A lot of people know pho as a beef-based soup, but not as many seem to be aware that there’s also a chicken version. It’s much lighter in flavor, with seasoning mainly from ginger instead of star anise, cloves, and cinnamon. I’ve had pho ga at a restaurant before and preferred the beef version back then, and I still prefer it now. (See my bastardized version of it here.) But for those unwilling or unable to eat beef, this is a great cold-weather dish on its own and a great introduction to Vietnamese soups. Be forewarned the broth is best made anywhere from 4 hours to a whole day ahead so it can be chilled and de-fatted.
Most recipes for pho ga seem to be more or less the same, but I used the one in “Hot Salty Sour Sweet” as a template.
The book says it makes 6 servings, which I found to be pretty accurate.
• 1 chicken (3 1/2 pounds, preferably): $3.50
• 1 tsp peppercorns: 10 cents
• 1 onion, quartered: 25 cents
• 1 3-inch piece ginger: 50 cents
• 3 quarts water: $0
• 3 T fish sauce: 18 cents
• Salt to taste: 1 cent
• 1 lb. glass or noodles or thin rice noodles: $1
• Another 3-inch piece ginger: 50 cents
• Pinch of salt: 1 cent
• Leaves from 1/2 bunch cilantro (29 cents @ the Asian market): 15 cents
• 1 1/2 cups bean sprouts: 20 cents
• 1 lime, sliced (also from the Asian market): 20 cents
• 3 small shallots, thinly sliced and separated into rings (from a 99-cent bag): 10 cents
TOTAL: $6.70/6 = $1.11
Remove the giblets from the chicken, discarding the liver. In a tall soup pot, add the chicken, water, its remaining giblets, and the peppercorns. Bring to a boil.
Meanwhile, char the onion quarters and ginger. If you have a gas stove, this is no problem, but electric-stove owners may have a bit of difficulty. I had to broil them, at times holding them right up to the broiler element with tongs. Add them to the pot.
Once boiling, reduce to a simmer, cover partially, and simmer until chicken is cooked, anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour. Remove chicken to cool and strain the broth into a large bowl. You may need to transfer the broth to several containers to get it cool enough to put in the fridge. It needs to sit in the fridge long enough for the fat to rise to the surface and be scraped off (4 hours to overnight). You can either serve a dollop of the fat on top of the soup, as is traditional, or reserve for another cooking use.
Pick the meat off the chicken carcass and put that in the fridge as well.
When you’re ready to serve the soup, cook the rice noodles according to the package directions. If you’re using bean thread noodles, you can just pour boiling water over them and let them sit for a couple of minutes before rinsing and draining.
While you’ve got boiling water at hand, blanch the bean sprouts so they soften. Char the second piece of ginger (the book didn’t say to peel it, so I didn’t) and pound it and a pinch of salt to as close to a paste as you can get, either in a mortar and pestle or after chopping it to tiny bits in a small food processor.
Bring the de-fatted broth to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and add the fish sauce and salt to taste. Divide the bean sprouts, chicken meat, noodles and shallots among 6 bowls. (If you’re serving fewer people than this, still divide the components among bowls for leftovers’ sake, but skip the pour-over broth step.) Pour broth over the noodles and top with cilantro leaves and a large spoonful of the ginger paste. To eat, squeeze a couple lime slices over the top.