Pho-shizzle

You may not be a star, but you can eat like one.

click to enlarge CHICKEN SOUP, PHO REAL! Now you can make this intoxicating bowl of chicken pho in your own kitchen. - Jaden Hair
Jaden Hair
CHICKEN SOUP, PHO REAL! Now you can make this intoxicating bowl of chicken pho in your own kitchen.

You haven't experienced wild until you've lived in the heart of Hollywood. My little duplex was squished between movie-star wannabes, homeless people pushing shopping carts piled 8 feet high with trash treasures, and gold-chained pimps proclaiming to the world, "GIRLS! GIRLS! GIRLS! Right over here!"

The location was by choice, and I had a very good reason for living two blocks from the golden stars of the Walk of Fame. It was called "just so I can say that I did." Hey, I was young. But where else could I shimmy into CFM boots, don an electric pink wig and blend in without getting mistaken for someone you'd pick up with a $20? When the sun sets and street-level neon flows, Hollywood is pure freedom of expression.

After a night of clubbing just two blocks south of my digs, my friends and I would walk three blocks east to a small, rinky-dink Vietnamese noodle shop to fill up on pho. Asian girly posters littered the walls, and the same bad karaoke DVD played over and over. Thank goodness the steaming, hot, intoxicating bowl of soup drowned out the awful Chinglish rendition of "Baby Got Back." That soup was un-pho-king believable.

I don't know what secret family recipe they followed, but after all these years, I finally mastered that bowl of chicken pho in my home kitchen, boots and wig not required.

Chicken Pho (Pho Ga)

1 whole organic chicken (4-5 lbs)

1 whole onion, unpeeled and cut in half

3-inch chunk of ginger, unpeeled

Broth spices

2 tbsp whole coriander seeds

4 whole cloves

2 whole star anise

2 tbsp sugar (or rock sugar)

2 tbsp fish sauce

small bunch of cilantro stems only, tied in bunch with twine

Accompaniments

1 lb dried rice noodles (about 1/4-inch wide)

2 cups bean sprouts, washed and tails pinched off

cilantro tops — leaves and tender stems

1/2 cup shaved red onions

1/2 lime, cut into 4 wedges

Sriracha hot sauce

hoisin sauce

sliced chili

Place ginger and onion on a small baking sheet. The top of the onion should be about 4 inches from the oven's heating element. Set to broil on high for 15 minutes. Turn the onion and ginger occasionally to get an even char. The skin should be dark, and the onion/ginger should be soft. After cooling, rub to get the charred skin off the onion, and use a butter knife to scrape the skin off the ginger. Slice ginger into thick slices.

Fill a large stockpot with water and bring to a boil. With a sharp cleaver, carve the chicken breast meat off and reserve. Whack the rest of the chicken into sections about 3 inches big. The more bone that is exposed, the more marrow that gets in the broth (translation: rich, flavorful). You can even whack several places along the bone just to expose more marrow. When the water boils, add chicken sections (not breast) and boil on high for five minutes. You'll see lots of foam and stuff come up to the surface. Drain, rinse your chicken free of the scum, and wash your pot thoroughly. Refill with about 4 quarts of clean, cold water.

Add chicken, chicken breast meat, onion, ginger and all broth spices to the pot and cover. Turn heat to high — let it come to boil, then immediately turn heat to low. Prop lid up so that steam can escape. After 15 minutes, remove the chicken breasts, cool and shred with your fingers (you'll serve shredded chicken breast with the finished soup). With a large spoon, skim the surface of any impurities in the broth. Skimming every 20 minutes ensures a clear broth. Simmer a total of one and a half hours. Taste and adjust seasoning with more fish sauce and/or sugar.

Strain the broth, discard solids. Prepare noodles per directions on package. In each bowl, ladle broth, add shredded chicken breast and soft noodles. Have accompaniments arranged on the table for each person to add to their bowl.

Jaden Hair blogs at steamykitchen.com.

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