It was with some skepticism that I first tried pho (pronounced "fuh"), a Vietnamese noodle soup with the kind of raging reputation around Cambridge that doubled as my incentive not to try it--a very snooty, go-against-the-flooding waters move, I admit. Luckily, I was worn down and, once I tasted this incredible soup with it's soul-soothing broth and it's mountain of rice noodles and it's strange but welcome branch of mint leaves in my bowl, I have never gone back to regular noodle soups. Losers.
Convinced that this was only a miracle that the Vietnamese could perform (and discouraged by recipes with umpteen-ingredients on the net), I was overjoyed when I found a 'Cook's Illustrated' version online. Imagine my shock when the soup that came off of my stove tasted pretty much like the soup, if not quite as perfect, at Le's, the standard of excellence. It's a perfectly good substitute when it's cold (which it is, often, in Boston) and Le's is a disheartening bus ride away.
Ok, so if you've never had "fuh" (I like to say it forcefully, like I'm cussing at all other soups for even existing), it's kind of this surprising mixture of seemingly disparate items, which really come together perfectly in the end. All the ingredients are important. Don't get lazy on me. I'm including here what we usually do, which is chicken, although vegetable and beef are also hot commodities -- in fact, I think beef might be traditional. I could probably scare up a beef recipe if you're really craving cow. Just give me a shout.
The recipe could serve four, but David and I are really greedy with the broth, so, you know, maybe 2-3 if you really like it.
Vietnamese-style Noodle Soup
(c/o Cook's Illustrated)
For the broth:
5 cups chicken broth -- store bought [lame] or homemade [morally superior]
4 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
2 inches fresh ginger, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch pieces
2 star anise*
3 Tbsp asian fish sauce*
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp sugar
For the soup:
1 package ramen noodles, sauce pack discarded
1/2 lb chicken parts (thighs, breasts -- whatever you got, cut up if they're large)
3/4 – 1 cup Napa cabbage, sliced (other varieties will do fine here)
2 green onions, sliced
Slices of lime
[I like to slice and steam other vegetables to throw in, as you see above, I used carrots and zucchini. Anything you would normally put in a soup would work--think about what comes in your vegetables from chinese take-out and just replicate that ]
- Put all ingredients for broth in a large pot and bring to a boil; simmer 10 minutes to blend flavors. Add chicken pieces and boil another 15 minutes. Remove chicken and let cool till you can handle it, then chop it bite-size.
- Place the ramen in a small bowl, and dip out a ladle of the broth to pour over it. Let soften.
- Distribute noodles, cabbage, vegetables, and chicken between bowls. Cover in broth. Add 3-4 mint leaves, 2-3 sprigs of cilantro, sprinkle peanuts over top, and spritz with lime. Voila!
*Star anise can be difficult to get your hands on. If you absolutely can't get it, it's no big deal. But it really does make a difference, in my opinion.
Fish sauce, on the other hand, should not be hard to find--look in the international aisle or (you city folks) at an Asian grocery. This goes in a lot of Asian foods and keeps for a long time in the fridge. Invest in a bottle and use it to spice up your stir fry or dumpling recipes.