Winter is around the corner and what better way to embrace the cold than a bowl of Vietnamese chicken noodle soup, Pho Ga?
Pho Ga (Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup) is the quick poultry alternative to its more well-known and beloved cousin, Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup). Pho consists of rice noodles in a hearty and aromatic broth made from either beef or chicken stock, topped with meat and garnished with fresh herbs. Pho originated in Northern Vietnam and quickly became popular across Vietnam. There are lots of variations in Pho as you travel from Hanoi in Northern Vietnam down to Ho Chi Minh City in Southern Vietnam.
Pho is pronounced as "Fuh" and it can be eaten any time of day. However, it is one of the most popular breakfast items. The broth in Pho ga is much lighter and less intense than Pho Bo. Because of this, Pho Ga is also eaten not when one is under the weather, much like all versions of chicken noodle soup from around the world.
The most authentic way to make Pho Ga is to use free-range chickens. Free-range chicken are a lot pricier than battery farm chicken. Where I live, they cost two to three times more than the abundantly available Foster Farms chicken. They are also a lot scrawnier. You might not think you are getting much bang for the buck, but once you taste the free-range chicken, you realize you do get what you pay for. Free-range chickens are much more flavorful, most likely due to their natural diet, and their texture a lot chewier. The chewiness doesn’t mean tough. It simply means that it has a bite, unlike battery farm chickens who’s texture is a lot mushier. Of course, I use battery farm chicken all the times in other recipes. However, for Pho Ga, it’s all about the free-range chickens.
Like other Vietnamese noodle soup dishes, you must clean the chicken thoroughly before making the stock. I like to give my chicken a thorough rub down with salt. The abrasive scrubbing with salt not only cleans away that yucky film on the chicken and gives it a nice shine, it eliminates any foul poultry smell. On top of that, the chicken gets parboiled before it makes the final cut into the stock pot. When parboiling, the impurities float to the top. That parboiling liquid gets discarded. The bird gets a second rinse in cold water before it goes into the stock pot. This whole cleaning process gives you the cleanest, clearest and best tasting chicken broth. Of course, this is all optional. Skip the cleaning if it sounds too laborious, but be forewarned.
I love having Pho Ga with plenty of Viettnamese coriander (Rau Ram). Chicken and Vietnamese coriander go hand-in-hand in a lot of dishes in Vietnamese cuisine. If you are ever served Vietnamese coriander with Pho Ga, kiss the chef. That’s probably the most authentic Pho Ga you will ever be served.
Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup (Pho Ga)
- 1 whole chicken (free-range chicken preferred)
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 5 liters water
- Thumb-size piece ginger (roast whole in oven at 350°F for 40 minutes then slice into coins)
- 8 shallots (roast whole in oven at 350°F for 40 minutes, allow to cool then peel)
- 2 tablespoons dried coriander seeds (toast in dry pan for 1 minute then place in spice bag)
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 2 tablespoons chicken stock powder
- 1 golf-ball size rock sugar
- 3 lbs rice noodles (soak in room temperature water for 30 minute then drain)
- 1/4 cup thinly sliced white/yellow onion
- 1/4 cup sliced green onions
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro)
- Fried shallots
- 1 bunch Vietnamese Coriander (Rau Ram)
- 2 limes (cut into wedges)
- 2 cups fresh bean sprouts
- Sliced red chili peppers or jalapenos (optional)
Noodles & Garnishes
- Clean the chicken. Lightly dust the chicken with salt (1 tablespoon). Give the chicken a full exfoliating body scrub then rinse under cold running water. Bring a large pot with water to a boil (make sure it will fit the chicken without overflowing). Add chicken and parboil for 3-4 minutes. Place colander in the sink and drain content of pot into a colander, discarding the liquid and catching the chicken. Rinse chicken thoroughly under cold water and set aside. Wash the pot thoroughly and return to stove.
- In the now clean pot, add water (5 liters), ginger, shallots and spice bag of coriander seeds. Bring pot to a boil, then add chicken. Cook on a medium-low simmer for 30 minutes then remove chicken and let it cool. When cool enough to handle, shred the chicken by hand or chop into small bite-size pieces then set aside.
- Continue to simmer the stock pot on medium-low for another 1-1/2 hrs then season with salt, chicken stock powder and rock sugar.
- Cook rice noodles a bowl at a time. To cook the noodles, fill a small pot with water and heat to a rolling boil. Add noodles. Fresh rice noodles will cook up in seconds so you are pretty much blanching them (a few seconds). Dried rice noodles will take a little bit longer to cook (1 minute).
- To assemble the bowl, add cooked rice noodles to serving bowl. Add chicken. Ladle in broth and top bowl with a bit of white/yellow onions, green onions, cilantro, fried shallots and a sprinkle of black pepper. Serve immediately with a side platter of Vietnamese coriander, lime wedges, bean sprouts and chili peppers/jalapenos.