Here is the first of the fruits from my Hanoi experience; chicken noodle soup – phở gà. Along with the beef version this is an absolute staple of locals in Hanoi, and is traditionally served for breakfast. I have been fortunate to eat at a number of street food stalls serving phở, the more general term for noodle soup (its literal translation is noodles), however I have been extremely honoured to have been invited in to the kitchen of the owners of our rented apartment here to see first-hand how this fantastic dish is prepared.
What I have done is taken elements of every version I have eaten and tried to come up with a definitive recipe; which to be honest is not possible as every one that makes phở in Hanoi has their own version and secret ingredient(s) or method.
The first experience of cooking this dish was to procure the chicken from a local market. When you buy a chicken here it looks like a chicken; head and feet intact. Vietnamese chickens are not as ‘fattened’ as the western counterparts, so there tends to be less meat on the carcass. However, they are packed with flavour which is a great basis for the broth – the element which a great phở hinges on. Having bartered for a local chicken I then bought the noodles ready-made. It just makes sense to do it here, as you can buy 1kg of fresh noodles for about $1USD. Finally, I found a stall that sold such an incredible array of local herbs; a cook’s heaven. However, it was the Asian basil (also known as Thai basil) with its sweet, aniseed aroma that stood out from the rest, and so I decided that this should be the one to finish off the soup – of course with some fiery chilli and zesty lime.
Vietnam - Chicken Noodle Soup (Phở Gà)Print
- ■ 1.5kg chicken | I used a Vietnamese chicken, which seems to have a lot of flavour – definitely use a free-range one, maybe organic, if you’re not in Hanoi!
- ■ 2 tbsp. sea salt | Used to salt the chicken.
- ■ 6 spring onions (scallions) | White part only – roughly sliced.
- ■ 6 cloves garlic | Garlic bulbs in Hanoi are small, but pack a punch – I used a whole bulb, but 6 medium to large cloves will do.
- ■ about a 5cm piece fresh ginger | Peeled and thinly sliced.
- ■ ½kg pork bones | These add a ‘sweetness’ to the broth – get them cut into 10cm pieces.
- ■ 3 tbsp. fish sauce | I used a ‘butterfish’ variety that’s available here, but regular fish sauce (good quality) is fine.
- ■ 2 tsp. sea salt |
- ■ 2 tsp. sugar | Not sure what kind of sugar I used – I bought it from the market, procured from a large sack. Its sweetness was like raw sugar, but its appearance was like golden castor sugar.
- ■ 2 tsp. garlic oil | Make garlic oil by frying 6 finely sliced garlic cloves in 250 ml of vegetable oil (at 180 deg. C) until golden brown. Drain the oil. The garlic can be used as garnish and the garlic oil stored in a refrigerator for a week.
- ■ 1kg fresh noodles | I had the privilege of being able to buy great noodles here. You can by dried rice noodles and prepare yourself. However for a good consistency it is better to buy fresh packeted rice noodles.
- ■ 8 spring onions | Sliced.
- ■ 8 garlic chives | Finely sliced.
- ■ 1 or 2 red chillies | Finely sliced with seeds.
- ■ 1 lime | Cut into 8 wedges.
- ■ a few herbs | To serve. Here I used Asian basil. You can also use Vietnamese mint, perilla leaves, and coriander. The one thing about Hanoians and their phở is that they don’t add too much to the soup – they let the chicken, broth and noodles speak themselves.
The first step is to put the chicken in a plastic bag and add the 2 tablespoons of salt. Shake the bag and ensure that the salt is evenly spread around the chicken. Leave this for about an hour then remove the chicken and rinse thoroughly to remove any salt.
In a mortar and pestle pound the spring onion and garlic to a paste. Put the chicken in a large stock pot and add 5 litres of warm water. Over a medium heat bring the water to a gentle simmer and cook the chicken for about ten minutes, skimming away any impurities (foam) from the surface of the water.
Add the spring onion and garlic paste, and the sliced ginger. Cook the chicken for a further hour (vary slightly for smaller/ larger chickens), ensuring that the water does not go past a gentle simmer and also as important turn the chicken every 15 minutes to ensure even cooking. We want to cook the chicken as gently as possible, whilst also extracting the flavour in to the water.
Once cooked, remove the chicken from the water and set aside to completely cool. Now add the pork bones, fish sauce, salt, sugar and garlic oil, and gently simmer for a further 25 minutes. Remove the pork bones and discard, and then strain the broth through a fine sieve and return to the cleaned stock pot.
To serve, heat the broth so that it’s on a gentle simmer and take one portion of noodles (about 125g or so) and blanch them in the broth using a cylindrical strainer (this is the first time I had seen this technique, but it works great). Add the noodles to a serving bowl, then slice a good portion of breast from the chicken (with skin) and add to the bowl along with a couple of pinches of garlic chives and spring onions.
Now pour over the broth until it has completely covered the noodles and chicken. Repeat for the other portions. Serve the chilli, herbs and lime separately. Please enjoy.
■ This is just one version of this classic dish – it is pretty close to the versions I have eaten here in Hanoi. ■ I originally was going to cook the chicken for about two hours, but the waft of the broth must have risen to the apartment owner's residence, and in a flash she came down, felt the chicken, picked up two chopsticks, picked up the chicken with the chopsticks, lifted it out of the broth, plonked it on the bench and said 'ready'. She then toddled off. Of course the chicken was perfect (and so the cooking time is an hour!)