Oh I know exactly what most of you are thinking as you read that title…and let me burst your bubble right now. No; chow mien, sweet & sour chicken, moo-shu pork, and any generic fast-food Chinese is not what I’m talking about. Yes yes, it’s all good at the right moment and can fulfill a certain type of craving, but in actuality most of that stuff is not even Asian food. At least, not according to my parents and I consider them great cooks. I would even venture to say that most people of Asian heritage did not grow up eating any of that stuff, and if they did it was because they were right behind you in line at the nearest “Chinese take-out” hole-in-the-wall joint. What I’m talking about is SOUP. That’s right, a soup that is a full meal in and of itself and I don’t mean the Campbell’s Chunky Soup variety either.
My father is Chinese and Vietnamese and I tell you, he had to have some sort of soup at EVERY meal! To go without just didn’t sit well with him and made the meal seem…incomplete. Really I think it’s all about the hot broth, and if he couldn’t have soup he made sure to at least have hot tea (as he would say, to wash all of the fat down, haha). In fact, you’ll find many street vendors in Asia with stalls where all they serve is soup! Sure, slightly different broths, garnishes, noodle types etc…but the fact remains that soup is a huge part of my Asian heritage and I refuse to give it up! Some of my best childhood memories revolve around a good bowl of steaming hot Pho (a beef noodle soup), not to be missed by anyone who truly wants to experience one of the most popular dishes from Vietnam. Once I introduced my American hubby to it, there was no turning back and it is now his FAVORITE dish and in fact he loves it more then I do! I’m so glad he is ok with eating the same thing over and over, as 1 pot will literally feed him for at least 3-4 days. Can you say “cooking vacation” for me?!? Right on!
Ok, so soup is obviously important to me. Not only does my family enjoy it (you should hear the little ones begging for it), but it’s also one of those dishes that will last for half a week and comes together really easily. In actuality there are only a few ingredients that go into the soup pot, the REAL cooking begins once the soup is in your bowl! As this where everyone differs a little in what they “dress” their soup with, and it’s kind of an art to get the right balance of flavors that you like. But once you find that balance of flavors you’ll realize that it was all worth it!
The recipe I am sharing with you today is just one version, as there are dozens of recipes out there. Again, it is not for those of you that are purists, as this has been adapted to be an easy beginner recipe and a simplified version that doesn’t call for a lot of “exotic” ingredients. This is exactly how we make it and we enjoy it every time. Though I do warn you, I highly recommend you get the fish sauce and sesame oil from an Asian grocer, unless your local Amiercan grocer has a good Asian section with authentic products and brands. I’m not trying to be a snob, but a lot of the “Asian” stuff you get in an American market doesn’t really taste as it should, and it can ruin the dish.
Don’t be intimidated by the ingredients you don’t recognize, you should be able to easily find all of it at your local Asian grocer.
Chicken Pho & Yellow Noodle Soup:
- 1 whole chicken with gizzards removed
- 1 large yellow onion-halved or quartered
- 2 Tbls salt
- 1 Tbls sugar
- 1 package of fresh or dried yellow noodles
- PLEASE SEE BELOW FOR ALL OF THE GARNISHES THAT GO INTO YOUR BOWL
Cooking the soup:
- Place the first 4 ingredients in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Add just enough water to cover the chicken, going no more then 1 inch over it. Make sure the pot is large enough or it will boil over, you’ll want at least 1 1/2 inches from the top of the water to the top of the pot.
- Once the soup comes to a boil you can skim off all of the fat that rises to the top. Turn the heat down to low, cover and let simmer for 25-30 minutes.
- Take out the chicken and place it in a large mixing bowl or on a cutting board to cool, then tear into bite-size strips/pieces.
- Taste the soup, don’t panic if it taste plain! At this point all it really should taste like is a slightly salty broth. If it seems to need more salt, go ahead and a little more.
- To make the noodles: Bring a small pot of water to a boil, add the noodles in and cook for about 30 seconds, then taste for texture. You’ll want to take them out while they are still a bit al dente (slightly under-cooked). Quickly place all of the noodles in a strainer and run them under cool water to stop the cooking process. Then place them in a large soup bowl, ladle just enough broth to cover the noodles, add some chicken and “dress” it up!
Here comes the fun part, some of the optional garnishes to “dress up” your bowl:
- thinly sliced green onion
- Thai mint
- lime wedges
- hot pepper in oil or schiracha
- thinly sliced Thai chili peppers
- raw jalepeno slices
- fish sauce
- bean sprouts
Here are a few tips and how we “dress” our bowls: I feel the basics of a good bowl of soup of this nature call for a little fish sauce (which adds a briny-ness and deepens the overall flavor of the broth), juice of 1 lime wedge (or 2 if you are my kids), green onion, cilantro, and for the adult bowls, some hot pepper in oil. Sometimes we just do the cilantro if we are out of green onion, but we would never go without any of the other ingredients I just bolded. And again, no measurements are listed for the garnishes as it is truly a personal taste issue. Whatever you choose, add just a little at a time, as it is always easy to add more but hard to fix once you’ve added too much!
- If the basic broth tastes too plain-add a little more fish sauce or salt
- If you like a hint of sweetness, add a dash of sugar (Asian cooking uses a lot of sugar)
- If you really like citrus (as I do), add the juice of a large lime wedge
- never go without AT LEAST 1 green garnish (cilantro, green onion, Thai mint)
- add the hot spice LAST, after you’ve gotten the broth to your liking
- if you like bean sprouts, blanch them in the hot water at the same time you cook your noodles