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VIETNAMESE HOME COOKING

VIETNAMESE HOME COOKING

by Charles Phan, published by Ten Speed Press, 2012.

I love Vietnamese food, and this is *the* book to seduce you into cooking it at home. Maybe it's a tad obvious, not that I care, but the recipe I've chosen for your joy and delectation is my all-time fave and efficient cold-banisher, Pho Gá, the Chicken Noodle Soup of Vietnam.

 

Pho Gá: Chicken Noodle Soup

I eat pho - chicken or beef - almost every morning at the restaurant. It's also the first thing I eat when I go back to Vietnam. My family left Vietnam when I was twelve years old, and eighteen years passed before I returned. On my first trip back, I landed in Ho Chi Minh City in the morning from an overnight flight. It was disorienting to disembark from the plane into the humid day, stepping into a country that was both intensely familiar and also a distant memory. I went straight to a coffee shop, a noisy shoebox of a space where men were talking over coffee and the owner was dispensing bowl after bowl of pho. I was back in Vietnam.

Bowls of pho are the hamburgers of Vietnam: incredibly popular, eaten every day by a majority of the population, young and old. In the mornings in Ho Chi Minh City, you see commuters sitting astride their parked mopeds, slurping down a bowl before they continue on to work.

Every pho place serves the soup with a plate of garnishes: rau ram, mint, Thai basil, slices of jalapeno chile, mung bean sprouts, lime wedges, and sometimes fried shallots or Chinese doughnuts. The trick is to add a little bit of each item as you eat your way through the bowl, not to dump them in all at once. You want the herbs to maintain their fragrance, the bean sprouts to stay crunchy - it's all about aroma and texture, and if you add too much too soon, you'll end up with black herbs and soft sprouts, which defeats the whole purpose.

 

1 (3-pound) whole chicken

6 whole scallions

1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, crushed

1 tablespoon kosher salt

3 quarts chicken stock

fish sauce, for seasoning

1 (16-ounce) package dried rice vermicelli, cooked according to packet instructions

1 bunch scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced (about 1 cup)

1 bunch cilantro, chopped (about 1 cups)

crispy fried shallots

 

Garnishes:

Thai basil sprigs

mung bean sprouts

limes, cut into wedges

jalapeno chiles, stemmed and thinly sliced into rings

 

Serves 6

 

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the chicken, scallions, ginger, and salt and boil for 15 minutes, then turn off the heat, cover the pot and let stand for 15 minutes. If your chicken is larger than 3 pounds, let stand 10 minutes longer.

2. Just before the chicken is ready, prepare a large ice-water bath. When the chicken is done, remove it from the pot (discarding the cooking liquid) and immediately submerge it in the ice-water bath, which will stop the cooking and give the meat a firmer texture. Let stand 20 minutes, until the chicken is cool enough to handle easily, remove from the water, and pat dry. Pull the chicken meat from the bones, discarding the bones and skin. Shred the meat with your fingers; you should have about 4 cups. (This step can be done a day ahead.)

3. In a large saucepan, bring the stock to a boil over high heat. Taste for seasoning and add fish sauce, if needed.

4. To ready the garnishes, arrange the basil, bean sprouts, lime wedges, and chiles on a platter and place on the table.

5. Divide the rice noodles evenly among warmed soup bowls. Top each serving with about three-quarters of a cup of the shredded chicken, then divide the scallions and cilantro evenly among the bowls. Ladle the hot stock over the top, dividing it evenly, and sprinkle with the fried shallots. Serve immediately, accompanied with the platter of garnishes.