"I get approached a lot by men who want to talk to me about pho. And they all know all the right descriptors and things to say!"
Author, cook, teacher, and apparent pho man magnet Andrea Nguyen is doing the media rounds after the release of her barnburner new book The Pho Cookbook, and she stopped by the MUNCHIES test kitchen to show us how she makes rotisserie chicken pho. But doesn't pho always require hours of simmering? Not according to Nguyen.
"So the thing with this recipe—pho can be made out of a lot of different things. It doesn't always have to be beef, it doesn't always have to be chicken. You just need bones. I was standing at Costco and watching people line up day after day for the chicken and wondered, can I do something with this chicken?" After a bunch of experimenting, she realized: "there are certain flavors in rotisserie chicken that are just inherent to having roasted a bird. The goal of this pho is figure out a way to mask them, which I do by adding vegetables to the aromatics. Regular pho doesn't have any vegetables; it's just protein and aromatics, but here, I was like, no. Add the vegetables so that it mitigates the funk of the roasting flavor."
So there's a bunch of vegetables that go in: celery, carrots, napa cabbage, cilantro, and an apple: "Typically in pho, there's some kind of sweetness. People might use sugar, like Chinese rock sugar, but this recipe was designed so that people wouldn't have to go to an Asian market for anything. I got everything for this at Whole Foods—well, not the chicken, because Whole Foods only had jerk rotisserie chicken. So the chicken came from Eataly. But still."
The vegetables also get the classic aromatics of onion and ginger, just not charred, again to mitigate the roasted flavors. And the traditional spices: star anise ("a full star, not just broken up pieces"), cinnamon, coriander seeds, and cloves, toasted because they're only getting a quick simmer.
MAKE THIS: Rotisserie Chicken Pho (Phở Gà Quay)
Leftover roast chicken gets torn up and added to the veggies as well: "If you're one of these people who really cleans a chicken carcass—I had this recipe tester who had to eat like 3 rotisserie chickens before she had enough meat to make this recipe—then you'll want to add more eggs."
Once the chicken and vegetables hit the pot, they're covered with water and allowed to simmer for an hour. While that happens, the noodles get a quick soak in warm water so they're pliable, and then, just before plating, they get an even-quicker dunk in boiling water. Once the broth is ready, it gets strained, and adjusted as needed with fish sauce and either sugar or maple syrup, then it's ready to go.
To plate, Nguyen starts with a tangle of noodles, then sliced meat ("people can tear it if they want to"), then red onions, scallions, and herbs—Nguyen brought mint, culantro, and bright, citrusy rice paddy herb with her—and thickly sliced chiles, which came along with both a stern admonition and a terrible anecdote from Nguyen about the need to wash your hands after cutting chiles.
Once the bowl is assembled, Nguyen checks the broth's seasoning again ("you always want to season the broth a little saltier than you're comfortable with," then carefully ladles broth around the outside of the mound of noodles and meat. A final squeeze of lime and, basically an hour from start to finish later, there's a perfect bowl of Phở Gà ready to dig into, with no unwanted-roast-chicken-funk to speak of.