Authentic pho ga takes some time. Takes some attention to detail. But it’s worth it. This is one of the world’s greatest chicken noodle soups.
I’m a bit of a pho addict. OK – maybe not just a bit. I read the Lucky Peach Pho issue cover to cover. That’s 160 pages dedicated to pho. The definitive pho manifesto. As far as I know, anyway.
This recipe is based on the Lucky Peach recipe. It has some glebekitchen embellishments but it’s in the ballpark.
I’ve also read about 100 recipes online. Some are more authentic than others. Some don’t even have fish sauce. I don’t get that. Pho ga without fish sauce. That’s just not pho.
Great pho ga starts with great stock
This is chicken soup. So the broth matters. It matters a lot. This isn’t the place to use some stock out of a tetra pack and hope it works. You could start with store bought. But you need to take it to the next level.
Double down. And then double down again. Start with stock. Poach a chicken in it. That’s double down. Flavour from the chicken cooking.
Then you remove the meat from that chicken and make stock using the carcass. Double down again. See where I’m going. This is triple stock. That’s where the flavour comes from. That’s where you need to start when you’re making pho ga.
Don’t fear the fish sauce
If you like the pho they serve in restaurants you like fish sauce. It’s sounds bad. It doesn’t smell great. But fish is the backbone of south-east Asian cooking.
And once it’s in the dish it makes everything better. Don’t understand it myself but it never seems to fail. You couldn’t pay me to drink it out of the bottle.
But you couldn’t pay me to leave it out of a recipe either. I have been known to say fish sauce makes everything better. It’s perplexing. Don’t know what else to say about it.
The one big difference between this recipe and what you get in restaurants is MSG. Saigon style pho is loaded with it. I won’t pretend it’s better without MSG. It’s not. It’s close but MSG just seems to take it over the top.
I don’t cook with MSG so I left it out. If you cook with MSG, by all means add it in. Your pho will be better tasting for it. I won’t judge. Maybe be a bit jealous that your pho is better than mine but I can deal with that.
Maybe I should have called this “not quite authentic pho ga because there’s no MSG”. That doesn’t roll off the tongue well though. Bad marketing.
But it would have been just exactly true. Try it how you like it. Either way, it’s just Asian comfort in a bowl.
authentic pho ga - vietnamese chicken noodle soup
- 3 inch piece of ginger
- 1 large yellow onion
- 1 3-4 lb whole chicken grain-fed, air chilled
- 8 cups chicken stock homemade or low sodium
- 1/2 inch piece of ginger not the roasted ginger
- 4-5 green onions
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 2 Tbsp brown sugar - more if you like it sweeter
- The bones from the poached chicken
- The roasted ginger and onion
- 1/4 cup fish sauce - or more - you will need to taste to decide
- 16 oz rice noodles
- thinly sliced green onions
- thinly sliced shallot
- You can go in all sorts of directions here. Mint cilantro, sawtooth herb (culantro), red chili, lime, bean sprouts, hoisin sauce, Sriracha etc. Go with what you like. What you can get. It will work out.
- Pre-heat your oven to 350F.
- Roast the onion and ginger for 1 hour.
- Let cool. Slice the onion in half and the ginger into 1/2 inch pieces.
- In a 5-6 quart dutch oven or pot combine the whole chicken, 4-5 green onions, the 1/2 inch piece of ginger and the salt. Add 8 cups of stock plus enough water to cover the chicken. If you can't quite cover the chicken start it breast side down.
- Bring to a simmer and poach for about 20 minutes (breast side down if needed). Flip the bird and continue to poach until the chicken reaches about 155F in the breast and 165F in the thigh - about 10 minutes. Use an instant read thermometer - there's no other safe way to do this. The chicken will continue to cook after you remove it from the broth so give yourself some room. You are going for a final internal temperature of 165F in the breast and 175F in the thigh.
- Set the chicken aside to cool enough to handle. Remove chicken from the bones. You don't have to be perfect. You have lots of chicken.
- Remove and discard the 1/2 inch piece of ginger. Keep the stock and green onion in the pot.
- Return the chicken bones to the pot along with the roasted ginger and onion.
- Add the brown sugar.
- Let simmer 3-4 hours, loosely covered.
- Strain. You should have about 10 cups of broth. If you have less, add some water to make up for evaporation.
- Refrigerate until ready for use. If you refrigerate you can skim the fat and reserve. That way you can add a tsp or so per bowl as they do in Vietnam.
- When ready to serve heat the broth to just below a boil and add the fish sauce. This is where the final seasoning happens. Your broth is still under-salted. Start adding salt a half a tsp at a time. You want it pretty salty - adding in the chicken and the noodles blunts the saltiness some. I would guess around 2 tsp more salt give or take...
- Do your prep. Slice or shred the chicken. Cut up some green onion. Prep your herbs. Slice your shallot as thinly as you possibly can. Slice some red chili. Cut up the lime. Pre-heat your bowls. Make sure your broth is good and hot. Have it all ready to go. Once you start things go fast and cold pho is not good pho.
Cook the noodles
- Here's a trick to cook rice noodles for pho that I found buried at the bottom of an Epicurious recipe. Soak your rice noodles in cold water for about 30 minutes.
- At the same time, bring a large pot of water to a boil.
- Put the soaked noodles in a big strainer and drop it into the boiling water.
- Stir the noodles and start checking them for texture after about 30 seconds. They should be done in under a minute. You want them slightly toothy as they will cook a bit more in the broth.
- When you have them how you want them, pull the noodles and divide into 4 bowls.
- Top the noodles with the chicken and sprinkle with green onions and sliced shallots.
- Pour 1/4 of the broth into each bowl.
- Serve with the condiments on the table to let people flavour their pho as they like it.