This recipe skips the MSG often found in restaurant pho and uses a traditional and punchy dipping bowl of kaffir lime, salt, and pepper instead. You can dip pieces of chicken before slurping mouthfuls of noodles followed by spoonfuls of warming broth, so that the tail end of lemony, salty chicken flavour seasons each mouthful.
1 whole chicken, about 4 lbs (2 kg)
5 shallots or 2 small onions
2 – 4 in (10 cm) knobs fresh ginger, unpeeled
1 small bunch of cilantro
1 Tbsp (15 mL) rock sugar, palm sugar, demerara sugar, or brown sugar
3 Tbsp (45 mL) fish sauce or soy sauce
10 green onions
8 fresh kaffir lime leaves, or zest of 1 lime peeled in strips
8 oz (225 g) dry pho noodles or rice vermicelli
2 limes, cut in quarters
20 leaves sweet, Genovese, or Thai basil
4 cups (1 L) bean sprouts
Black or white pepper
Remove chicken giblets. In large pot, cover whole chicken with 18 cups (4.5 L) water. Bring to just below a boil. Skim scum that rises to top. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, partially covered, for 25 minutes, or until a chopstick inserted in the underside of the thigh goes in easily or meat thermometer inserted in chicken thigh reads 165 F (74 C).
Remove chicken from pot to large bowl and, when cool enough to handle, separate chicken into large pieces. Discard skin and remove meat from breast and thighs. Return bones to pot.
Place oven rack in centre of oven and preheat broiler. In baking dish, blacken unpeeled shallots and ginger under broiler. Rotate every 5 minutes (set a timer) to blacken evenly, about 20 minutes total. They’re done when softened and shallots start releasing sweet juices.
Remove from oven and rinse shallots to remove outer skins. Tear shallots into pieces. When cool enough to handle, whack unpeeled ginger with blunt side of large knife on cutting board. Slice in half lengthwise, then into 1/4 in (6 mm) slices widthwise, like thick quarters.
Remove cilantro leaves from stems. Snip cilantro leaves in half with scissors and set aside for garnish. Add stems only, along with ginger and shallots, directly to large broth pot with the chicken bones, or combine in cheesecloth for easier removal.
Add sugar and fish sauce or soy sauce to pot and simmer, partially covered, for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 1/2 hours. Longer simmering results in more flavourful broth.
Meanwhile, finely chop dark green parts of green onions and add to soup. Finely chop the white and pale green parts and set aside.
In another large pot, bring at least 8 cups (2 L) water
to a boil. Add noodles and simmer until soft, about
4 minutes. Drain noodles and divide among 8 bowls. Place shredded chicken on top, followed by finely chopped green onion.
Roll kaffir lime leaves into tight cigar. Slice thinly (chiffonade) with knife or scissors. Reserve a little chiffonaded kaffir lime for later and divide the remainder among 8 bowls. Top with some cilantro leaves.
Taste broth and adjust with fish sauce or sugar, as desired. Remove cheesecloth, if using. With fine-mesh strainer, ideally lined with cheesecloth, strain broth into large bowl or another pot. Ladle strained broth over bowls of noodles. Garnish with cilantro.
To serve, place remaining chiffonaded kaffir lime and a sprinkle of pepper and salt into individual dipping bowls or ramekins and squeeze juice of a quarter lime over each. Prepare side plates of fresh basil leaves and bean sprouts for each person to add, as desired.
Enjoy, and feel better.
Each serving contains: 212 calories; 16 g protein; 5 g total fat (1 g sat. fat, 0 g trans fat); 23 g total carbohydrates (3 g sugars, 2 g fibre); 430 mg sodium