Treat yourself to Asian soup
Ah, but life doesn't always work that way, and don't we all know it, too. Truth be told, some of us simply haven't the wherewithal, at least for a while, not right now, anyway. And some of us who could, and would really like to, can't and so don't.
If one of those things you'd most like to have, at or near the top of your wish list, is something different, something Asian, today we have one.
It's the how-to for pho ga, something we've all heard and read about for years, but nothing (so far as I know) we've ever had a chance to eat, let alone ever made in our own kitchens. (If I'm wrong on this, please don't hesitate to send the Forum your favorite recipe for this popular ethnic specialty.)
So here's our chance, and this one's not only tasty but supposedly healthy, besides. There's just one thing -- if it bothers you, skip, scrimp on or leave out entirely the "offal'' and extra chicken bones. Instead, boost the broth flavor by adding some chicken bouillon, either instant granules or cubes.
Chef Helene An's pho ga
3-4 pound chicken, preferably free range, with offal (innards) and 2-3 pounds chicken bones
1 large onion, peeled and cut in half
8 large cloves garlic
About 3-inch length ginger root, sliced in half lengthwise
Roots and stems of 1 bunch cilantro
3 whole star anise
1 2-by-1-inch piece cinnamon stick, preferably Saigon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cracked white pepper
Heaping 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar (preferred is 80 grams yellow rock sugar)
2 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce (may be labeled nuoc mam, available at Asian grocers)
1 tablespoon salt (or to taste)
20 ounces dried pho noodles or fresh rice noodles (available at Asian grocers or some supermarkets)
1/2 small onion, very thinly sliced
2 large green onions, chopped
About 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Fresh lemon leaves (if available), basil and bean sprouts
4 serrano or jalapeno chiles, thinly sliced
Wash chicken inside and out, including any offal it comes with, and set it aside.
Using a broiler, torch or gas stove, burn the cut side of the onion, both sides of the ginger and both sides of the garlic. (If you have some wire mesh, you can set it on the gas stove for the garlic, otherwise a torch works great.) You want the surface to be about 50 percent black as it adds a wonderful smoky flavor to the soup without making it bitter.
Put the neck, gizzards, heart and liver inside the chicken. Place the chicken, breast side up, and chicken bones in a stock pot just a little larger than the chicken, then put in the onion, garlic, ginger, cilantro, anise, cinnamon, pepper, brown sugar or rock sugar, fish sauce and salt. Add water until the top of the chicken breast is almost covered. Cover and bring water to boil over high heat. When water comes to a boil, skim off excess fat and the impurities on top, then turn stove to low heat (do not remove lid) and poach chicken for 30 minutes.
Remove chicken from liquid and set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, remove offal from cavity and set aside. Carve all meat from bones and return bones to stock. Simmer the stock for another 1 1/2 hours. Slice the chicken meat and offal and refrigerate.
Soak the dried pho noodles in warm water for about 30 minutes to rehydrate them. (Or prepare the rice noodles according to package directions.)
Meanwhile, skim chicken broth through fine mesh sieve, skimming off any excess oil. Taste soup for salt and add more, if necessary.
Bring stock to boil and, in separate pot, bring water to boil; add rehydrated noodles -- they will cook in a matter of seconds, so a couple swishes is all it takes. Lift noodles from liquid, drain and divide among 5 to 6 soup bowls. Top with the chicken, offal, onion slices, green onion, cilantro, basil, bean sprouts and chilies to taste, then ladle on the hot broth. Makes 5 to 6 servings.
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