I don’t know about your neck of the woods, but here in northwest Houston, phở restaurants have popped up on every corner and in every retail centre. Google “pho restaurants in Houston” and you will find a list of no fewer than 380 phở restaurants (and counting…). With interesting names like Phở Vang, Phở-Nag (that would be mine, according to my family!), Phở Danh, Phở Bong Seng, Phở Dung and Phở Pasteur, it’s a Vietnamese phở-nomenon!
The basis of phở is a deliciously spiced, clear broth with rice noodles. A variety of meats, fresh herbs, sprouts and peppers allow the soup to be personalized. Phở Gà - phở with chicken, is a favorite of mine - you will find the easy recipe below as part of this month’s Daring Cooks’ challenge. The correct pronunciation of Phở is “fuh?” You say the word like it’s a question!!! Try saying it in a sentence without asking a question!
For my phở to be as authentic as possible, I made the stock from scratch. I followed the instructions on lovely Jaden’s awesome website for homemade chicken stock. Click on the link to see her tips on how to get a clear and tasty broth.
Charred onions and ginger (not shown) add depth to the soup
Phở Gà - phở with chicken from Jaden’s The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook.
Makes 4 servings
2 tbsp. whole coriander seeds
4 whole cloves
2 whole star anise
2 quarts (2 liters/8 cups/64 fluid ounces) store-bought or Jaden’s homemade chicken stock
1 whole chicken breast (bone in or boneless)
1 3-inch (7.5 cm) chunk of ginger, sliced and smashed with side of knife
1 to 2 tbsps. sugar
1 to 2 tbsps. fish sauce (available in the Asian section of most grocery stores). Fish sauce is an essential component of Phở. Soy sauce is not a good substitute. I added about 1/2 cup extra fish sauce to my phở.
1 lb. (500 grams/16 ounces) dried rice noodles (about ¼ inch/6 mm wide)
2 cups (200 grams/7 ounces) bean sprouts, washed and tails pinched off
Fresh cilantro tops (leaves and tender stems)
½ cup (50 grams/approx. 2 ounces) shaved red onions
½ lime, cut into 4 wedges
Sriracha chili sauce
Sliced fresh chili peppers of your choice (I used red jalapenos)
Heat a frying pan over medium heat. Add the coriander seeds, cloves and star anise and toast until fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Immediately spoon out the spices to avoid burning.
In a large pot, add all the ingredients (including the toasted spices) and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer for 20 minutes, skimming the surface frequently. Use tongs to remove the chicken breasts and shred the meat with your fingers, discarding the bone if you have used bone-in breasts. Taste the broth and add more fish sauce or sugar, if needed. Strain the broth and discard the solids.
Prepare the noodles as per directions on the package. Ladle the broth into bowls. Then divide the shredded chicken breast and the soft noodles evenly into each bowl. Have the accompaniments spread out on the table. Each person can customize their own bowl with these ingredients.
The second part of the challenge was to produce a chocolate dessert using wontons. My creation, using Vietnamese spices in the chocolate filling, is light and flavorful and delicious with coconut ice cream.
Spicy Chocolate Wonton Pillows
Makes 12 wontons
1 large egg
1 tbsp. water
1 cup heavy cream
1 star anise
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup sugar (optional)
1 cup plus 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided use (I like Ghirardelli 60% cacao chips)
24 wonton wrappers, defrosted (keep wrappers covered with damp towel) high-heat oil for frying (i.e., vegetable oil, corn oil) confectioners’ sugar (icing sugar) for sprinkling
coconut ice cream
In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and water to make an egg wash. Set aside.
On medium heat, bring cream to a boil in a small pot. Remove from heat and add star anise, cloves and red pepper flakes. Set aside for at least 30 minutes. Sieve cream into another pot and discard spices. Add sugar if you want a sweeter filling. Reheat mixture until hot. Remove from heat and add 1 cup chocolate chips. Allow chocolate chips to melt and then stir until mixture is smooth. Cool completely. Add 1/2 cup chocolate chips and stir to combine.
Lay a wonton wrapper on a clean, dry surface. Using a pastry brush, brush egg wash on the edge of all four sides. Spoon about 1 1/2 tablespoons of chocolate mixture in the middle of the wonton. Carefully cover with another wrapper and press the edges firmly to adhere, allowing the excess air inside to escape. Make sure the wrapper is sealed completely. Repeat with the remaining wrappers and chocolate. Keep the folded chocolate wontons covered under plastic wrap or a damp paper towel to prevent them from drying.
In a wok or medium pot, pour in 2 inches (5 cm.) of high-heat oil. Heat the oil to 350º F (180º C) and gently slide a few of the chocolate wontons into the hot oil. Make sure you don’t crowd the chocolate wontons. Fry the wontons for 1 ½ minutes, then flip over and fry another minute until both sides are golden brown and crisp.
Remove from the oil and drain on a paper towel. Dust with confectioner’s sugar and serve with a scoop of coconut ice cream.