Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Daring Cooks: Pho, Pho, Pho-un

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.

I'd like to thank our special guest hostess, Jaden of Steamy Kitchen, for sharing a delicious recipe and our founders Ivonne (Cream Puffs in Venice) and Lis (La Mia Cucina) for doing all the work around The Daring Kitchen and for setting up this months Daring Cooks' Challenge.

From Jaden:
Hello Daring Cooks!

I’m ecstatic that you guys will be cooking one of my very favorite dishes from the cookbook, the Vietnamese Chicken Pho. On my site, I have a longer version of the recipe, which involves making the stock from scratch.

In the cookbook, I wanted to make things easier for those on a time-crunch. The book includes a recipe for “Quick Vietnamese Chicken Pho” which uses store-bought stock. For the challenge, you’re welcome to create either recipe.

So what is Vietnamese Pho? Well, it’s like the most insanely delicious noodle soup popular in Vietnam. The broth is simmered for hours and hours with either beef knuckle/leg bone or with a whole chicken. Other accompaniments include ribbons of rice noodles, fresh herbs like cilantro or basil, a wedge of lime or lemon, fresh bean sprouts and fresh sliced chilies if desired.

What makes Pho so different than any other type of noodle soup is the spices that go into the simmering broth. Warm spices like coriander, star anise, cloves, cinnamon, fresh ginger transform an ordinary broth into a very authentic Vietnamese Pho.

Our challenge focuses on Chicken Pho, or “Pho Ga” in Vietnamese. By the way, the correct pronunciation of Pho is “fuh?” Yes, you say the word like it’s a question! Chicken Pho is lighter than Beef Pho and the spices used are a little different as well.

Some of the secrets to making great Chicken Pho is:
1) Toast the spices and char the onion and ginger. This brings out the flavor and fragrance of these ingredients!
2) If you’re cooking the longer recipe (on my site) make sure you’re pre-boiling the chicken first – give it a hard boil for a few minutes to get rid of the scum and stuff in the chicken. This will help you create a crystal clear, clean broth.

The spices for Chicken Pho is whole coriander seeds, whole cloves and whole star anise – they should be easily found in your grocery store.

An essential component of Pho is fish sauce. Make your best effort to find fish sauce – your local Asian market should carry it. And if not, visit your local Thai or Vietnamese restaurant and see if you can buy a bottle from them. Soy sauce is a poor substitute for fish sauce, but if you can’t find fish sauce, then go ahead and make the sub.

2009 October Daring Cooks’ Challenge (A Double Challenge!)
Recipe Source: Jaden of Steamy Kitchen from her new book The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook.

Challenge #1: Vietnamese Chicken Pho
Preparation Time: 45 cooking time + 15 minutes to cook noodles based on package directions
Servings: Makes 4 servings


For the Chicken Pho Broth:
2 tbsp. whole coriander seeds
4 whole cloves
2 whole star anise
2 quarts (2 liters/8 cups/64 fluid ounces) store-bought or homemade chicken stock
1 whole chicken breast (bone in or boneless)
½ onion
1 3-inch (7.5 cm) chunk of ginger, sliced and smashed with side of knife
1 to 2 tbsps. sugar
1 to 2 tbsps. fish sauce

1 lb. (500 grams/16 ounces) dried rice noodles (about ¼ inch/6 mm wide)

Accompaniments (served with the noodle soup):
2 cups (200 grams/7 ounces) bean sprouts, washed and tails pinched off
Fresh cilantro (coriander) tops (leaves and tender stems)
½ cup (50 grams/approx. 2 ounces) shaved red onions
½ lime, cut into 4 wedges
Sriracha chili sauce
Hoisin sauce
Sliced fresh chili peppers of your choice


1. To make the Chicken Pho Broth: heat a frying pan over medium heat. Add the coriander seeds, cloves and star anise and toast until fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Immediately spoon out the spices to avoid burning.

2. In a large pot, add all the ingredients (including the toasted spices) and bring to a boil.

Started out with homemade chicken stock and a whole chicken breast.

The rest of the ingredients... the toasted coriander, clove and star anise, 1 T rock sugar, 1 T of fish sauce, 1/2 onion blackened under a broiler and a 3" chunk of ginger - smashed and charred under the broiler.
Note: I found that breaking up the star anise would help toast the sides too.

All the ingredients soup ingredients added to a pot... I noticed my homemade stock was a little cloudy. When I've had pho in restaurants, the soup is usually clear.

Here's a step that I added...
Since I wanted a clear soup, I beat two egg whites to soft peaks and added a slivered scallion. The idea behind the egg whites is the whites will cook on top of the soup forming a "raft". The protein mesh will act as a filter to trap impurities (floaty bits) in the broth. The slivered green onion is there mainly to provide some structural support for the egg white foam. Also, it does add a little extra flavor to the broth.

The egg white raft is added to the soup... and the whole thing is brought to a boil and cooked per the directions... brought to a boil, heat lowered and simmered for 20 to 30 minutes.

3. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer for 20 minutes, skimming the surface frequently.

4. Use tongs to remove the chicken breasts and shred the meat with your fingers, discarding the bone if you have used bone-in breasts.

5. Taste the broth and add more fish sauce or sugar, if needed. Strain the broth and discard the solids. I added another 1T of fish sauce. You want the broth to be strong at this point since we'll be pouring over unsalted noodles and raw veggies.

The before and after pictures...
looks like the egg white raft did the job filtering the broth. The broth is clear while the toasted spices and charred onion and ginger gave the broth a nice caramel color. I'm actually surprised there isn't more fat floating on the soup since chicken breast was not skinned.

6. Prepare the noodles as per directions on the package.

Soak in hot, just boiled, water for about 7 to 10 minutes.

7. Ladle the broth into bowls. Then divide the shredded chicken breast and the soft noodles evenly into each bowl.

8. Have the accompaniments spread out on the table. Each person can customize their own bowl with these ingredients.

In the small cup - Chili sauce and Hoisin sauce.
The herbage - two types of jalapeno peppers, cilantro, Thai basil, mint, thinly sliced red onion, lime and bean sprouts.

The bowl of noodle is set up and waiting for the boiling hot soup to be added. The hot soup will help cook the raw veggies.

The finished bowl - hot soup is added.

I've tried many pho recipes with mediocre results - mainly blandness. However, this recipe surprised me with 1) how simple it is and (2) the flavorful broth. I'd say this is the best pho recipe I've tried so far.

Another surprise, the whole chicken breast simmered for about 25 minutes total, was very moist.

Overall, I enjoyed the results of this challenge. The broth was aromatic and flavorful. This recipe is something that I'll cook again.

Challenge #2: Dessert Wontons
(Note: This second dessert challenge is about being creative with filling and form. Knock yourselves out!)

This challenge is where we DC'ers come up with our own recipe for a Dessert Wonton.
Ingredients: I had many ideas, but I became fixated on bananas so there was no turning back... Probably influenced by jr high and high school, a majority of the students were Filipino, where banana fritter lumpias were a common item in bake sales and parties. Nostalgia. :-)

1 Large Egg (you will be using the egg white to seal the edges of the wonton)
12 Wonton wrappers
1 Banana, sliced
2 T Brown Sugar
2 T Shredded Coconut
Chocolate Chips
Confectioners’ sugar (for dusting)

The ingredients:
Egg whites - for sealing the edges egg whites are best.
The thinly sliced banana mixed with coconut and brown sugar.
Chocolate chips and the wonton skins.

Place a little of everything in the center... paint the edges with egg white and seal.

Deep fry at 350F for until golden... about 1 minute per side.
Drain and serve

My banana wontons were so-so. The thinly sliced banana cooked really fast becoming kind of mushy. Reminded me of pureed banana baby food... The flavors were good, but I was hoping the brown sugar would caramelize a little more to form a caramel. I think the texture threw me off the most.

Next time, slice the banana thicker or use plantains... actually make a caramel sauce if I want caramel flavors. :-)


Anna said...

As walays - great photos! Your pho looks delish and love the filling you used for your sweet wontons! Cheers :)

Amy I. said...

Your egg white raft is so interesting, thanks for sharing that tip, I'll definitely be trying it in the future. Great work all around!

Lauren said...

That raft looks so fun! Not to mention the gorgeous wontons =D. Awesome job with this challenge!!

Margie said...

Wow, your chicken pho looks delicious. Wish I could have bowl right now. And then a few of those wontons please. Great job!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful photos and nice pho in the end. Well done as usual, John! I love the step-by-step pictures.

Audax said...

As always some of the best step-by-step photos and thank you John for showing us how to clear cloudy stock using egg whites as a 'raft'. Your final stock looks beautiul. And great that you liked this pho recipe simple yet so yummy. Well done on this challenge. Cheers from Audax in Australia.

Lisa said...

LOVE the egg white raft idea. I'd heard of it before but never tried. I basically skimmed and skimmed and skimmed ad nauseum!

That said, your Pho looks incredible, and your wonton filling is to.die.for. What I would give for one of those right now!