Pho Ga | The Gingered Whisk: Pho Ga

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Pho Ga

Having never had Pho Ga before, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect out of this challenge. To me, it sounded like a Vietnamese, slightly tropical version of chicken noodle soup. But instead of carrots, celery and bay leaves it had red onion, cilantro, and ginger!

There were three main parts to this challenge – toasting the spices, cutting the whole chicken, and then making the stock. Most of the rich flavor of the stock came from charring an onion and ginger in the oven until it was soft and fragrant and also from toasting anise, coriander and cloves on the stovetop. These make your house smell absolutely wonderful, by the way!

The biggest part of this challenge, for me, was cutting up the whole chicken. Sure, I’ve seen plenty of videos where star chefs like Jacques Pepin fly through cutting up a chicken like its room temperature butter – slice, slice, slice. But for me, I was nervous about chopping my finger off. I don’t own a butcher’s knife (yet another thing to add to my “To Buy” list), but my chef’s knife worked really well. But after watching a bunch of “how to” videos, I jumped right in. It really wasn’t that hard! Just a few slices through some muscle to find the joint, move it around a bit, and pop the knife in there and separate it! I might have made an absolute mess out of my butchering, but I completed the challenge without even nicking myself once! The challenge stated that part of making a really flavorful stock is to have as much bone marrow exposed as possible, and because of this we were supposed to cut the chicken (excluding the breasts) into three inch pieces. I didn’t want to pound the crap out of my chef’s knife, so my brother was kind enough to bring his tomahawk out, and after some cleaning, it took care of the job effortlessly.

Making the stock used the method parboiling. Parboiling is done to soften the chicken quickly, as well as to get all the scum and fat off the chicken before the true stock making comes in, and to remove “off” flavors from wild game – basically, it helps to get a clearer stock. There is a lot of controversy about parboiling – a lot of people think it tends to lead to rubbery, flavorless chicken. I didn’t notice any discrepancy in the consistency of my chicken after parboiling it, but I did notice a lot of gross scummy stuff coming off, and my stock was really nice and clear without a whole lot of skimming.

I thought the flavor of this dish was good. Definitely not something I had ever tasted before. The coriander, anise, cloves, ginger and onion gave a unique flavor to the broth. It was nice and flavorful, but it wasn’t as robust a flavor as I thought it was going to be (and how some of the other Daring Cook’s described it). I really liked being able to add lots of different things to the soup – the bean sprouts gave a nice crunch, the cilantro, red onion and lime also gave good flavor to the broth. This soup actually kind of reminded me of the Mexican soup Posole, which I really love.  I probably won’t end up making it again, (especially since I got a “eh” when I asked my husband and brother if they liked it) but I am glad I made it. All in all, we were content with how this challenge turned out, but not WOWed.

If you would like to make this, please visit Jaden’s blog, the Steamy Kitchen. (that link will take you directly to the Pho Ga recipe, by the way)
If you would like to make a beef version of this, please go here.

If you would like to make a simpler version of this recipe, you can simmer one whole chicken breast in 2 quarts of store bought chicken broth with the toasted spices, 1/2 an onion, and some ginger for approximately 20 minutes, skimming occasionally. Then proceed to follow the rest of the directions.

A separate part of the challenge was to make dessert wontons! I had a lot of fun with this challenge. The hardest part about it was figuring out what I wanted to fill my wontons with! Then you just fill ‘em, fold ‘em, and fry ‘em! I chose a simple filling of chocolate, orange zest and cardamom. The first few ended up being a test batch – not enough chocolate. Also, make sure that you seal the edges really well before frying, because oil can leak into your wonton, and some of my chocolate ended up oozing out. When you bite into a wonton expecting wonderfully melted chocolate but only get hot oil instead, its not a very happy time. Don’t worry, though, no tongues were actually harmed in the making of these wontons.

Dessert Wontons(it is actually going to take me longer to tell you how to make them than it actually does to make them)

Wonton wrappers
Filling of choice
Enough vegetable oil to fill a frying pan 2 inches deep
1 egg
Splash of water

Heat the oil in the skillet to about 350 degrees.
Combine the egg and a splash of water together in a small bowl to create an egg wash.
Lay each wonton wrapper on a clean, dry surface, with one corner pointed towards you (so it looks like a diamond).
Place your fillings in the top corner, leaving room at the edges.
Brush a little of the egg whites on the top half of the diamond.
Fold the wonton wrapper over to create a triangle, and press the edges to seal.
Place in the hot oil and let cook for about a minute and a half, or until it turns golden brown and crispy.
Carefully flip the wonton over and cook the other side for another minute.
When golden brown on both sides, remove from oil and place on a plate lined with paper towels.


  1. yum! Your pho and wontons look delicious!

  2. Breaking down whole birds or animals is a must learn skill to advance your cooking. You would be surprised how similar most animals are, from squirrel to moose they all have the same parts. Congrats on wading in and handling that new part of the process. The pho looks delicious.

  3. I have to say I am a little bit scared of whole chickens, where to slice etc. Most of my knives are too blunt - wonder how they would cope with the chicken bones!

    Your pho looks beautiful, and your wontons sound delish. I wish I had taken the time to make the wontons, but I completely forgot!!!

  4. Great job embracing the pho chicken challenge. Your chocolate wontons are fried to perfection!

  5. I would not have bothered with the whole bird either :)
    I used to cut cooked chickens when I worked at KFC during high school years: that was quite enough.

  6. I've never cut up a whole chicken (and don't plan on it). Your pho looks amazing, and the wontons - Yum!!!

  7. I LOVE breaking down chickens, and learned from Jacques Pepin, who can joint a chicken in like 1 second! lol I'll never do that! That said, your pho looks so amazing, and the PHOtos are lovely! Well done all around!


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