Friday, January 9, 2015

Chicken Pho

Last Year's Post: Eggs in Tomato Sauce with Smoked Mozzarella
Two Years Ago:  Balsamic Vinegar Chicken with Almond Peppers

Pho is very popular, but it's always been somewhat of a mystery to me - what is it, exactly, and how do you pronounce it?  Turns out the "what is it" part is a little easier to explain than the "how do you pronounce it" part.  Basically, pho is a hearty Vietnamese soup that typically contains either chicken or beef, noodles, and vegetables.  I think of it much like the Mongolian hot pots that were so popular a decade or two ago, where you put a bunch of ingredients in a big bowl and then pour hot stock over the whole thing.

As for how to pronounce it,it looks like you should pronounce it "foe" but the correct pronunciation is actually "fuh".  Click here to hear it pronounced. (Isn't technology great?)

Although this is a recipe for chicken pho and therefore technically for chicken soup, it's a long way from any chicken soup you grew up with.  First, there's the chicken - boneless skinless thighs that are roasted in a dark and flavorful sauce of honey, mirin, soy sauce, fish sauce, and minced jalapenos, then thin sliced before adding to the soup.  The vegetables - shiitake mushrooms, leeks, and kale - add addition flavor, texture, color and nutrition.  The noodles aren't ordinary egg noodles, they're rice noodles, and the broth is boosted by the addition of lime juice and ginger.  The soup is finished with fresh cilantro sprigs and a few additional slices of jalapeno just to make sure you're awake.  A note about the jalapenos - I really wanted to use a red jalapeno for the garnish on the top to make it even prettier, but for some mysterious reason not one single store in my area had them.  If you can find them, it would be a great addition - colorful food always looks best - but it's a very beautiful soup with the green jalapenos anyway.

The resulting soup is complex in its flavors and textures while remaining true to the genre in terms of its wholesome goodness and comforting, healing properties.  Yes, it's some work, but so is homemade "regular" chicken noodle soup, and this version is ever so much more interesting.  Any college students you know will think you're very cool, because they eat it all the time.  AND you know how to pronounce it.

You start by making the sauce and roasting the chicken.  The sauce calls for dark soy sauce rather than regular soy sauce, which is darker, thicker and more intense in flavor.  You can find it at your local Asian market but regular soy sauce will work almost as well (the sauce won't be quite as thick).

Then you saute the mushrooms and leeks while slicing some kale, heating the broth, and softening the noodles. I used Tuscan kale, which I find to be less tough and bitter than curly kale.

After that it's pretty much just assembly.  I wanted a very chicken-y tasting broth so I added a little chicken base to the chicken broth when I was heating it, but you can leave it out if you prefer.  It gave the broth a nice dark color also.  I was really happy with the results.

printable recipe
Chicken Pho
Serves 4

1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon mirin
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 jalapenos, divided
4 boneless skinless chicken thighs
3 ounces shiitake mushrooms, cleaned, stemmed and sliced
1 leek, white part only, sliced lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
6 coin-sized slices of fresh ginger
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons chicken base or chicken bouillon cubes (optional)
2 cups shredded Tuscan kale (ribs removed first)
6 ounces rice noodles
Cilantro leaves, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400d.

In a medium bowl, combine the soy sauce, honey, mirin, and fish sauce.  Mince one of the jalapenos and add it to the sauce.  Add the chicken thighs, turning to coat, then place them on a small aluminum foil-lined roasting pan.  Pour the remaining sauce over the chicken. Roast the chicken, turning over in the sauce several times, for 30 minutes.  Remove and cool before slicing thinly.  Set aside.

Heat a skillet over medium heat, then add the olive oil and mushrooms.  Sauté for 2 minutes, then add the leek and turn the heat to medium low.  Sprinkle with salt and sauté for 5-7 minutes until tender.  Set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan add the chicken broth, chicken base (if using), ginger and lime juice.  As it approaches a boil add the kale and let cook for 2-3 minutes.  Remove the kale with a slotted spoon to a small bowl; set aside.  Remove the ginger with the slotted spoon and discard.  Keep the broth hot; season with salt to taste.

At the same time that the broth is heating, bring a bowl of water to a boil and add the rice noodles, letting them soak according to package directions (typically 8-10 minutes).  Drain.

Stem and with a small knife remove the seeds from the remaining jalapeno, then thinly slice into rings.

To assemble, place the chicken, mushrooms, leeks, kale, and noodles in wide shallow bowls.  Carefully pour the hot broth over all and garnish with cilantro leaves and jalapeno rings.  Serve immediately.

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