Certainly amongst, if not the most popular of Vietnamese specialties, this dish, locally known as the Pho Ga indeed deserves all of the fame that it gets. It is a perfectly-poached chicken noodle dish in a very aromatic broth. That's all there is to it and is really simple to make.
It starts with whole chicken – bone-in, excess fat removed, and blanched in salted boiling water for a clear, clean-tasting, yet very flavorful stock. This pre-blanching step is very much similar to cooking the Malay Hainanese Chicken which I've discussed in an older post. In fact, these two dishes share a lot of strong similarities from keeping the broth clean, poaching over low heat, to getting the broth fragrant with the use of local spices.
As the chicken is blanching, set your onion and ginger for a deep char on a wire rack directly over your burner. Get them black all over, turning them once in a while. This step will give those aromatics a totally different flavor going from pungent to sweet.
Let them cool enough to be handled then peel those black skins off. If you've roasted them enough, those skins should come off easily and you should be able to do so by hand.
Next, get some spices ready. This is the traditional set used for a classic preparation of Pho Ga – some cloves, star anise, coriander seeds, cinnamon bark, and black cardamom pods. If you're familiar with these spices, you'll surely get a hint of how the dish would taste in the end – light, sweet, and fragrant.
As with most spices, dry roasting these would intensify their flavors. Get them constantly moving in a pan, without any oil, set over high heat. Be careful not to burn them to keep them from giving off a hint of bitter taste.
After about two minutes of blanching, take the chicken out of the pot and give it a good rinse under cold tap water. Don't go for a longer blanching time so as not to lose too much of the chicken's flavor.
That's all there is for the preparation. Get the blanched chicken, roasted spices, charred ginger and onion, kaffir lime leaves, sugar, fish sauce, and water into your amazing and versatile crock pot and leave it on low for some 7-8 hours, depending on the size of the chicken you've used.
Go with the amount of sugar and fish sauce detailed in this recipe as a starting point and adjust to your liking later.
Leaving the chicken whole will keep it more succulent. Just chop it into serving pieces later before serving.
If using dry rice noodles, boil it in a separate pot for about 4 minutes. Cooking it in the poaching liquid would make your stock cloudy.
Assemble your bowls of Pho Ga while the stock is still hot. Get some cooked rice noodles in, top with a few chicken slices, sprinkle some cilantro leaves, and some chopped chili. Finally, strain-in that aromatic broth. Some excellent additions would be a fresh egg yolk, some fresh bean sprouts, and crispy fried shallots.
To keep the experience authentic, a bottle of Sri Racha on the side would be essential.