Back in the days when I didn’t eat beef, I always coveted bowls of beef pho. The smell of the steaming sweet beef broth would drive me crazy. At the time, not a lot of the pho noodle houses offered chicken pho, but when they did, I would order it.
Often it was good: succulent, juicy shreds of dark chicken meat, delicately spiced broth tasting of onion, ginger and cilantro. Sometimes though, it was a bland, watery stock with floating globs of fat with dry, overcooked breast meat.
Now that I’ve had both chicken and beef pho I can’t say that I prefer one over the other. But when I’m sick, it’s chicken pho all the way. Gingery chicken soup always makes me feel better. Add noodles, lime and the freshness of Vietnamese herbs and I know I’m on the mend.
While beef pho can take hours, in comparison, chicken pho is practically instant. If you can’t be bothered to make the stock from scratch, add the aromatics to a store bought clear chicken stock and you’ll have a meal in minutes.
I’ve never made chicken pho from scratch before, but I’ve eaten plenty at my in-laws, so I asked my mother-in-law for her recipe. According to her, the secret to the broth is charring the onions and ginger. She also adds daikon to her broth to sweeten it. I didn’t have any daikon on hand, so I skipped that, but the resulting broth was clean, sweet and intensely chicken-y.
It just so happened that I ended up making a pretty decadent broth for two people. I used a stewing hen, which will usually yield enough broth for for at least 6 bowls of pho, but I boiled the broth down to create that intense chicken flavour and ended up with just enough for 2.
Stewing hens are great for making chicken broth. They’re cheap and I find they yield flavourful, chicken-y tasting broth. If you’ve never made home made stock before, you might be surprised at the amount of scum or foam that comes out of a chicken when you boil it. If you don’t want to be skimming scum off your broth for the next hour, I recommend hard boiling your bones or stewing hen to force the impurities out. After about 5-10 minutes, drain and rinse your chicken and wash your pot thoroughly.
Chicken Pho Recipe
1 stewing hen
5 quarts of water
2 onions, halved
1 3-4 inch chunk of ginger
1 tsp whole coriander seeds
1 tsp whole cloves
4 whole star anise
2 tbs sugar
2 tbs fish sauce
1 stick of cinnamon
2 legs of chicken
sliced green onions
roughly chopped cilantro
thinly sliced white onions
Toast your ginger and onions in a toaster oven on broil until the onions are sweaty everything is nicely charred. Peel the ginger and onions and set aside until you’re ready to start your broth.
Toast the coriander seeds, cloves, and star anise in a dry pan on low heat until they are aromatic, about 2-3 minutes. Tie the spices up in cheesecloth for easy removal from your soup.
Put your stewing hen in a large pot with cold water and bring to a hard boil for 5-10 minutes to force the scum and impurities out. Drain, rinse your chicken and wash your pot.
Fill your clean pot with about 5 quarts of water and add your stewing hen, ginger, onions, and spice packet. Bring to a boil and lower to a simmer. If any scum floats up skim it off. Simmer for as long as you can; reducing it will intensify the flavour. I let my broth simmer for about 4 hours, but 2 is probably sufficient.
Meanwhile, place your chicken legs in a pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer and cook until the chicken is cooked, about half an hour. When the chicken is cooked, remove it from the water and let it cool. Don’t throw the chicken-y water away! Skim off the foam and add it to your pho broth.
When your chicken legs are cool enough to handle, shred it off the bones and add the bones to the chicken stock. Keep the chicken in the fridge until you’re ready to eat.
When you’re ready to eat, taste your broth and season it. Add the sugar and fish sauce in increments until you’re happy with the flavour. Strain the broth and discard the bones. Keep the broth on the heat. You want your pho broth to be super hot. Add the shredded chicken the broth to heat it up at bit.
Prepare your noodles according to the package, strain and top with broth, chicken meat and garnishes. Enjoy!