Food has the power to connect us to people and places around the world. In 2007, Rebecca and I spent three months traveling through South East Asia together. Leaving Cambodia on the back of moto-bikes, we arrived for the night, hot and dusty, in a small village in rural Vietnam. After dropping off our packs, we sat down on the rickety plastic stools of the town's only food stand, famished. Without asking what we wanted, two pungent bowls of Phở Gà, Vietnam's famous chicken noodle soup, were plunked down in front of us. We were hooked! As we made our way north over the next several weeks, we enjoyed many local variations of Phở: from the dark, rich, and beefy to bright and spicy with shrimp. Our favorite Phở, on which our recipe is based, was eaten from steaming bowls one early morning overlooking Hạ Long Bay. This version used chicken that had been marinated and grilled, rather than boiled in the soup, giving it a crispy texture and sweet charred flavor.
Each sip of flavorful broth reminds us also of the people and culture that created it. Phở is an aromatic and visual dish, one that we like to serve in our Vietnamese blue petal bowls made in the Kinh family workshop in the famous pottery village of Bat Trang, Vietnam. By partnering with a local non-profit and Ten Thousand Villages, women potters are able to make a living for their families, continue a rich cultural tradition, and gain access to tools, education, training, interest-free loans, and literacy classes. We buy many of our dishes and gifts from Ten Thousand Villages each year, and appreciate their commitment to ethical partnerships with local artisans around the world. To see how these blue petal bowls are made, check out the video below:
Yield: serves 10-12 as a main
- 2 whole chickens (or 6 pounds chicken thighs)
- 4 large onions, roughly diced
- 3 stalks celery, cut into large chunks
- 1 head garlic, skin left on cut in half horizontally across all the cloves
- 1 jalapeno pepper, halved lengthwise
- 2 carrots, cut in half lengthwise
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
- 2 inches fresh ginger, cut into 1/4 inch slices
- 2 whole star anise pods
- 4 whole cloves
- 20 cups cold water
- 2/3 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup fish sauce
- 4 chicken breasts (removed from whole chickens above, or purchased separately)
- 6 tablespoons soy sauce
- 4 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 4 teaspoons garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ginger powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2-3 (5 oz) packages mung bean noodles, cooked according to package instructions
- 6 limes, halved
- 1-2 bunches basil (Thai basil if possible), roughly chopped
- 1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
- 1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
- 1-2 cups fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
- 1 cup radishes thinly sliced
- 1 red onion, thinly sliced
- To prepare the broth: If starting with a whole chicken, break the chicken down into smaller pieces (reserving the breasts for marinating and grilling).
- Add the chicken parts (minus breasts), onion, celery, garlic, jalapeno, carrots, cinnamon, black pepper, ginger, star anise, cloves, and water to a large (2 gallon) pot. Turn heat to high and bring to a simmer. Turn heat to medium-low and gently simmer for 2 hours uncovered.
- Pour broth through a large strainer into a clean pot or bowl. Discard the solids. You can save the cooked chicken meat for another purpose (such as chicken salad). Set strained broth aside to allow fat to separate and rise to the top.
- For the grilled chicken: Slice each breast in half horizontally. To do this, rest the chicken breasts on a cutting board, midway through the breast and run your knife parallel to the cutting board through each breast. This creates thinner pieces of chicken that absorb more marinade flavor and grill more quickly. Place the sliced chicken breasts in a zip-top bag.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the chicken marinade (soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, fish sauce, oil, honey, garlic powder, onion powder, ginger powder, and salt). Pour over the chicken breasts in a zip-top bag. Gently rotate and massage the bag to ensure the chicken is thoroughly coated. Allow to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes (up to overnight).
- Preheat grill on high for 15 minutes, and clean thoroughly. Grill sliced chicken breasts on high heat for 3-4 minutes on each side, with the grill lid down during cooking. You are looking for nice grill marks and cooked through chicken. Remove from heat and rest for 5 minutes before cutting into thin strips.
- To prepare the soup: Skim the layer of fat from the top of the broth and discard. Bring the broth back to a simmer over high heat. Add soy sauce and fish sauce to broth.
- Fill each bowl with noodles and broth, squeeze in juice of half a lime, and top with grilled chicken and fresh herbs. Serve immediately. Broth will keep in the fridge for 1 week or freezer for 3 months.