The smell and taste of Vietnamese chicken pho is something that needs to be experienced. It is made with an aromatic broth enriched with chicken, root vegetables and spices. Bowls of steaming hot pho are filled fresh rice noodles and tender chicken pieces, topped with fresh herbs and served with hoisin sauce, chilli sauce and lemon wedges. If there is ever a pure comfort dish, this is definitely it.
Vietnamese Chicken Pho
This recipe is an update on a post I did years ago. In the time since I have learnt a lot and have refined the recipe. This post includes absolutely everything I know about making chicken pho. Hopefully you guys will find it informative and helpful!
Getting Depth of Flavour
Through the many years of cooking this dish, here are a few crucial factors I have learnt by trial and error in developing a delicious Vietnamese chicken pho soup.
The star ingredient I must have when making chicken pho is the swede (rutabaga)! This root vegetable not only gives the soup incredible flavour but also a yellow tinge. I know this is not traditional and you are probably thinking WTF… but I promise you won’t regret it.
Preparing the Vegetables
The best tip for extracting as much flavour as you can from your vegetables is to cut them into smaller pieces. This creates more surface area which means more contact with the soup. This is especially important for this dish because you will only be cooking the veg for a short time, so extract as much flavour as you can as quickly as you can!
Good Quality Chicken
The best type of chicken for this recipe is a free-range corn-fed chicken. These are more expensive but really do produce the best flavour and colour. If you can’t get it then I highly recommend any free range chicken within your budget.
Add the Fish Sauce at the End
Yes. Sounds weird but when you boil fish sauce for too long it gives off a sour taste. I was very skeptical of this at the start but when someone drew my attention to it I realised they were right. So add it at the end and don’t allow the soup to go on a rolling boil once you have added it in.
Toast Your Spices
It doesn’t take much to toast your spices… so please do it! It will release more aroma into the soup.
To add the toasted aromatics to the soup use a cheesecloth or a “Chux” cloth to hold the spices together like a tea bag so it doesn’t spread all over the soup when cooking. This makes it easier to remove at the end.
Note: I have researched if it is dangerous to use “Chux” cloths as a “spice bag” for soups and it appears to be safe. Of course do your own research for your own piece of mind.
I know a lot of people have their reservations when it comes to flavour enhancers. I won’t go telling you “why you should or shouldn’t use” them. Truth be told, any time you have had chicken pho at a restaurant it most likely had either MSG, chicken bouillon powder or a combination of both.
In my opinion, these products really do elevate the flavour of the soup to that extra level. Of course the soup will still taste delicious without them but if you want to go that extra mile then I suggest adding these to your soup. My chicken bouillon powder of choice is Knorr which is found at most Asian groceries.
Vietnamese chicken pho without condiments is not as good. Some people will add them directly to the soup or have them in a separate dipping bowl or both. Whatever the case giving people the option to tailor their pho is very important. I typically serve chilli sauce, sriracha and hoisin sauce with my chicken pho which should be available at mainstream grocers and definitely at Asian groceries.
Getting a Clear and Golden Soup
For many Vietnamese people a clear and golden coloured soup is a sign of a good chicken pho. I personally don’t mind when I am at home as long as it tastes good. But when there are guests you want to put your best foot forward so everything matters! Here are a few things to consider:
- Use swedes to help give the soup a golden colour.
- Use a good quality free range chicken for soup clarity and colour. Lower quality chickens tend to produce a lot more scum / impurities when boiling.
- Wash and clean the whole chicken before adding it to the soup. Be sure to clear out the dark coloured parts from inside the chicken with your fingers.
- The chicken should not be frozen when adding it into the soup.
- Wash the charred vegetables under the tap to remove any overly burnt parts. If you don’t remove most of it then it will darken the soup and small charred bits will float around in the soup.
- Simmer the soup on low heat.
- Skim off the scum as it builds up on the surface of the soup.
- Strain the soup at the end to remove the impurities.
Fresh vs Dried Pho Rice Noodles
For some reason nearly every pho recipe will tell you to use the dried pho noodles. This is really weird to me since my family has predominantly only ever used the fresh version. This is also true with most Vietnamese restaurants I have been to in Australia. My dad was the only one in my family that preferred the dried type but we can confirm that he is weird.
I personally prefer the fresh version because it is much softer and has a better taste than the dried version. But in saying that, there are a few cons. Fresh noodles are usually only available at the Asian groceries and have a shorter shelf life. The dried stuff is much more readily available in mainstream grocers and can be stored for much longer. So, each has their place and it really comes down to personal preference and availability.
Tailoring Pho Bowls
One thing I love about pho is you can tailor it to your taste. I have seen people add nothing to their soup and others add a million different things. In some cases, people have added so many things that the original pho taste has been completely destroyed and you wonder why you went through all that effort to make it taste nice. Whatever the case, as long as it is enjoyed what does it matter? Right….?
This is how I typically tailor my chicken pho:
Tailoring Your Bowl of Pho
- Make your dipping bowl by adding either hoisin sauce, chilli sauce or a combination of the two.
- Add the desired herbs and vegetables into your bowl. Note this will dilute the broth.
- A small squeeze of lemon. Not too much (optional).
- Taste the pho soup.
- Adjust by adding small amounts of the following condiments. Remember to mix it in and taste check repeatedly.
- Hot sauce / sriracha for saltiness and spice.
- Hoisin sauce for extra sweetness.
- Fish sauce for saltiness
Some Good Tips to Consider
- For this recipe, the chicken should be just cooked. This will keep the texture of the meat springy and elastic. Do not cook the chicken for hours or to the point where the meat is falling off the bone.
- There will be leftover boiled chicken. It will be good to have some recipes in mind to use it up.
- You can make this dish as expensive or as cheap as you like. You do not have to include all the optional ingredients for it to taste great. My only recommendation is to spend a little more on the chicken.
- The pho soup is meant to be on the salty side. This is because the noodles / vegetables / herbs will water down the soup greatly.
- If you planning to serve this at a dinner party then consider making the chicken pho soup in advance (1 -2 days) and store it in the fridge. Make it even easier on yourself by also preparing all the garnishes, veg and chicken meat in advance as well.
Other Recipes Similar to Vietnamese Chicken Pho
- Quick Chicken Pho
- Chicken and Egg Noodle Soup
- Quick Beef Pho
- Chicken and Mushroom Glass Noodle Soup – Mien Ga
- Quick Chicken and Mushroom Glass Noodle Soup
- Vietnamese Pork Thick Noodle Soup – Banh Canh
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Scruff & Steph
Vietnamese Chicken Pho
- 4 L stock pot
- Cheesecloth / Chux cloth / Large tea bag
- 3 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tsp chicken bouillon powder (optional but recommended)
- 1 kg fresh pho rice noodles (300 gm pack of dried pho noodles)
- 2.5 L boiling water
- 1.8 kg free range chicken, cleaned and not frozen
- 1 large onion, peeled and halved
- 30 gm ginger, sliced
- 1 large swede (rutabaga), peeled and cut into small cubes
- 1 tbsp white sugar
- 1.5 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp coriander seeds
- 3 star anise
- 1 cinnamon stick (do not use the powdered version)
- 1 pack bean sprouts (optional)
- 1 bunch Thai basil (optional)
- 3 spring onions, chopped
- 5 sprigs coriander, roughly chopped (optional)
- 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 lemon, cut into small wedges
- 2 chillies, chopped (optional)
- hoisin sauce
- hot sauce / sriracha
- Prepare all the soup ingredients.
- In a pan, dry fry the onion and ginger until slightly charred. Wash off any overly burnt parts. Note: Do not break up the onion into its layers.
- In the same pan on medium heat, toast the spices until fragrant. Put the toasted spices in a cheesecloth / chux cloth or a spice bag and tie it up. Please refer to the picture above for examples.
- Bring 2.5 L of water to the boil in a stock pot on high and add the chicken breast side down, the rest of the soup ingredients and the spice bag.
- Once the water comes back to the boil, turn the temperature down to low and simmer for 50 minutes. Put two chopsticks in between the lid and the pot so that there a gap (please refer to the picture above for examples). Skim the soup as scum builds up on the surface.
- After 50 minutes, take the chicken out and push a chopstick deep into the chicken breast and few other parts to see if any blood runs out. If the juices run clear, the chicken is cooked. Place it in a large bowl of cold water for (approx. 10 minutes) to prevent it cooking further.If the chicken is still raw, cook for another 10 minutes or until done.
- Let the soup cook for another 30 minutes.
- While the soup is cooking, wash / dry / prep all your garnishes, fresh herbs and vegetables.
- Once the chicken is cool enough to touch, tear it into chunks. Keep the chicken pieces in a closed container until needed.
- Strain the soup. Squash the vegetables against the strainer with a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible and then discard.
- Add 3 tbsp of fish sauce and chicken bouillon powder (if using) and taste check. Adjust the soup to your preference. Note – the soup should be on the salty side.
- Turn down the heat on the soup pot to low and put on the lid with a small gap. Leave until needed.
Serve the Fresh Herbs / Vegetables / Condiments
- Plate the fresh herbs / vegetables and serve them on the table.
- Place condiments with dipping bowls on the table.
Preparing the Dried Rice Noodles
- If using dried rice noodles, prepare them per the package directions.
Preparing Fresh Rice Noodles
- Place the fresh rice noodles in a large bowl.
- If the noodles are soft and are not clumped together, then pour boiling water into the bowl. Loosen the noodles up with chopsticks for 10 seconds then strain.
- If the fresh rice noodles are clumped together and are very hard, then put them in the microwave for 1 minute on high. Gently loosen the noodles up. If they are still clumped together then put them back in the microwave for another minute.
- Pour boiling water over the top of the noodles and loosen them up with chopsticks for 10 seconds. Strain.
- Take the lid off the soup pot and turn the heat up to medium-low.
- Divide the rice noodles into bowls.
- Heat the chicken pieces up by placing them in a strainer and dunking them into the soup pot.
- Ladle the hot soup over the pho noodles.
- Garnish with chopped spring onions / red onion / coriander.