Once upon a time, I grew up in a small town where I was the only Vietnamese kid at my elementary school. You probably wouldn’t believe it, but I was a shy one, and went through a period where I struggled to fit in. I’m what is considered a 1.5 generation immigrant. The researcher/teacher in me feels the need to include a citation here.
The experience of 1.5 generation immigrants, a term used to describe people who arrived in the U.S. as children and adolescents, is a unique one. Unlike their first-generation parents or U.S.-born siblings, their identity is split. They are American in many ways, sometimes in most, but not entirely. (www.scpr.org)
This split identity wasn’t an easy one to navigate, and I can still remember the anxiety and shame of being different. When my friends talked about what they had for dinner, I pretended that we had American meals at home too, instead of the traditional three-course Vietnamese dinners that my mom prepared from scratch, every single day. No short cuts, no pre-packaging, no frozen dinners. She was ahead of the curve on this current clean eating craze. I always say there’s no need to diet. Just eat how my mom eats and you’ll be good to go. Looking back, I marvel at what my mother accomplished on a daily basis for a family of four. There are days I can barely get one dish on the table for the two of us. As a kid, I didn’t understand the depth of love and care my mother provided for us. As an adult, I am bowled over by the enormity of it.
Food is an integral part of our culture, and phở is one of the ubiquitous cultural anchors. It was the first meal we had when we arrived in America in 1985 and it was the first meal I was served when I returned to Vietnam for the first time in 1996. Each pot of soup was lovingly tended to and crafted by family, eagerly awaiting our arrival, separated by a decade and one rather large ocean. There is a lot of unspoken emotion expressed in Vietnamese cooking and there was a time where I struggled to understand this method of communication.
I could write so much more about this, but in the interest of time, I’ll just fast forward to the here and now, where I laugh because every trendy eatery has a bánh mì and all my friends love phở, and can even distinguish a good bowl from a bad bowl. I’ve come a long way and so has American food culture. Now I get to blog one of my mom’s longtime recipes, which I think is pretty fantastic.
The first time I made this, as with every other Vietnamese recipe I make, I asked my mom to walk me through the steps. Growing up, she taught me to cook the way everyone in the family cooks—without recipes. A little bit of this, a few dashes of that. It’s right when it tastes right. I’m now in the process of collecting and cataloging my mom’s recipes. Her food, my photos, and perhaps a cookbook one day…
Alright, enough storytelling. Here is my mom’s chicken phở recipe. Every family has their own version. This is ours. As you cook, please keep in mind that you have the freedom to tailor the spices and flavoring to your liking. Everyone’s palate is different, and different is okay. I wish someone had told 8-year old me this. It would have made such a difference.
If you have any questions, please post them in the comments below and I’ll get right back to you! Probably after I call my mom to ask her for the answer. 😀
By Patty Nguyen Zurilgen || www.pattynguyen.com
I like to include recipe tips at the beginning rather than the end of a recipe so you don’t accidentally skim over them, which is what I have been known to do.
Also, I make all of my soups and broths with the Instant Pot pressure cooker and have included instructions for both the IP and stovetop. Please read through the entire recipe for details.
- To achieve a clear broth, never let your soup come to a boil.
- Don’t be afraid to season the broth. An under-seasoned broth will yield bland chicken.
- For phở broth in particular, it is better to be bolder with the salt content since the rice noodles will dilute the broth and the final bowl of phở will taste blander than intended.
- I prefer to make phở at least a day before serving. This allows the flavors to marry, just as spaghetti sauce does when sitting overnight in the fridge.
- Rock sugar: Rock sugar can be found at Asian grocery stores. Make sure to purchase the yellow variety instead of the white. Rock sugar is naturally yellow. To measure rock sugar for recipes, a 1-inch chunk is about the size of the first section of your thumb. You can use one whole chuck, or several smaller chunks that equal this amount.
- Fish Sauce: Fish sauce is a hot topic in Vietnamese food communities. Everyone swears by their favorite brand. We use Three Crabs, but feel free to use your preferred option.
- Rice noodles: We use fresh rice noodles that are vacuum sealed. You can find these in the refrigerated noodle section at any Asian grocery store. One package of rice noodles usually serves four.
- For those in the Sacramento area, I usually shop at Ranch 99, and occasionally at SF Market. Although SF Market has a greater selection, I prefer Ranch 99 due to cleanliness, plus it is not quite as busy and chaotic.
- 1 whole chicken, 4 lbs.
- 1-2 lbs chicken bones (necks, feet, etc.), optional
- 1 large yellow onion, peeled and kept whole with roots intact
- 1 4-inch knob of ginger
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 star anise
- 4 cloves
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- 1 1-inch chunk rock sugar
- 8 cups water
- 2-3 tbsp fish sauce, to taste
- 1 package rice noodles
- green onion, chopped
- white onion, sliced paper thin
- bean sprouts
- Thai basil (do not substitute with sweet basil)
- sliced jalapenos
- lime wedges
Instant Pot Directions:
One of the distinctive flavors of pho comes from charring the ginger and onion for the broth. You can do this using tongs over a gas burner, or in a dry, hot skillet. Once the ginger and onion are charred, set them aside to cool for a few minutes. Once cool enough to handle, gently wash off any excess ash/char under running water. I gently massage the ginger to rub off any loose pieces of char and peel off the outer layer of onion, leaving only hints of the charred exterior. Doing so helps ensure a golden and clear broth.
Next, place the ginger, onion, whole chicken (plus bones, if using), cinnamon stick, star anise, cloves, kosher salt, rock sugar, and water into an 8 qt. Instant Pot insert. Pressure cook for 20 minutes on Manual Mode and allow 15 minutes of NR.
Once the broth is done cooking, remove the chicken to a bowl of ice water. This will help keep the chicken from drying out. Once cool enough to handle, use a knife to carve the meat into thin slices.
As you wait for the chicken to cool, strain the broth from the IP insert into a large pot and discard the solids. Add the fish sauce to taste, keeping in mind that you should season pho broth a tad bit saltier to balance the dilution from the rice noodles. You may also add more rock sugar at this point if needed.
Before serving, soak the rice noodles in a large bowl of water for 5 minutes. As the noodles soak, bring a pot of water to a low simmer. Drain the rice noodles and cook them in the simmering water for 5 seconds. Any longer and they will turn into mush. You will want to move quickly as soon as the rice noodles cook because they will clump if they sit too long before serving.
Divide the cooked noodles into four bowls. Top with the sliced chicken. Ladle hot, but not boiling, broth into the bowls and serve immediately with plates of the suggested garnishes and dipping sauces.
Follow the directions above, but place all ingredients in an 8 qt stock pot. Start at high heat, and since it is important to never let the broth boil, lower the heat as soon as you see the broth begin to simmer. Cook at a low simmer until the chicken is cooked, between 30-45 minutes. Make sure the juices run clear before you remove the chicken from the broth. Continue to let the broth simmer as the chicken cools in the ice bath. Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, carve the meat from the bones and place the carcass back into the broth. Continue cooking the broth for another hour and a half.
Strain the broth into a clean pot and discard the solids. Add the fish sauce to taste, keeping in mind that you should season pho broth a tad bit saltier to balance the dilution from the rice noodles. You may also add more rock sugar at this point if needed.
You may now return to the rest of the instructions from the Instant Pot directions.