little triumphs

i consider myself a pretty brave person who likes to try new things. what’s the point of loving food if you don’t try out new things every once in awhile? a good chicken pho definitely counts as “new things for rebekah to make.”  as obsessed with and how excited i get by fresh new ingredients, i have never thought to make myself a bowl of pho – and it’s full of fresh, new to me ingredients – that wonderful, Vietnamese soup with the luscious, full bodied broth, beef or chicken, and garnished with lots of vibrant, fresh herbs and veggies. i finally got over the fact that erik doesn’t eat asian food and told him to suck it up and eat my pho, or make himself frozen pizzas, because i was going to make me some freaking pho! luckily enough, he’s scared of me so he just ate the damn pho (and loved it, by the way). and also luckily, we had a trip to Jackson planned for a movie and grocery shopping at my favorite “local” grocery store (Smith’s grocery). it’s a great place for foodies. they have a very large selection of vegetables i love and can’t get here (like radicchio and even simple things like watercress and arugula), lots of herbs (my beloved tarragon, etc.), and tons of great cheeses. oh yes and my beloved skirt steak. i can’t get freaking skirt steak unless i make the trek to jackson! insanity i tell you! anyway, i consulted my friend Son on the specifics regarding ingredients and technique for good pho (because he’s a wonderful cook and really knows his stuff) and now i am a star student of Son’s Facebook School of Culinary Arts. while we were in Jackson, I picked up the necessary spices he listed (star anise, cardamom, canela) as well as sprouts and sriracha and other such garnishing touches for the soup. the result: a really damn good version of something i’ve been craving for a long time. i hope if you have access to these items (and they can be used in other applications as well – you dont have to buy these just for the soup and then not use them again. cardamom for example, can be used in different baked goods), you can top anything with spicy sriracha (visit Bon Appetit for some recipes – they recently featured it as an “ingredient of the year” in their year end issue), and you can make a great little salad addition with bean sprouts.

Chicken Pho
recipe courtesy my friend Son

You Need:

a whole chicken
a yellow onion (skin left on)
a 2-2 1/2 inch piece of ginger (skin left on)
1-2 pieces of canela (true ceylon cinnamon, not cassia, the common, woody kind)
3-4 star anise pods
6-8 cloves stuck in the onion
3-4 cardamom pods
about 6 garlic cloves (papers left on)
fish sauce
package of rice noodles

garnishes:
lime wedges
bean sprouts
sriracha
hoisin sauce
thai basil
cilantro and/or ngo gai
sliced jalapenos

in a heavy bottomed pan, toast your garlic cloves, star anise, cardamom and canela just until they’re fragrant. you want to watch this and not burn anything. the purpose of toasting spices is to bring out their flavors. toss all this into a large stock pot. (take the paper off the garlic post-toasting and before you pop it in the pot). over an open flame, char your onion and ginger. i let these cool off, remove the paper from the onion and cut both the onion and ginger into pieces (ginger into 1/2 inch pieces). put these in the pot too. place your chicken into the pot with the onion, ginger and spices. cover with cold water, and bring to a boil, skimming the foam off the surface. continue cooking until the chicken is done. remove the chicken to a bowl and let it cool so you can handle it. shred the chicken off and set it aside. place the carcass back into the water and let this boil gently for another hour and a half. add your fish sauce in at this point. i don’t have an exact amount – i just added a little at a time and kept tasting it until i felt i had added enough and i liked the flavor.

speaking of fish sauce, i spilled some on the floor and my cat about licked a hole in the linoleum. if you have a cat, keep him away from the fish sauce. they will act like they would murder you for some. i spilled some on me once and the cat jumped up in my face to lick it off me. he probably would have eaten my face off just for a few drops of fish sauce. cats are evil.

okay digression over.

while all this is going on and if the cat hasn’t eaten your face off for fish sauce, prepare your rice noodles according to the package directions. don’t get these all mushy – once they’re softened, they’re good to go. drop them in cold water if you have to in order to keep them from getting gloopy. remove the carcass and the other solids from the stock. discard. add the shredded chicken back into the stock. heat through. dish up the noodles into a bowl and cover these with broth and chicken. garnish with your pick of the list up there. or use all of them (i did). but don’t – DON’T – get overexcited about digging into your pho and fling sriracha in your eye. it kind of dampens the whole pho experience. just saying.

Son suggested the Pilsner Urquell as an accompaniment, or a reisling if you’re a wino (like me). but the pilsner was great with this soup.

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Filed under Chicken, soup

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