Aside from bánh mì, phở is the other smash hit that put Vietnamese cuisine on the map in America and around the globe. It’s a humble soup that uses affordable ingredients and turns them into a flavorful and aromatic food staple.
This is something I grew up eating as a kid at home, and at the phở restaurant my parents owned. After moving out I visited many phở restaurants, but only a few that specialize in chicken (phở gà) in Little Saigon, but nothing beats a customized home chicken phở recipe and being reminded of mom’s cooking.
At my parent’s restaurant, and I bet the same holds true at other ones, quality is sacrificed for commercial viability; This could mean using less chicken and more MSG to boost flavor. This is why I’m unlikely to ever find phở gà that tastes better than momma’s homemade recipe here.
Making phở is as easy as other chicken noodle soups (like miến gà or súp nui gà), except with a twist on the seasoning and aromatics. Of course you have a slew of Vietnamese herbs that pair with this soup like many other Vietnamese dishes. For this one we have bean sprouts (I like it blanched), Thai basil, ngo gai, lemon, and fresh chiles.
Some say that a clear broth is an important quality in phở, however, my mom says it doesn’t necessarily matter. Flavor is what matters. To me, a slightly cloudy broth with killer taste beats a clear, improperly made soup anyday. Clarity is a nice bonus, but not crucial.
What’s important is the aromatics and spices that you add to your broth to create that hallmark phở taste. Roasting the ginger and onion intensifies the flavor through the maillard reaction. Star anise pod is the main seasoning that makes phở stand out from other soups, and immediately recognizable as phở which is true of beef phở too.
I used to only eat skinless white meat as a kid and finally came to my senses after college–dark fattier chicken meat is where it’s at. It’s also important to use good quality (organic if possible), chicken for this recipe. I recommend cutting or shredding the chicken for easy eating.
There’s been some controversy regarding the “correct” way to eat phở; Is it okay to add hoisin and Sriracha? Some note that the addition of these sauces in phở is caused by the commercialization of (less flavorful) ethnic food in American restaurants, or difficulties in finding fresh traditional Vietnamese ingredients, which give phở a more authentic flavor, in America.
I’m of the opinion that people are allowed to do what they want with their own food. For me, I like to taste the broth as it was meant to be tasted, and dip slices of meat into a tray of hoisin and Sriracha on the side. Still get the sauce punch occasionally, and get the broth how it was meant to be.
Phở Gà Recipe (Vietnamese Chicken Phở)
- 2 medium white or yellow onions roasted
- 20 g fresh ginger roasted
- 2 tbsp coriander seeds
- 1 cinnamon stick approximately 2 inches
- 2 star anise pods
- 1 whole chicken cut in half
- 16 c water
- 2½ tbsp salt
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 2 tsp MSG or 2 tbsp vegetarian seasoning optional
- 16 oz (1 pack) dried phở noodles small noodle thickness
- bean sprouts I prefer blanched
- Thai basil
- lemon sliced into wedges
- ngo gai (culantro) optional
- sliced jalapenos optional
- hoisin sauce
Aromatics and spices
- On a sheet pan, roast the aromatics in the middle rack of an oven on 375°F to 400°F for 15-30 minutes or until dark brown but not blackened.
- Wrap the spices in foil and bake 350°F for 5 minutes (or roast on a pan medium heat until lightly browned and aromatic).
- Add the aromatics, spices, and all soup ingredients into a large stock pot and bring to a boil on high heat. Once it hits a boil, lower the heat to maintain a low boil and cook the chicken for 25-40 minutes until the chicken is cooked all the way through. You can use a thermometer to make sure the internal temperature reads 165°F (or the juices run clear when you cut into the deepest part of the chicken).
- Remove the chicken once done and rinse under cold water for one minute to cool. This will prevent the chicken from getting dark. Once the chicken has cooled, shred the meat into bite-sized pieces.
- Cook the rice noodles according to package instructions only just before you’re ready to serve it. Cooking the noodles usually take about 5 minutes after boiling the water.
- To assemble, start with portioning the noodles into a bowl, and then add the soup, shredded chicken, and accoutrements on top. The proportions of this entire recipe is purely a personalized one, but check the photos as a guide.