I grew up on Pho- a delicious brothy soup with thin slivers of beef, topped with loads of mint, bean sprouts, basil, cilantro and drizzled with hoisin sauce and siracha. It's aggressive in the best way possible. In Toronto this dish is so popular that Vietnamese restaurants serving a variety of delicacies are titled with the word Pho...I don't know if this is a cultural thing or if Pho is to Vietnamese in the West as sushi is to Japanese food. Whatever the case, pho is phontastic.. did it again!
Given my background as a chef, I am quite apt at figuring out what goes into something I've eaten. I'm not saying that I can guess every ingredient, however I have a pretty good grasp on ingredient lists and cooking methods. After researching Pho recipes I was shocked to learn that cinnamon, cardamom pods, star anise, coriander seeds and clove go into the stock! The trick to pho is its broth- it's full of subtle flavours and is super aromatic. If I never had Pho and read a recipe for it I would certainly give it a miss. However, I do urge you to try this recipe as there is a tremendous amount going on- rich broth, crunchy vegetables, earthy, salty, sweet spicy all heightened with loads of fresh herbs.
I had to make a few variations to the recipe due to the fact that I've moved to a relatively homogenous neighbourhood 30 minutes from Manhattan where the closest asian grocer is over 30 minutes away and the most exotic local cuisine is Thai..sigh...don't get me wrong, I love where I live but I wish the food around here was more adventurous! I substituted bean sprouts with snow pea shoots and while pho is traditionally made with beef, I made it with chicken and it was just as good or dare I say better!...ok I don't know about better but it was less rich and somewhat cleaner and not in a vs. dirty sort of way but in the ambiguous culinary term sort of way!
1 pound chicken bones
2 fingers ginger, rough chopped
2 onions, peeled and cut in half
2 star anise
1 tablespoon coriander seed
2 cinnamon sticks
1 bay leaf
2 chicken breast, thinly sliced
1 bunch mint leaves
1 bunch cilantro
1 bunch basil leaves
1 package vermicelli noodles
Salt and pepper to taste
Place coriander seeds, star anise, cloves, bay leaf and cinnamon sticks in a cheese cloth and tie with a butcher string. In a large stock pot add aromatic sachet, chicken bones, onion, garlic and water. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.
You want the broth to be clear so you should be skimming the scum periodically over the next three hours. After 3 hours of skimming and simmering turn off heat and discard sachet, bones, onion and ginger with a slotted spoon.
Line a sieve with cheese cloth and place on top of another stock pot. Empty broth over sieve. The broth is supposed to be clear and free of scum so the cheese cloth sieve is worth it! It's an extra precaution but totally worth the effort given how much time you put into this wondrous broth!
Taste the broth- it should be very aromatic but bland. Add salt to your liking. Do it a little at a time but salt will bring out all the flavours from the ginger and spices! Salt and pepper your chicken slices.
Bring broth to a boil and add the chicken. Add vermicelli noodles that have been cooked according to packaged directions.
Place the fresh herbs and sprouts in a platter and condiments in separate bowls. Allow guests to garnish soup accordingly.