The Daring cooks Oktober challenge: Vietnamese Chicken Pho

The October 2009 Daring Cooks' challenge was brought to us by Jaden of the blog Steamy Kitchen. The recipes are from her new cookbook, The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook.

First of all, I wasn't feeling especially daring this month. I am glad I managed to do the challenge(s) at all. It's not that I don't have the time to spend three or four evenings in the kitchen - I cannot afford to spend them ... Since work is getting more and colleagues less I sometimes feel to suffocate with all the tasks around me, that far even taking pictures is just frustrating (which - the worse - you can clearly see). So I decided for the Quick version of the Pho with store-bough stock and skipped the dessert challenge too. I felt a little bit sorry for that later becaus the taste was delicious! It was a real "chicken soup for the soul". I think I'll use the secrets to make great Pho (see below) in a lot of other dishes in the future.

Firstly Jadens remarks and explanations (you shouldn't start without having them in mind):

"So what is Vietnamese Pho? Well, it's like the most insanely delicious noodle soup popular in Vietnam. The broth is simmered for hours and hours with either beef knuckle/leg bone or with a whole chicken. Other accompaniments include ribbons of rice noodles, fresh herbs like cilantro or basil, a wedge of lime or lemon, fresh bean sprouts and fresh sliced chilies if desired.
What makes Pho so different than any other type of noodle soup is the spices that go into the simmering broth. Warm spices like coriander, star anise, cloves, cinnamon, fresh ginger transform an ordinary broth into a very authentic Vietnamese Pho.

Some of the secrets to making great Chicken Pho is:

Toast the spices and char the onion and ginger. This brings out the flavor and fragrance of these ingredients! If you're cooking the longer recipe (on my site) make sure you're pre-boiling the chicken first - give it a hard boil for a few minutes to get rid of the scum and stuff in the chicken. This will help you create a crystal clear, clean broth.

An essential component of Pho is fish sauce. Make your best effort to find fish sauce - your local Asian market should carry it. And if not, visit your local Thai or Vietnamese restaurant and see if you can buy a bottle from them. Soy sauce is a poor substitute for fish sauce, but if you can't find fish sauce, then go ahead and make the sub."


  • 2 tbsp. whole coriander seeds
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 2 quarts (2 liters/8 cups/64 fluid ounces) store-bought or homemade chicken stock
  • 1 whole chicken breast (bone in or boneless)
  • ½ onion
  • 1 3-inch (7.5 cm) chunk of ginger, sliced and smashed with side of knife
  • 1 to 2 tbsps. sugar
  • 1 to 2 tbsps. fish sauce
  • 1 lb. (500 grams/16 ounces) dried rice noodles (about ¼ inch/6 mm wide)

  • 2 cups (200 grams/7 ounces) bean sprouts, washed and tails pinched off
  • Fresh cilantro (coriander) tops (leaves and tender stems)
  • ½ cup (50 grams/approx. 2 ounces) shaved red onions
  • ½ lime, cut into 4 wedges
  • Sriracha chili sauce
  • Hoisin sauce
  • Sliced fresh chili peppers of your choice
NB: It was a little bit difficult for me to get hold of bean sprouts (I had to use canned ones), fresh cilantro (half of the cilantro I got was already withered), fish sauce and rice noodles since I had to find my way to a store about 30 km away - and because I won't use Hoisin or Sriracha sauce in the near future I did without them ...

  1. To make the Chicken Pho Broth: heat a frying pan over medium heat. Add the coriander seeds, cloves and star anise and toast until fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Immediately spoon out the spices to avoid burning.
  2. In a large pot, add all the ingredients (including the toasted spices) and bring to a boil.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer for 20 minutes, skimming the surface frequently.
  4. Use tongs to remove the chicken breasts and shred the meat with your fingers, discarding the bone if you have used bone-in breasts.
  5. Taste the broth and add more fish sauce or sugar, if needed. Strain the broth and discard the solids.
  6. Prepare the noodles as per directions on the package.
  7. Ladle the broth into bowls. Then divide the shredded chicken breast and the soft noodles evenly into each bowl.
  8. Have the accompaniments spread out on the table. Each person can customize their own bowl with these ingredients.

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