Pho Real


I’m not sure when exactly it became cool to eat pho — the iconic Vietnamese dish of thin rice noodles in beef (Pho Bo) or chicken (Pho Ga) broth perfumed with spices. Nowadays, you’d be hard-pressed to walk down the street without running into a pho restaurant with a bad pun in its name.

What I learned when I made it the first time? Pho is essentially a Vietnamese chicken soup. Here are a few tips to making this delightfully aromatic chicken soup.

First, see how moist and tender that chicken is? The secret is to separate your chicken. Chicken bones and parts for the broth; and chicken breasts reserved for slicing, poaching and eating with your Pho added at the end. If I had cooked the chicken-for-eating in the slow cooker, it would be flavorless and tough. All of the flavor would have transferred into the broth….and chicken cooked for hours on end in a slow cooker ends up chewy and tough. The chicken bones and parts go into the slow cooker to make the soup.

Second, many recipes suggest using a handful of chicken wings to make the broth as the wing tips are the most flavorful, although not much meat. Which of course isn’t important until the end.

Third, regarding the cooking of the rice noodles.  Soak the dried noodles in COOL water first then DRAIN. This helps makes them pliable, soft and cook better.  To cook the noodles, bring a pot of water (or use the chicken broth–see below) to boil and then put the cool drained noodles into the hot water and simmer for 1 minute. After 1 minute — the noodles are DONE!!! That’s it. Don’t overcook the rice noodles, they’ll get too soft and soggy.


2 pounds whole chicken

2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds
2 whole star anise
1 T pepper
cumin powder
2 onions, halved
2 leeks and/or shallots
3-inch chunk of ginger, thickly sliced
2 t sugar
2 T fish sauce
A bunch of cilantro, stems and all

1 pound dried rice noodles (about 1/4″ wide)
1/2 pound chicken meat (breast or thigh), thinly sliced
2 cups bean sprouts, washed
Handful of cilantro leaves
1/2 cup shaved red onions
1/2 lime, cut into 4 wedges
Sriracha hot sauce (optional)
Hoisin sauce (optional)

The Pho
1. In a large stockpot, bring 5 quarters of water to a boil. Add 1 T salt and the chicken, breast side down. Place a plate over the chicken to keep it submerged and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the chicken for 30 minutes (it will not be cooked through). Transfer the chicken to a bowl of ice water and let cool completely. Drain well and pat dry.
2. In a large skillet, combine the spices with oil. Cook over moderately low heat, stirring til fragrant, about 3 minutes. Transfer to slow cooker.
3. In the same skillet, combine the onions, shallots, ginger, and leeks (if using). Cook til browned — about 10 minutes. Put in slow cooker. NOTE: I also used a few of the onion skins for colour.
4. Remove all the meat from the chicken, and put all the skin and bones in the crock pot. Shred the chicken on the grain and set aside.
5. Cover the slow cooker and cook on low 8-10 hours or hi 4-6 hours. I cooked it at 6 hours.
6. When finished, strain the broth through a cheesecloth. Taste and adjust with additional fish sauce if needed. I added more fish sauce and salt, but taste several times before adding more.
The Garnishes
  1. Sliced spring onions
  2. Cilantro
  3. Bean sprouts and bok choy
  4. Bibb lettuce and spinach
  5. Mint leaves and basil leaves
  6. Fried, blackened shallots
  7. Mushrooms
  8. Sliced jalapenos
  9. Fish sauce
  10. Sweet red chilli sauce and/or sambal
  11. Hoisin sauce
  12. Peanut sauce
  13. Lime wedges
The Rice Noodles & Poached Chicken Breasts
1. Soak the dry noodles in cold water for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, bring water to boil.
2. Add the chicken breasts and cook for 1-3 minutes. Remove the chicken.
3. Drain the rice noodles and add to the chicken water, bring to boil again, then reduce to low. Cook just one minute. Drain, and could add 1 t sesame oil. Divide noodles among 4 bowls or set in one large serving bowl.
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