there are many versions of pho. the most famous is made with beef stock and thinly sliced raw beef. we prefer chicken around here. either way it is hot, tart, salty, spicy (to taste) fresh delicious noodly pho. this is one of my all time favorite foods to make or to eat. i have never been to vietnam (but i tend to frequent a fair number of vietnamese restaurants, too many to count). i don't let that stop me from making pho. i have been improving this recipe for taste over the years while at the same time reducing the number of steps so it is less trouble. yes it is possible to improve the taste while reducing the number of steps. not easy, first you must strip away a recipe to its purest essence. anyway, if it is less trouble, i will make it more often and that is a nice bonus for one of my favorite foods. recipes are rigorously tested around here based on the time honored "too much trouble index." some recipes are worth a bit of trouble. some are not. in any case, one day i hope to go to vietnam and cambodia and taste the food in it's original environment. oh the flavors and colors of the authentic, i can only imagine. until then i will busy myself slurping up this inauthentic soup in blissful ignorance.
step number one, and the key to the success of this dish is the secret ingredient: crispy shallots. do not underestimate the complexity and nuance from this single ingredient. i begin here.
thinly slice 3 or 4 shallots. chop lightly. saute in 4 BSP olive oil over high to medium high heat until they begin to brown. use plenty of oil here, they will soften rather than crisp if you dont use enough or the heat isnt high enough. when they are beginning to brown nicely turn off the heat. watch them as they cool, sometimes the pan is so hot they continue to cook for a while. when cooled, set aside in a bowl lined with a paper towel to drain the oil. scallions can be added to this mixture with great result. you can saute them togther.
2 quarts chicken stock
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1/4 cup minced cilantro stems
1 medium onion, sliced
4 TBSP good quality fish sauce
2 TBSP brown sugar
juice of 1 lime
bring stock, onion, garlic, stems, to boil. add fish sauce, brown sugar lime to taste. simmer until ready to use.
place in boiled water until soft, drain and rinse thoroughly in cold water to keep them soft and not stuck together until you are ready to use them. (save the hot water).
shredded chicken breast
i buy a rotisserie chicken from whole foods and remove the skin and gently shred the breast into large strips. set aside. (easy).
bean sprouts and napa cabbage
use the hot water from the rice noodles. add a little salt. bring to a boil and blanch the bean sprouts and napa cabbage seperately for a minute or so each. drain.
use the stems to perfume the broth they are wonderful and do not wilt like the leaves do. i can't believe most people discard the stems. tragedy. i have read that vietnamese cooks use them also. i really must go and find this out for myself. maybe a cooking/eating tour of southeast asia is in order.
thai chilli sauce
everyone gets to assemble their own soup in our house. one child likes only the cabbage. another strongly prefers the bean sprouts. one only like the soy sauce and vinegar, one loves the chili sauce. these asian noodle soups are generally served up individually at stalls, everyone ordering just what they want. so sensible. place the noodles in the bowls. have everyone add in their meat and veg, pour the hot broth over all. add condiments. slurp slurp enjoy.