Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Pho Cookbook: Chicken Pho



I've been a fan of Andrea Nguyen's cookbooks for years! Her Asian Dumplings cookbook is one of my favorite cookbooks of all time, and helped inspire my love of dumpling-making. I also love The Banh Mi Handbook, a wonderful look into these beloved Vietnamese sandwiches.


Her most recent release is entitled The Pho Cookbook, featuring another classic Vietnamese dish. Amidst the current craze for Asian noodle soups from all over the region, from Japanese ramen to Vietnamese pho, there's really not better time than the middle of a dreary, frigid winter to whip up some warm noodle-laden comfort in a bowl.


Like all of her books, The Pho Cookbook begins with an in depth introduction discussing everything from the correct pronunciation of "pho" to a detailed review of all the key ingredients, techniques, and tools. This is vital for the pho-making novice, and really helps to explain some key terms and processes.


A chapter on Master Pho ranges from Simple and Satisfying (you'll find 3 quick pho recipes, each serving 2 and taking 40 minutes to prepare), to Fast and Fabulous (these recipes utilize a pressure cooker, taking about 1 1/2 hours, and yield 4 servings), several Meatless Knockouts and of course Old-School Stunners (these are the classics, which require 4 to 5 hours to prepare, and serve 8).


Adventurous Pho is the next chapter, and includes playful twists on the classic, including a Chicken Pho Noodle Salad, Pho Fried Rice, and beyond. Pho Add-Ons offer up recipes for garnishes and more, while Stir-fried, Panfried, and Deep-Fried Pho takes these noodles to a whole other dimension. Finally, Pho Sidekicks include snacks and beverages that pair well with pho, or may even take the flavors of pho in another direction, like the Pho Pot Stickers.


For my first attempt at pho, it seemed only right to make one of the actual pho soup recipes, as opposed to one of the many creative variations. My family tends to lean more toward chicken soups versus beef, so it was easy to narrow down the options to Quick Chicken Pho, Pressure Cooker Chicken Pho, Classic Chicken Pho, and even the Rotisserie Chicken Pho (using leftover rotisserie chicken).


The quick version seemed a bit too quick and easy, and while the classic version is ultimately the best, it does require a bit more time, a few more ingredients, and yields twice as much pho as the pressure cooker version.


Now here's the thing, I don't own a pressure cooker! But luckily, the notes at the and of the pressure cooker recipe explains how to make this in-between-style pho recipe using a stockpot. Yeah, it probably would have been a better use of my time and effort to go full steam ahead with the classic recipe, but as a beginner, this one seemed a bit more approachable, and quite frankly, cooked up in a couple of hours, which isn't too shabby.


I think of this recipe as the Goldilocks of the various pho options in the book. It falls in the middle of effort and time, but it really was just right as far as I'm concerned. You develop a lot of flavor in the broth, and the aroma permeating your kitchen and home throughout the process is just sublime. With mountains of snow outside our windows, there really is no better time to indulge in this comforting and satisfying dish.


I would definitely make this particular recipe again in the future (although I may consider asking a friend to borrow their pressure cooker), and I would happily try many of the others within the book. Perhaps in the future, I will try one of the beef variations, which are probably more classic in Vietnam than chicken. As a dumpling lover, I'm fascinated by the Pho Pot Stickers, and also look forward to trying some of the stir-fried and panfried noodles.


If you love pho, then this book is for you. As I've said before, the recipes range in skill level and time, and I think this is what I love most about the book. You can really inch your way toward becoming a master pho-maker by testing out your skills with some of the easier recipes first (or simply if you are short on time).


Pressure Cooker Chicken Pho (phở gà nấu nồi áp xuất)
Serves 4
Takes about 1 hour, plus 30 minutes to cool
(From The Pho Cookbook)

Broth:
1 (4 lb | 1.8 kg) whole chicken
1 rounded tablespoon (.2 oz | 5 g) coriander seeds
3 whole cloves
Chubby 2-inch (5 cm) section ginger, peeled, thickly sliced, and bruised
1 large (10 oz | 300 g) yellow onion halved and thickly sliced
8 cups (2 l) water
1 small (4 oz | 115 g) Fuji apple, peeled, cored, and cut into thumbnail-size chunks
3/4 cup (.7 oz | 20 g) coarsely chopped cilantro sprigs
2 1/4 teaspoons fine sea salt
About 1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
About 1 teaspoon organic sugar, or 2 teaspoons maple syrup (optional)

Bowls:
10 ounces (300 g) dried narrow flat rice noodles
About half the cooked chicken from the broth
1/2 small (2 oz | 60 g) yellow or red onion, thinly sliced against the grain and soaked in water for 10 minutes
2 thinly sliced green onions, green parts only
1/4 cup (.2 oz | 5 g ) chopped fresh cilantro, leafy tops only
Pepper (optional)
Optional extras: Lime wedges, bean sprouts, thinly sliced chiles, Thai basil

Make the broth Rinse the chicken and set aside to drain. Put the coriander seeds and cloves in a 6- to 8-quart (6 to 8 l) pressure cooker. Over medium heat, toast for several minutes, shaking or stirring, until fragrant. Add the ginger and onion. Stir until aromatic, 45 to 60 seconds, to coax out a bit of flavor. A little browning is okay.

Add 4 cups (1 l) of the water to arrest the cooking process. Put the chicken in the cooker, breast side up. Add the apple, cilantro, salt, and remaining 4 cups (1 l) water. Lock the lid in place.

Bring to low pressure (8 psi) over high heat on a gas or induction stove, or medium heat on an electric stove. Lower the heat to maintain pressure, signaled by a gentle, steady flow of steam coming out of the cooker’s valve. Cook for 15 minutes, or a few minutes longer if your cooker’s low setting is less than 8 psi. If your cooker only has a high pressure (15 psi) setting, cook for 12 minutes. Regardless, aim to gently poach the bird to yield silky cooked flesh.

When done, slide to a cool burner and let the pressure decrease naturally, about 20 minutes. Remove the lid, tilting it away from you to avoid the hot steam.

Let settle for 5 minutes before using tongs to transfer the chicken to a bowl; if parts fall off in transit, don’t worry. Add water to cover the chicken and soak for 10 minutes to cool and prevent drying. Pour off the water, partially cover, and set the chicken aside to cool.

Skim some fat from the broth before straining it through a muslin-lined mesh strainer positioned over a medium pot. Discard the solids. You should have about 8 cups (2 l).

If using right away, season the broth with the fish sauce, extra salt, and perhaps the sugar (or maple syrup) (you'll want to season a bit generously since this is the only seasoning that the noodles will get). Or, partially cover the unseasoned broth and let cool, then refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months; reheat and season before using.

Use a knife to remove the breast halves and legs from the chicken. Set aside half of the chicken for another use. Reserve the remaining chicken for pho bowl assembly. The chicken can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months; bring to room temperature to use.

Prep and assemble the bowls: While the broth cooks, or about 30 minutes before serving, ready the ingredients for the bowls. Soak the noodles in hot tap water until pliable and opaque. Drain, rinse, and drain well. Divide among 4 soup bowls.

Cut or tear the chicken breast and leg into pieces about 1/4 inch (6 mm) thick. Discard the skin. Place the onion, green onion, and cilantro in separate bowls and line them up with the noodles, chicken, and pepper for a pho assembly line.

Bring the broth to a simmer over medium heat as you are assembling the bowls. At the same time, fill a pot with water and bring to a rolling boil for the noodles.

For each bowl, use a noodle strainer or mesh sieve to dunk a portion of the noodles in the boiling water. When the noodles are soft, 5 to 60 seconds, pull the strainer from the water, shaking it to drain excess water back into the pot. Empty the noodles into a bowl. Top with chicken, then garnish with onion, green onion, cilantro and pepper.

Check the broth flavor once more, raise the heat, and bring it to a boil. Ladle about 2 cups (480 ml) broth into each bowl. Enjoy immediately with any extras, if you like.

Notes: To make this recipe in a 6- to 8-quart (6 to 8 l) stockpot, toast the coriander seeds and cloves over medium heat, then lightly cook the onion and ginger in the pot. Add 10 cups (2.5 l) water along with the chicken, apples, cilantro, and salt. Partially cover, then bring to a boil over high heat. Uncover, skim the scum, then lower the heat to gently simmer the broth, uncovered, for 2 hours. At the 45-minute mark, if you fear the chicken is not cooking through, use tongs to rotate it. The chicken should be cooked after simmering for 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Transfer it to a large bowl, leaving any parts that fall off in the pot to add flavor. Flush it with cold water, drain well, then set aside for 15 to 20 minutes to cool. When the broth is done, let rest for 15 minutes, then defat, strain, and season. The rest of the recipe is the same.

*Disclaimer* I received no compensation to write this review other than a free copy of the book. My opinions are always my own.

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