One of my best friends — let’s call her Lilly — is always trying to get me to go out for noodles. In the middle of July she’ll text, “Hey! Let’s hang out. I could really go for some soba...” In the dead of winter, when the sun sets on Manhattan at 4 p.m. I’ll see messages from her about a pho place she really, really wants to check out. I often try to casually steer her in another direction, but the season, time of day, and weather are irrelevant: For Lilly, noodles are number one, an irreplaceable default comfort food.
Confession: I never really got the ramen craze. I come from a rice-eating family, and so it’s taken me a long time to appreciate the pleasure of a great noodle dish. The people that know me best know that I still almost never crave noodles; I’ll take a bowl of steamed rice over a bowl of udon any day. But thanks to Lilly, I’m starting to understand the slippery addiction of a good noodle in a flavorful broth — and there are many, many noodles and soups to appreciate, dive into, and learn to cook.
As if on cue, author Andrea Nguyen dropped her latest book, The Pho Cookbook: Easy to Adventurous Recipes for Vietnam's Favorite Soup and Noodles, this month. There is a recipe for traditional Vietnamese pho in it, and one day I will master it. But until then, I have this, a recipe for a shortcut chicken pho that I hope to make for Lilly, as appreciation for her patience in my noodle-avoidance, sometime very soon.
Shortcut Chicken Pho"Great for pho beginners, this recipe is also terrific for cooks in a hurry. It involves less than 45 minutes, during which you’ll doctor up store-bought broth so it says, “I’m pho-ish.”
The keys to this streamlined approach include toasting spices and dry sautéing the ginger and green onion, which help to extract flavor fast. Poaching the chicken in the broth adds savory depth. You’ll practice some fundamental pho techniques that you can apply elsewhere, too. Choose a broth that tastes like chicken, such as Swanson brand, which is less fussed up and easy to manipulate. You need two 14.5-ounce (411 g) cans or one 32-ounce (907 ml) carton."
3/4-inch (2 cm) section ginger
2 medium-large green onions
1 very small (.5 oz | 15 g) bunch cilantro sprigs
1 1/2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 whole clove
3 1/2 to 4 cups (840 ml to 1 l) low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups (480 ml) water
6 to 8 ounces (180 to 225 g) boneless, skinless chicken breast or thighs
About 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
5 ounces (150 g) dried narrow flat rice noodles
2 to 3 teaspoons fish sauce
About 1/2 teaspoon organic sugar, or 1 teaspoon maple syrup (optional)
Optional extras: Bean sprouts, mint sprigs, Thai basil, cilantro leaves, lime wedges, thinly-sliced chili peppers
1. Prepare the broth ingredients: Peel then slice the ginger into 4 or 5 coins. Smack with the flat side of a knife or meat mallet; set aside. Thinly slice the green parts of the green onion to yield 2 to 3 tablespoons; set aside for garnish. Cut the leftover sections into pinkie-finger lengths, bruise, then add to the ginger.
Coarsely chop the leafy tops of the cilantro to yield 2 tablespoons; set aside for garnish. Set the remaining cilantro sprigs aside.
2. Toast the broth ingredients: In a 3- to 4-quart (3 to 4 l) pot, toast the coriander seeds and clove over medium heat until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the ginger and green onion sections. Stir for about 30 seconds, until aromatic.
3. Add the broth and bring to a simmer: Slide the pot off heat, wait 15 seconds or so to briefly cool, then pour in the broth.
Return the pot to the burner, then add the water, cilantro sprigs, chicken, and salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat to gently simmer for 30 minutes.
4. While the broth simmers, soak the rice noodles in hot water until pliable and opaque. Drain, rinse, and set aside.
5. Remove the chicken from the broth once cooked: After 5 to 10 minutes of simmering, the chicken should be firm and cooked through (press on it and it should slightly yield).
Transfer the chicken to a bowl, flush with cold water to arrest the cooking, then drain. Let cool, then cut or shred into bite-size pieces. Cover loosely to prevent drying.
6. Strain the broth: When the broth is done, pour it through a fine-mesh strainer positioned over a 2-quart (2-liter) pot; line the strainer with muslin for superclear broth. Discard the solids. You should have about 4 cups (1 l).
Season with fish sauce and sugar (or maple syrup), if needed, to create a strong savory-sweet note. 7. Finish the pho: Bring the strained broth to a boil over high heat. Put the noodles in a noodle strainer or mesh sieve and dunk in the hot broth to heat and soften, 5 to 60 seconds. Lift the noodles from the pot and divide between the 2 bowls.
Lower the heat to keep the broth hot while you arrange the chicken on top of the noodles and garnish with the chopped green onion, cilantro, and a sprinkling of pepper. Taste and adjust the broth’s saltiness one last time. Return the broth to a boil and ladle into the bowls. Enjoy with any extras, if you like.
Reprinted with permission from The Pho Cookbook: Easy to Adventurous Recipes for Vietnam’s Favorite Soup and Noodles by Andrea Nguyen, copyright © 2017. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.
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