Chicken Noodle Soup, Vietnamese-Style (Pho Ga)
Pho ga – Vietnamese chicken soup – is one of those famous dishes for which you can easily find thousands of slightly different recipes. This adaptation is a quicker version that takes advantage of the poached chicken and chicken broth that I routinely make on weekends for use in weeknight dinners, when preparation time is an issue. (Most recipes for pho ga, like other traditional chicken soups, begin with the slow cooking of a chicken, which for cooks who have other things to do most days can make it prohibitively time-consuming.)
The other departure from tradition in this version is the optional use of a pasta with lowered digestible carbs in place of the usual rice noodles. This change makes a soup that – at 13 grams of carbohydrates per serving instead of a whopping 45 grams – fits well into meal plans for people with diabetes who need to moderate their carbohydrate intake to achieve control of blood glucose levels, or for those on low-carb diets for weight control.
Of course, these changes, while they will make sense to some, means this version is less than authentic – so if you're a purist about pho ga definitely find a more traditional recipe. (I've posted links to a few popular versions at the bottom of the page.) For me, however, this recipe brings the flavor of traditional pho ga while fitting better into my lifestyle.
Chicken Noodle Soup, Vietnamese-Style (Pho Ga)
- 1 onion, unpeeled, quartered
- 3" piece ginger root, unpeeled
- 4 whole star anise pods
- 6 whole cloves
- 4 teaspoons sugar
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce (nuoc mam)
- 1 bunch cilantro stems
- 6 cups chicken stock (low sodium, ideally homemade; see Note 1)
- 6 ounces rice noodles (bahn pho) or other pasta (see Note 2)
- Meat from 1/2 poached chicken (see Note 1), skin removed, cut in bite-sized pieces (about 2 cups), warmed before serving.
- 1 cup fresh bean sprouts
- 1/4 cup cilantro leaves
- 1/4 cup red onion, sliced very thin
- 4 lime wedges
- Hoisin sauce
- Hot chili sauce (sriracha)
1. Roast the onion and ginger in a 425º oven, turning occasionally, until they are starting to char, about 30 minutes. (A quicker alternative if you have a gas stove is to hold them directly over the flame with tongs or a long fork, turning occasionally, until they start to char.) When cooled, remove and discard their skins and slice the ginger. Set aside.
2. Place the anise pods and cloves in a dry cast iron skillet over high heat and toast them until they darken and start to smoke (4 - 5 minutes), tossing occasionally with tongs. Remove from heat.
3. Place the onion, ginger, anise pods and cloves in a 2 or 3 quart saucepan. Add the sugar, fish sauce, cilantro stems, and chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a high simmer and cook about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. Strain the broth and add 1 cup water, then taste and adjust with more sugar or fish sauce if necessary. [Note: the recipe can be done ahead to this point, and the broth refrigerated a day or two. Some say this improves the flavor.]
5. If using conventional pasta, cook the noodles in salted water and drain. If using rice noodles, soak in warm water 15 - 20 minutes and drain.
6. Return the broth to the pot and bring it back to a boil.
To serve, divide chicken, noodles and broth between 4 soup bowls and ladle the boiling broth over them. Serve the bean sprouts, cilantro leaves, red onion slices, lime wedges, hoisin sauce and hot sauce alongside, for diners to add as desired.
1. Chicken stock and poached chicken. These may be made ahead, as follows: Place a 4 to 5 pound chicken (preferably organic and locally grown), 1 peeled and cut-up carrot, 2 cut-up celery stalks, 1 peeled and quartered onion, 10 black peppercorns, 6 parsley stems and 2 bay leaves in a large stockpot. Add water to cover. Bring to a boil, skim foam and scum from the pot. Immediately remove from heat, cover and allow to sit for 4 hours. Remove chicken, strain liquid and then boil the broth until reduced by half. Refrigerate. When broth is cool remove congealed fat from the surface.
2. Pasta. For those who need to limit carbohydrate intake for weight control or for management of blood glucose levels, consider using a pasta with lowered digestible carbohydrates, such as Dreamfields, in place of the traditional rice noodles. It's claimed that even though these pasta products have roughly the same carbohydrate content as conventional pasta, only about 12% of the carbohydrates in these products can be digested and absorbed in the intestines.
(Be aware that the caloric content of pasta with lowered digestible carbohydrates is roughly equivalent to that of conventional pasta, so portion control is still important for weight management.)