Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup (Pho Ga)
Pho Ga (Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup) is the quick poultry alternative to its more well-known and beloved cousin, Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup). Pho consists of rice noodles in a hearty and aromatic broth made from either beef or chicken stock, topped with meat and garnished with fresh herbs.
Pho originated in Northern Vietnam and quickly became popular across Vietnam. There are lots of variations in Pho as you travel from Hanoi in Northern Vietnam down to Ho Chi Minh City in Southern Vietnam.
Pho is pronounced as "Fuh" and it can be eaten any time of day. However, it is one of the most popular breakfast items. The broth in Pho ga is much lighter and less intense than Pho Bo. Because of this, Pho Ga is also eaten not when one is under the weather, much like all versions of chicken noodle soup from around the world.
The most authentic way to make Pho Ga is to use free-range chickens. Free-range chicken are a lot pricier than farm-raised chickens. Where I live, they cost two to three times more than the abundantly available Foster Farms chicken. However, I prefer free-range chicken because they are much more flavorful, likely due to their natural diet. If you don’t have access to free-range chicken, regular chicken is just fine too.
Like other Vietnamese noodle soup dishes, you must clean the chicken thoroughly before making the stock. I like to give my chicken a thorough rub down with salt. The abrasive scrubbing with salt not only cleans away that yucky film on the chicken and gives it a nice shine, it also eliminates any of the foul poultry smell. On top of a salt massage, the chicken gets parboiled before it makes the final cut into the stock pot. When parboiling, the impurities float to the top. After which, the parboiling liquid gets discarded. The bird then gets a second rinse in cold water before it goes into the stock pot. This whole cleaning process gives you the cleanest, clearest and best tasting chicken broth. Of course, this is all optional. Sometimes I even skip the parboiling, but I always clean the chicken with salt before anything else.
Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup (Pho Ga)
- 1 whole chicken (free-range chicken preferred)
- 1 tablespoon salt (for cleaning)
- 4 liters water
- Thumb-size piece ginger (roast whole in oven at 400°F for 15 minutes then slice into coins)
- 8 shallots (roast whole in oven at 400°F for 15 minutes, allow to cool then peel)
- 2 tablespoons dried coriander seeds (toast in dry pan for 1 minute then place in spice bag or cheesecloth)
Noodles & Garnishes
- 2 lbs rice noodles (cook per package instructions)
- 1/4 cup thinly sliced white/yellow onion
- 1/4 cup sliced green onions
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
- Fried shallots
- Ground black pepper
- 2 limes (cut into wedges)
- Sliced red chili peppers or jalapenos (optional)
- Clean the chicken: Lightly dust the chicken with salt. Give it a full exfoliating body scrub then rinse under cold running water. Drain dry.
- Bring a large pot with 4 liters of water to a boil (make sure it will fit the chicken without overflowing). Add cleaned chicken, roasted ginger and shallots. Cook stock pot for 30 minutes on a low simmer.
- Test chicken for doneness after 30 minutes. Any longer, chicken may be dry. Pierce chicken with a chopstick in between the joint of the breast and leg. If water runs clear, chicken is done. Transfer chicken to an ice bath. When cool enough to handle, slice chicken into thin strips. Return all bones back to the stockpot, along with coriander seeds. Continue to cook the stock pot for another 30 minutes on a low simmer.
- After one hour of cooking, remove all solids from the stock pot and discard. Season stock with salt, chicken stock powder, rock sugar, MSG and fish sauce. It's best to season a little at a time to your liking. Like all noodle soups, you want the flavors to be strong and bold. Once noodles are added, flavor will mellow out quite a bit.
- To serve, add a handful of cooked rice noodles to a bowl. Add chicken. Ladle in broth and top with a bit of white/yellow onions, green onions, cilantro, fried shallots and a sprinkle of black pepper. Serve with lime wedges and chili peppers/jalapenos on the side.