Remember “mise-en-place”? (Refresher: it’s French for put-in-place.) To make your life easier, get out everything you need for the recipe and set it on your counter. When you’re done, let’s get started!
The first step is to give your onion and ginger a bit of a nice char. This adds depth and sweetness to your soup.
Start by cutting an onion into quarters.
Also cut a small knob of ginger, about 1″ long.
Next, we’ll want to heat up our broiler.
In some ovens, the broiler is inside, on the “ceiling” of the oven. If this is the case, move your oven rack as high as it will go. Do this before you turn on your oven, so you don’t burn yourself.
In other ovens, the broiler is underneath. This is how mine works. It’s a drawer that slides out.
Broiling is something most home ovens can do. It just means cooking something right underneath a direct and very hot heat source. Think of it like upside-down grilling. The heat source can be a gas flame (in the case of gas ovens) or an electric coil (in the case of electric ovens). By the way, if your stovetop emits blue fire, then you have a gas oven (Go you!).
Once you’ve located your broiler, turn the knob or press the button that turns on the broiler.
Then put your onion and ginger under broiler for 10-15 minutes, turning every 5 min to get the char nice and even. Remember to use your kitchen timer, to avoid burning everything into a complete crisp!
When your onion has developed nice blackened edges, use tongs to take it out from under the broiler. Turn off your oven, and peel off the charred skin.
In the video, we were lazy and used our knife on the plate. Try not to do this too often, as ceramic will dull your knife really quickly.
Now we are going to cook 2 birds with one stone (Is that how the expression goes? Anyway.) We are going to make the soup for the noodles AND cook the chicken that goes on top all in one pot.
Get out your large pot, and fill it with 2 quarts of chicken broth. Then put in the onion, ginger, raw chicken breast, and any spices you want to use (they are not critical, but they do kind of give it that signature pho flavor). If the chicken broth is unsalted, add 2 teaspoons of salt.
Bring all of this to a gently boil, then turn down the heat to maintain a very slight simmer (tiny bubbles popping up in the broth instead of rolling waves). Cover the pot, and set your kitchen timer to 10 minutes.
The timer tells us when the chicken breast will be ready. Chicken breast can get dry and stringy if overcooked, so the timer ensures we will not be in danger of reaching that stage.
After the timer beeps, remove the chicken breasts with tongs (Aren’t tongs great?) and set them aside on a plate. Cut one breast in half to see if it’s cooked all the way through. If it’s translucent pink in the center, put it back in the pot for another 1-2 minutes. Otherwise, put the pot lid back on, let it keep simmering without the chicken, and set your timer for 45 minutes.
It may sound like a long time, but that time is needed to infuse your soup with the wonderful flavors of ginger, garlic, and spices. So give it time.
And your kitchen should start to smell really amazing soon, if not already.
Ah, the signature garnish plate! If you’ve ever eaten pho at a restaurant, then you know all about the plate of fresh herbs and bean sprouts they set before you, as your noodles arrive. Let’s make one for ourselves.
First, wash the basil leaves and cilantro.
Then pick the small tender leaves off the cilantro. You can do this with the basil too, but I usually skip it because I find it more fun to pick the leaves off at the table.
Then wash the bean sprouts and put them on a plate next to the cilantro.
Plop the basil on top.
Finally, cut your limes in quarters the long way.
Arrange them on top.
Look at that beautiful garnish plate!
The soup should be still be simmering away happily. So let’s shred the chicken. Just rip it apart with your fingers. It’s messy, but that’s part of the fun. We won’t tell anyone if you start to snack on the chicken at this point. Just don’t eat it all!
Once you’re done with the chicken, you might have some down time until the 45-minute timer beeps. Check Twitter (You can even follow Scratch House!) or, you know, get a head start on dishes.
When the timer beeps, let’s boil the water for cooking rice noodles. (Don’t turn the heat off for the broth just yet, by the way—let it simmer for as long as possible.)
Why wait until the 45-minute timer beeps to start the noodles? Because we want the soup to be ready to go as soon as the noodles are done. Rice noodles cook quickly, and we don’t want to let them sit. Otherwise they will start to congeal into a blob, which kills their nice sproingy texture and makes it a pain in the butt to eat. So be patient and wait for the timer before starting your noodles.
Fill a medium pot with 4 cups of water, then turn the heat as high as it will go without flames curling up the sides of the pot. Wait for the water to boil. Covering the pot helps it boil a little faster.
Is the water boiling? Great! Now we’re going to cook the noodles!
First, we need to figure out how much to cook. For the same reason that we wait for the timer to finish, you also don’t want to cook more than you need. (Second-day rice noodles are not something you will enjoy.)
To estimate how much dry noodle you need, look at the packaging and see how many ounces there are, and then divide that by 3.5. That’s the number of servings in the package. So for a 14 oz package, each person would get a quarter of the package.
Once you have your noodles measured out, stir it into the water and set the timer for 5 minutes. If the water is boiling too roughly, turn the heat down a bit so the noodles don’t get too jostled around, which might break them up.
While the noodles are boiling, let’s finish fine-tuning the flavor of the broth. Turn the heat off the broth pot. Stir in 1 tablespoon of fish sauce. Taste (Careful, hot!). Fish sauce is salty and a little funky, so add more if you feel that the broth is too bland. Keep adding, until you decide the broth is just right. Don’t add too much, though, because fish sauce has a really strong flavor!
Normally you want your food to be just salty enough to be interesting, but not so salty that it’s inedible. With noodle soups, however, you want to be a bit daring and push it into almost-but-not-quite-undrinkable territory.
The soup part of a good noodle soup is almost like a sauce for the noodles. The noodles are unarguably bland—they’re there for body and texture, not flavor really. So to make the whole bowl balance out, you need to add just a tiny bit more salt than you normally would to a soup that’s just served on its own.
It’s a fine line, but just keep tasting and experimenting. Trust your taste buds. They know what’s right.
Finally, the noodles are done! Grab a strand (use your tongs, or chopsticks if you have ‘em). Eat it. If it feels soft and pliable, without any sign of stiffness, they’re ready. Turn off the heat and drain the noodle water.
How you drain the noodles is up to you. If you have a metal colander or large strainer, pour the water into that. My apartment is tiny, though, and I have no room to store a large colander, so I just grip the pot lid and pour the water out from under the edge of the lid. Be very careful if you do it this way—use dishtowels or oven mitts to protect your hands.
Almost ready to eat!
Set out 2 bowls. Put a serving of noodles into each bowl (again, use tongs if you don’t have chopsticks).
Ladle broth over the noodles, being careful not to get any floating spices or solid stuff into your ladle.
Top your noodles with a handful of shredded chicken.
Lastly, serve with the herb/bean sprout garnishes on the side and let everyone help themselves to a lime, cilantro, basil and bean sprouts as they eat. The basil wilts and infuses into the hot soup, and the bean sprouts add a delightful crunch. Be generous with your helpings!
Oh, and if you have a nice big bottle of sriracha handy, this is also a good time to bust it out.
Slurp and enjoy!