clarity. Despite the recipe's instructions, I really only had to skim the broth once (albeit very thoroughly) in the beginning, but we kept watch for the full 1 1/2 hours just in case.
We had to admit it. The clarity of the broth was impressive -- so, I'm definitely tucking the par-boiled chicken trick into my pocket for future use. It came out perfectly -- gorgeous and golden, with only the slightest traces of debris in the final product (something that could have been easily remedied had I used cheesecloth to strain the broth a final time).
The process wasn't at all harrowing - although I did become a bit annoyed with the coriander and star anise. Originally, it floated freely in the broth -- but what that meant is that I was constantly fighting not to skim it out along with the foam. Fortunately, we happened upon a fairly easy solution -- a spice tea bag, tied with a bit of kitchen twine. Perfect.
Enhanced by bits of shaved red onion, sliced jalapeno pepper, cilantro, and bean sprouts, the soup really was quite lovely. We used a relatively light hand with the Siracha and hoisin sauce -- just to let the flavors of the broth shine through. The final product was definitely prettier than the simple golden chicken noodle soup of my youth. Everything tasted so... fresh. And the textural elements of the add-ins brought something truly special to this soup.That said, the flavor of the broth (the real measure of Pho, according to all I've read) simply wasn't quite up to the level I expected. Despite the fact that the spiciness of the star anise and coriander were fairly evident, the flavor was almost *too* delicate. I missed the flavor of the clove and cilantro almost entirely, and (even after adding additional fish sauce and a touch of sugar) I still wanted a little bit of something more. Adding a touch of salt helped -- but the next time I make this, I'll definitely be toasting those spices (heh -- I can't believe the recipe didn't mention anything about that step!). Heck, I might even add MORE of them. And yeah, I'll be adding an extra charred onion to the mix. I'm even thinking that the chicken could use a bit of roasting -- just to give it a little bit more oomph.
That said, we enjoyed ourselves a great deal. The soup was a nice departure from all the heavier foods we've been eating now that the weather has started to cool down. Enhanced with a more liberal dose of Siracha, I'm betting this soup would be an awesome antidote for a winter cold. Or a pleasant addition to a light spring spread. Would also be fun to make for guests. I'm already contemplating the myriad options for fresh veggie add-ins... thin, crisp French green beans, julienned radishes, shredded carrots... the possibilities are endless.
Pho Ga: Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup
The October 2009 Daring Cooks’ challenge was brought to us by Jaden of the blog Steamy Kitchen. The recipes are from her new cookbook, The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook.
Also submitted as part of Real Food Wednesdays -- where great people post about real nourishing grub.
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