Chicken Pho (Pho Ga)


I never at Vietnamese food until I was almost 20 years old. It just wasn't something we had in my city growing up (or, at least, I wasn't something I ever knew about). The same can be said about Korean food, but that's another story for another day.

The first time I ever had pho (the normal beef one, not the one I made for this post) it was a truly magical experience. It was rich and delicious with plenty of herbal notes to cut the fat from the beef. There were plenty of noodles and more than enough different textures of meet (from flank steak to brisket to tendon to tripe). It was so interesting and so perfect and SO CHEAP. $9 for a masterful bowl followed up with a cup of Vietnamese iced coffee seemed like the perfect meal.

Beef pho may be great, but chicken pho is great (in it's own way). I used to go to one place in San Francisco that served fantastic 5 spice chicken pho. It was just a bowl of the noodles/broth/veggies/herbs and a whole chicken leg quarter on the side roasted with Chinese five spice. You could rip that chicken into small pieces and put it in your soup for the best chicken noodle soup ever. Nothing was better on a sick day.

Mine was not quite as fancy as theirs, but used what I had in my freezer. I had several chicken back carcasses and a bunch of ginger. It was a learning experience, but well worth it. This is certainly a weekend food, but give it a try next time you have free time. This makes plenty of broth that can be frozen for future use.

Ingredients for Broth
  • 2 or 3 chicken carcasses. If using raw chicken bones, roast them first at 450 degrees until browned. If using chicken bones from a roast chicken, place in pot as is.
  • 2 yellow onions, unpeeled and cut in half
  • 1 large piece ginger, about 6 inches long, unpeeled and cut in half lengthwise
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 4 star anise pods
  • 1 tsp fennel seed
  • 5 cloves
  • 1 bunch cilantro stems
  • fish sauce (Most are Thai style, which is cheaper. Try to find Vietnamese style, which is stronger)
  • palm sugar
  • kosher salt
Ingredients for serving
  • Broth, seasoned as desired
  • Rice noodle vermicelli
  • Chicken breasts, sliced thin (or beef, or tofu, or whatever you want)
  • Bean Sprouts
  • fresh lime wedges
  • fresh thai basil
  • Fresh jalapeno
  • Fresh cilantro
  • Fresh mint
  • Hoisin or Sambal if desired
Directions for broth
  1. Roast your chicken backs at 450 for 20 minutes if needed. Add chicken backs to a big pot and cover with cool water.
  2. Meanwhile, char your ginger and onion on all sides until black. It should be very dark and smoky smelling. A grill or your gas range works better than the broiler, as that will tend to try out your ingredients.
  3. Add your onions, ginger, cilantro stems, fennel, anise, cloves and cinnamon to the pot and simmer for 2 or 3 hours. Skim foam off the top as necessary, though you shouldn't have very much after roasting the bones. If it needs more time, add more water as necessary to keep the bones barely covered.
  4. Strain out the spices and bones. This is your stock. I usually divide it for the freezer at this time and season the stock as needed for serving when I heat it up.
Directions for soup
  1. Take your stock and heat it to simmering. Season to taste with fish sauce, palm sugar and kosher salt. It should be quite savory, as you will be adding plenty of noodles and vegetables to your stock.
  2. In a separate bowl, soak your vermicelli in warm water until soft, pliable and tender. You don't want to cook it all the way because it will continue to cook in the hot soup.
  3. Slice your chicken breast into paper thin slice and sprinkle with salt and Chinese five spice. Throw that in a pan and cook barely on both sides. If you want to use chicken quarters, season and roast until done. If using beef, you can just leave it raw and the hot stock will cook it in the bowl. Since I'm using chicken, I cooked it first.
  4. Put noodles in bowls with your meat on top. Heat the stock to a rolling boil and pour over the noodles and meat.
  5. Garnish with bean sprouts, herbs, lime wedges and peppers. Add sambal or hoisin if desired and enjoy immediately.