FOOD

When the days get shorter and colder, Viet­nam’s na­tional dish is per­fect for soup sea­son

The Georgia Straight - - Contents - By Gail John­son

The soup that is a sta­ple in Viet­nam, pho, can be made in your own kitchen, and a lo­cal chef shares her recipe.

It’s not all bad when the days start get­ting shorter and the weather gets worse: win­ter­time means soup sea­son. Pho, the na­tional dish of Viet­nam—a noo­dle soup that’s pro­nounced “fuh” and not “foe”—is one type in par­tic­u­lar that warms the belly and the soul.

Al­though its ori­gins are sub­ject to some de­bate, pho seems to have be­come pop­u­lar­ized in the early 20th cen­tury, sold by food hawkers on the streets of Hanoi, ac­cord­ing to An­drea Nguyen’s The Pho Cook­book: Easy to Ad­ven­tur­ous Recipes for Viet­nam’s Fa­vorite Soup and Noo­dles. These days, it’s of­ten eaten morn­ing, noon, and night through­out that coun­try and the world.

“An­thony Bour­dain once said he stayed in Viet­nam for 30 days, and ev­ery sin­gle morn­ing he had a bowl of pho,” says Chi Le, chef and owner of Chi Mod­ern Viet­namese Kitchen (1935 West 4th Av­enue). “He never got tired of it. I’m like An­thony Bour­dain: I can have it ev­ery day.”

At her Kit­si­lano restau­rant, Le— who was a Masterchef Viet­nam con­tender be­fore mov­ing to Van­cou­ver—serves two types of the healthy, sat­is­fy­ing soup: pho ga (chicken) and pho dac biet (beef).

She has also started of­fer­ing pri­vate cook­ing classes, with reg­u­larly sched­uled cour­ses in the works.

“A lot of peo­ple want to make pho at home,” Le tells the Ge­or­gia Straight by phone. “Pho is not hard to make, but there’s no one recipe; it’s all about re­gions. Peo­ple from the north to the mid­dle to the south of Viet­nam, all have re­gional flavours. The south is a lit­tle bit more sweet; the mid­dle would have more depth of tone; in the north of Viet­nam, they want it a lit­tle bit lighter.”

Hail­ing from Nha Trang, in the coastal, cen­tral area of Viet­nam, Le pre­pares a fra­grant broth that takes about 12 hours to make if us­ing beef bones cooked at a low sim­mer or seven or eight hours with chicken bones. An an­gry boil, she says, will make soup murky and milky. From there, she adds in­gre­di­ents such as black car­damom, cin­na­mon, cloves, co­rian­der seed, and more.

“Roasted fen­nel seed gives a deeper flavour and I add a few pieces of dried gin­seng,” she says. “At this time of year, I’d use a bit more clove be­cause it keeps you warmer.”

To make your own com­fort­ing, steam­ing bowl, Le shares her sig­na­ture recipe.

CHICKEN PHO In­gre­di­ents

3 whole chick­ens, 1.5 to 2 pounds each 8 litres wa­ter 3 white jumbo onions, charred 6 large shal­lots, charred 150 grams gin­ger (1 piece), charred and bruised 20 grams co­rian­der seed, toasted 15 grams fen­nel seed, toasted 15 grams star anise, toasted 5 grams cloves, toasted 5 grams cin­na­mon 40 grams salt 50 grams rock sugar 30 grams chicken pow­der Good-qual­ity fish sauce

Fresh pho noo­dles (quan­tity as de­sired); green onion (finely chopped); white onion (thinly sliced, rinsed in cold wa­ter, and strained to dry); fresh cilantro and basil; bean sprouts; lime leaves, thinly sliced; fresh red chilies; black pep­per; and fresh lime wedges to taste.

Sriracha and hoisin sauce for dip­ping the chicken (op­tional).

Method

Wash the chicken with salt, then rinse well with cold wa­ter.

Re­move breasts and keep in the fridge for later use.

In a pot, bring wa­ter to a boil, then add the chick­ens (no breasts). When the wa­ter comes to a boil again, re­move all of the foam that floats on top and re­peat un­til no more foam ap­pears.

Add onion, shal­lot, gin­ger, and all the spices.

When wa­ter comes to a boil again, re­move foam. Re­duce heat to medium low; there should only be very small bub­bles on the sur­face. Cook for up to six or seven hours, cov­ered.

Re­move and dis­card the chick­ens, onion, shal­lot, gin­ger, and herbs and spices. Bring the broth to a boil again, then add the chicken breasts.

Re­move foam. Add rock sugar, salt, and chicken pow­der. De­pend­ing on the size of the chicken breasts, cook for 6 to 8 min­utes. Re­move breasts, set aside.

Strain broth with fine-mesh sieve. Put broth back in pot and bring to a boil when ready to serve.

Thinly slice chicken breast or tear apart with your fin­gers to de­sired size; add to broth.

Place noo­dles in bowl. Add chicken breast, green onion, white onion, cilantro, basil, and boil­ing broth with 1 to 2 tea­spoons of fish sauce.

Top with bean sprouts, lime leaf, red chili, and freshly cracked black pep­per.

Sriracha and hoisin sauce should only be used for dip­ping the chicken, not added to the broth.

Pho—which is pro­nounced “fuh and not “foe”—was pop­u­lar­ized in the early 20th cen­tury when it was sold by food hawkers on the streets of Hanoi.

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