Quick Chicken Pho

Quick weeknight chicken pho from expert Andrea Nguyen! Shortcut version of traditional Vietnamese noodle soup. 30-minutes. Gluten-free.

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Photography Credit: Emma Christensen

A few years ago, I’d never even heard of pho, let alone tasted it. Now, giant bowls of this traditional Vietnamese noodle soup are a regular meal in our house.

There are three things I can thank for this change: 1) Moving to a part of the country where pho restaurants are as common as pizza joints. 2) Several months of gluten-free eating last year due to a health issue. 3) Meeting and becoming friends with Vietnamese cooking expert Andrea Nguyen.

Andrea has now published a new book entirely devoted to — what else?! — pho, and I’d like to share with you her recipe for Quick Chicken Pho.

This recipe is a great introduction to pho if you’ve never had it before. And for pho addicts like myself, it’s a good one to have around when a pho-craving strikes.

Pho CookbookGet the book! The Pho Cookbook: Easy to Adventurous Recipes for Vietnam’s Favorite Soup and Noodles by Andrea Nguyen

There are so many things to love about Andrea’s new cookbook, and not just the recipes! In Andrea’s own words when I spoke with her about it, “This cookbook contains 99% of what I know about pho. And the other 1% isn’t all that interesting.”

Again and again, Andrea underscores the idea that pho is not a fussy or difficult dish to make at home. There are no laborious prep requirements or unfamiliar techniques to master. Really, if you can boil water, you can make pho.

Pho Cookbook Pho Cookbook

This is because, with pho, it’s really all about the broth. The noodles and bits of tender meat definitely have curb appeal and make the soup into a substantive meal, but all the real flavor and allure of pho comes from a slow-simmered broth.

Making a good pho broth will feel familiar to anyone who has ever made their own chicken stock or beef stock. The process is almost exactly the same, except for the addition of a few uniquely Vietnamese ingredients like star anise, cinnamon, ginger, soy sauce, and fish sauce. These extra ingredients give pho its seductive personality and trademark balance of sweet, salty, and savory flavors.

Quick Chicken Pho

Of all these ingredients, fish sauce is likely to be the least familiar to most of us. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a sauce made from fermented fish. It has an intense flavor and super-pungent aroma, like concentrated anchovies.

You might be dubious about adding this to your food, but give it a chance! Fish sauce adds a deep (and surprisingly non-fishy) flavor to foods. Once added, it melts into the background. You won’t necessarily be able to pick it out of the crowd, but you’d miss it if it weren’t there.

My favorite brand is Red Boat Fish Sauce, but just about any brand that you find is sure to get the job done. I’ve started seeing bottles of fish sauce carried in the Asian ingredients section of major grocery stores in the past few years, but you can also order it online or seek it out at an Asian grocery store.

Quick Chicken Pho

Once the broth is simmering, all the real work is done! Assembling your bowl of pho is a matter of softening some rice noodles, adding some shredded chicken or beef (which is often cooked right in the simmering broth), and then ladling the steaming hot broth over top.

Cool pho fact: If you add thinly-sliced steak to your pho, the hot broth actually does the job of cooking the meat!

Garnish your bowl with fresh bean sprouts, sprigs of mint, cilantro leaves, and a lime wedge, and chow down. Slurping is totally encouraged.

Quick Chicken PhoThis particular recipe for Quick Chicken Pho takes a few shortcuts to save you some time, but still makes a very respectable bowl of pho.

Instead of making the broth from scratch, pick up a carton of store-bought broth and give it a quick simmer with some herbs and spices to boost the flavor. A chicken breast or a few thighs cooked in the broth adds even more flavor and gives you with enough shredded meat for your dinner.

To avoid ending up with an overly-concentrated broth after simmering, Andrea has you add some water to the broth. I felt that this also helped the broth hit the balanced flavor and lightness in a true pho broth.

The whole meal is ready in about a half an hour, which means a bowl of pho is totally doable on a busy weeknight.

Quick Chicken Pho

Once you’ve mastered this quick pho, Andrea has plenty of other recipes for you to try next, including a classic slow-cooked Chicken Pho made with a whole chicken. I also tried her recipe for Pressure Cooker Beef Pho and can honestly say that it was one of the best bowls of pho I’ve ever had in my life — homemade or at a restaurant. That recipe gets a giant thumbs up!

I’m also excited to try some of the more offbeat recipes from Andrea’s book, like the Wok-Kissed Beef Pho with stir-fried beef and her Pho Fried Rice.

There are so many variations of pho in this book that there’s sure to be a recipe that suits every person’s tastes, time, and skill. With each one, Andrea takes the time and effort to walk us through every step and possible pitfall, helping us to craft the perfect bowl of pho.

Three cheers to Andrea for this fun new addition to our cookbook shelves!

Get the book! The Pho Cookbook: Easy to Adventurous Recipes for Vietnam’s Favorite Soup and Noodles by Andrea Nguyen

Quick Chicken Pho Recipe

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  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 2

From Andrea:

"Great for pho beginners, this recipe is also terrific for cooks in a hurry. It involves less than 45 minutes, during which you’ll doctor up store-bought broth so it says, “I’m pho-ish.”

The keys to this streamlined approach include toasting spices and dry sautéing the ginger and green onion, which help to extract flavor fast. Poaching the chicken in the broth adds savory depth. You’ll practice some fundamental pho techniques that you can apply elsewhere, too. Choose a broth that tastes like chicken, such as Swanson brand, which is less fussed up and easy to manipulate. You need two 14.5-ounce (411 g) cans or one 32-ounce (907 ml) carton."

Ingredients

  • 3/4-inch (2 cm) section ginger
  • 2 medium-large green onions
  • 1 very small (.5 oz | 15 g) bunch cilantro sprigs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 1 whole clove
  • 3 1/2 to 4 cups (840 ml to 1 l) low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 cups (480 ml) water
  • 6 to 8 ounces (180 to 225 g) boneless, skinless chicken breast or thighs
  • About 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 5 ounces (150 g) dried narrow flat rice noodles
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons fish sauce
  • About 1/2 teaspoon organic sugar, or 1 teaspoon maple syrup (optional)
  • Pepper (optional)
  • Optional extras: Bean sprouts, mint sprigs, Thai basil, cilantro leaves, lime wedges, thinly-sliced chili peppers

Method

1 Prepare the broth ingredients: Peel then slice the ginger into 4 or 5 coins. Smack with the flat side of a knife or meat mallet; set aside. Thinly slice the green parts of the green onion to yield 2 to 3 tablespoons; set aside for garnish. Cut the leftover sections into pinkie-finger lengths, bruise, then add to the ginger.

Coarsely chop the leafy tops of the cilantro to yield 2 tablespoons; set aside for garnish. Set the remaining cilantro sprigs aside.

2 Toast the broth ingredients: In a 3- to 4-quart (3 to 4 l) pot, toast the coriander seeds and clove over medium heat until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the ginger and green onion sections. Stir for about 30 seconds, until aromatic.

Quick Chicken Pho

3 Add the broth and bring to a simmer: Slide the pot off heat, wait 15 seconds or so to briefly cool, then pour in the broth.

Return the pot to the burner, then add the water, cilantro sprigs, chicken, and salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat to gently simmer for 30 minutes.

Quick Chicken Pho

4 While the broth simmers, soak the rice noodles in hot water until pliable and opaque. Drain, rinse, and set aside.

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5 Remove the chicken from the broth once cooked: After 5 to 10 minutes of simmering, the chicken should be firm and cooked through (press on it and it should slightly yield).

Transfer the chicken to a bowl, flush with cold water to arrest the cooking, then drain. Let cool, then cut or shred into bite-size pieces. Cover loosely to prevent drying. [Emma's note: If the chicken isn't quite cooked through when you begin to shred it, just split it into a few pieces and put it back in the broth for another few minutes until cooked through. The split pieces will quickly cook through.]

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6 Strain the broth: When the broth is done, pour it through a fine-mesh strainer positioned over a 2-quart (2-liter) pot; line the strainer with muslin for superclear broth. Discard the solids. You should have about 4 cups (1 l).

Season with fish sauce and sugar (or maple syrup), if needed, to create a strong savory-sweet note.

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7 Finish the pho: Bring the strained broth to a boil over high heat. Put the noodles in a noodle strainer or mesh sieve and dunk in the hot broth to heat and soften, 5 to 60 seconds. Lift the noodles from the pot and divide between the 2 bowls. [Emma's note: I didn't find it necessary to soften my noodles any further. I just added them to the bowls and poured the hot broth over top. However, dunking them in the broth would make them more flavorful!]

Lower the heat to keep the broth hot while you arrange the chicken on top of the noodles and garnish with the chopped green onion, cilantro, and a sprinkling of pepper. Taste and adjust the broth’s saltiness one last time. Return the broth to a boil and ladle into the bowls. Enjoy with any extras, if you like.

[Emma's note: I just left the broth at a low simmer during this last step, rather than bringing it to a boil again. I thought it was plenty hot!]

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Emma Christensen

Emma Christensen is the managing editor for Simply Recipes, as well as a food writer and homebrewing expert. She was formerly the recipe editor for The Kitchn and is the author of three books on home-brewing, True Brews, Brew Better Beer, and Modern Cider. Emma is a graduate of The Cambridge School for Culinary Arts and Bryn Mawr College. She lives in San Jose, California.

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Reprinted with permission from The Pho Cookbook: Easy to Adventurous Recipes for Vietnam’s Favorite Soup and Noodles by Andrea Nguyen, copyright © 2017. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

Quick Chicken Pho

Showing 4 of 13 Comments

  • Hana

    Please, please do not put maple syrup into a Vietnamese Noodle Soup. And sugar isn’t strictly necessary either but if you absolutely must, try rock sugar (Asian stores have this)

  • eugeniakukla

    My husband called me at the office to tell me how much he liked this recipe. It must have been awesome because he seldom calls to compliment the Chef!! Thanks so much for the recipe. I really thought this would be more difficult than it was.

  • Adrienne

    I’ve been using Better Than Bouillon for a while now to substitute canned or carton broths. It comes in a little glass jar and a little goes a long way. It tastes much better. I think it would work well in this recipe. I’m also thinking using a rotisserie chicken would add more flavor.

  • Lyn

    Are is there any replacement for the fish sauce? Allergic to fish

  • Suzan Warnes

    I love pho and make my own version of it at least once a week. Currently I am on the FODMAP diet. Let me say my dietitian is not my friend this month. Anyway I will be trying this recipe as soon as I can. Here in Australia it is often served with the chilli sauce, chilli slices, Vietnamnese basil and hoisin sauce.

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