I recently posted this picture to my Facebook page and was surprised to receive a number of requests for the recipe. This is my I’m-coming-down-with-a-cold soup, the one I make at the first signs of sniffly nose and sore throat, and frankly, I didn’t think anyone would be interested in the recipe. Clearly I was wrong. Just goes to show that chicken soup is, indeed, a universal balm for the soul, to be made in sickness and health.
As I started to map out a recipe for this soup, I realized that I make it a bit different every time. Sometimes it has more fresh ginger. Sometimes different herbs. Sometimes I hit it heavy with the garlic and sometimes I leave it more mild. Regardless of where I end up with the soup, I always start in the same place: with a simple homemade chicken stock.
Stock is easy to make and something that, when incorporated into your culinary repertoire, will elevate your cooking in many ways. There are a few simple things to know about making chicken stock. Commit these to memory and you’ll find yourself throwing a pot together at least once a month without hesitation.
- You need chicken bones. If you want to end up with a lot of cooked chicken meat to use in your soup (or other recipes), start with a whole chicken. If you’re just after flavor and not concerned with the amount of chicken meat you have at the end, start with chicken wings or legs or simply the carcass of a roast chicken you had for dinner the night before. Just don’t use boneless chicken for this. You might as well just open up a box of broth.
- You need aromatics. These are the root vegetables, alliums, herbs and spices that help build a solid foundation of flavor. The classic choices are carrot, onion, celery, bay and peppercorns. I like to add a head of garlic for more flavor and immune-boosting properties.
- You need patience. If you want to end up with a nice clear broth and not a cloudy mess, the method is crucial. Like so many good things in the kitchen (and in life), broth requires a bit of time, some care and patience. Always start with COLD water to cover your chicken and aromatics. Bring to a boil and IMMEDIATELY reduce the heat to simmer. This allows you to skim off the foam that float to the top. If you let your stock boil, those bits of impurities will incorporate into your broth and will be impossible to remove.
Once you have your stock, you’re ready to make the soup. Now is when I need to admit that this soup is not really “pho,” it’s merely pho-like. Traditional Vietnamese pho is made from beef bones simmered for hours with star anise to create a rich broth. Rice noodles and various meats are added. I make my chicken broth pho-ish by adding some star anise and ginger and scallions. The result is a milder, gently version of pho that I particularly love when I’m sick. Traditional pho is served with a platter of raw garnishes that include Thai basil, mint, bean sprouts, lime and jalapeno. My version incorporates my favorite parts of this platter (lots of jalapeno, fresh herbs and lime juice). The heat from the chilies and acidity of the lime always helps clear my sinuses and invariably sends me on the road to recovery.
Whether you’re feeding a cold or just feeding yourself dinner, I guarantee you’ll be soul-satisfied with a big bowl of this soup. Be sure to save any extra stock in the freezer. I like storing it in 2-cup containers so I can pull it out to use in sauces, risotto and quick weeknight soups.
- 1 whole chicken (OR any selection of parts to equal 1 ½ pounds)
- 2 carrots
- 2 celery stalks
- 1 onion
- 1 head garlic
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- a few bay leaves
- 1 star anise
- 2-inch chunk ginger, sliced into 3 pieces
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
- 4 scallions, cleaned and halved
- 6 oz rice noodles
- 1 jalapeno
- handful of fresh mint
- handful of fresh basil
- handful of fresh cilantro
- 1 lime
- 2 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
- couple drops sesame oil, optional
- chili-garlic paste, optional for serving
- hoisin sauce, optional for serving
- Combine the chicken, carrots, celery, onion, garlic, peppercorns and bay leaves in a large pot. Cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat and immediately reduce heat to low. Simmer for 2-3 hours, partially covered. During the first 30 minutes, carefully skim off any foam that floats to the top and discard.
- Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. Strain and discard the aromatics. Set the chicken aside to cool. Once cool enough to handle, pull the chicken meat from the bones and set aside to use in soup or other recipes.
- At this point, you can refrigerate your stock for up to 4 days or freeze for future use.
- Combine 6 cups of the stock, star anise, sliced ginger, garlic cloves and scallions.
- Gently cook over medium heat for 30 minutes. Remove the solids and discard.
- Meanwhile, cook the noodles according to the package instructions.
- NOTE ABOUT NOODLES - If you’re using fresh rice noodles from Trader Joes, they only need a brief dunk in hot water to soften. Then strain and rinse well with cool water so they don’t turn to mush. If you’re using Pad Thai noodles or rice vermicelli, they will need 2-5 minutes in boiling water. Check them frequently and remove as soon as you like their doneness. Again, rinse very well to rid them of excess starch.
- Thinly slice the jalapenos, discarding the seeds if you wish. Roughly chop the herbs. Halve the limes.
- Once the broth has been strained, add the tamari/soy sauce and sesame oil if using. Taste and season with more salt as needed.
- To serve, place the cooked noodles in the bottom of two large bowls. Add some of the cooked chicken. Cover with the hot broth. Top with lots of jalapeno and herbs. Serve with the lime on the side to squeeze just before eating. Chili-garlic paste and hoisin sauce are traditional pho accompaniments. Add if you’d like.