Sunday, February 17, 2013

Pho Ga: Vietnamese Chicken Soup

Vietnamese sisters, Mary Nguyen Aregoni and Theresa Nguyen, along with their mother, Mama Suu have the corner on great Vietnamese food in Chicago. Not only do they own the highly acclaimed restaurant at 567 W Lake but they started out in a space at the Chicago French Market and remain a main-stay at the growing market where Lillie's-Q hung out a sign this past week.
I always welcome the goodies they pile high on me to take home and try… like this new Vietnamese cookbook by Charles Phan, chef-owner of The Slanted Door restaurants in San Francisco.
Vietnamese Home Cooking is a beautifully photographed journal of Vietnam and its food and has at least a half a dozen recipes that I am anxious to try. 
In fact, Vietnamese cooking is one of my all time favorites.I love the crispy texture of both the meat and the egg rolls.
Why Vietnam? The cinematography in the 1992 movie The Lover placed Vietnam high on my list of places to go and after seeing this cookbook, I am ready for a trip.
In this recipe for Chicken Soup, Phan makes the chicken for his pho in a most unusual way. He simmers it for 15 minutes, lets it sit covered for 15 minutes, then gives it an ice bath for 15 minutes.

Vietnamese soup is a feast for the eyes and well as the taste buds. Everything is beautifully laid out in a bowl and then the hot liquid is ladled on so as not to disturb the symmetry of the dish.
I cooked this today when I felt a little under the weather and the temperature was teetering around zero.
Do I think that chicken soup is the best medicine there is? Try this recipe and I guarantee you’ll feel back on the path to health and ready for another bowl before you even get a chance to finish your first one.

Don’t skip the crispy fried shallots as the garnish. They are really addicting and rumor has it that’s where the medicinal healing power is hidden.

Bon Appetit!

4 quarts water
1 bunch scallions, dark green cut off for soup, white and light green thinly sliced for garnish
2 pieces fresh ginger, whole and crushed
1 Tablespoon salt
4 chicken breast halves on the bone
3 ½ Pounds wings, backs and necks
2 Tablespoons light brown sugar
1 Package (16 ounces) dried rice vermicelli, soaked in hot water for 30 minutes and drained
Fresh cilantro, chopped
1 bunch fresh basil (Thai if you can find it)
3 cups Mung Bean Sprouts
1 lime cut into 6 wedges
1 jalapeno, stemmed and thinly sliced
2 Tablespoons fish sauce
Chili garlic sauce, such as sriracha
Crispy fried shallots

In a soup pot, bring the water, scallions, ginger, and salt to a boil. Add the chicken breasts and return to a boil. Skim well. Lower heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
Turn the burner off, cover the pan, and let the chicken sit for 15 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a bowl of ice water. Let it sit for 15 minutes more.
Meanwhile, put the chicken wings, backs, and necks into a large heatproof bowl. Bring a tea kettle of water to a boil and pour it over the chicken pieces. Let it sit for 15 minutes. Drain the chicken and rinse with cold water.
Add the chicken pieces to the pot with the brown sugar. Return the liquid to a boil. Skim the surface thoroughly. Cook, skimming often, for 1½ hours. With a large slotted spoon, remove the chicken pieces, ginger, and scallions (if you used chicken wings, remove the meat from the bones and use in another dish).
Drain the chicken breasts, pat them dry, and discard the skin and bones. Shred the meat with your hands. Add it to the pot of chicken stock with the noodles. Add a small handful of scallions and half the cilantro. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve with Thai basil, sprouts, lime, jalapeno, fish sauce, and chili-garlic sauce. Top with fried shallots.

Crispy Fried Shallots

2 cups canola oil
2 cups thinly sliced shallots (about 4 large)

In a small saucepan, heat oil over medium-high until it registers 275 degrees. 

Add shallots and cook, stirring, until light brown brown, about 8 minutes. 

Using a slotted spoon, transfer shallots to a paper towel-lined plate. 

Shallots will keep in an airtight container for 1 day, but they're best the day of. 

Strained, the oil will keep, refrigerated, for several weeks.