When A. and N. visit, I always make their favorite foods – a continued legacy from my mother’s practice that signaled my welcome home. Their choice of meals is always the same, but I surprised them this week when I made Pho, the Vietnamese soup, from one of their favorite restaurants. Like all nourishing soups, Pho (pronounced fuh), begins with a flavorful stock.
Stock or broth, a term used interchangeably, is the foundation of a wholesome soup. Making stock is as simple as adding meat, or vegetables and peelings, or fish bones to a liquid (usually water) and letting everything simmer for an extended period. Some recipes add spices, herbs, or sauces during the cooking time to deepen the flavor, but making stock usually requires very little attention. The long-simmered liquid is called a stock if the solid contents are discarded or a broth if some of the meat or vegetables are left in the dish. The stock and broth then become the base for soup. Both stocks and broths can be made ahead — a time-saving options for busy holiday-cooking days. The stock can be bulked up with cooked grains or protein and garnished with fresh aromatics for a substantial soup.
- Add the ingredients (meat or vegetables) to a pan. Fill and cover them with cold water. Bring it to a boil and immediately lower the heat. Simmer between 2-3 hours for meat, 30-40 minutes for fish and vegetables, or until tender (vegetables) or falling off the bone (meat).
- Skim the scum off the surface. The “scum” is the protein content that is released from meat, lentils, and a few vegetables that float to the surface as dirty-brown foam. Add water back if some liquid is lost in the skimming process.
- Do not salt. Add salt only when the stock is made into soup.
- Once cooled, the fat from the meat stock floats on the surface. This can be removed for a lower calorie soup.
- The cooled stock can be frozen for 3-4 months. In a refrigerator, a stock remains fresh for 3-4 days.
I was thinking about recipes to make ahead of time, when I ran into a Vietnamese acquaintance at a grocery store. I didn’t need a recipe when I heard the list of ingredients for pho – a whole chicken, onion, fresh ginger, and star anise spice – a fail-proof, nutritious stock that could be made in advance.
Chicken – 1 whole
Onion – 1 large, chopped
Ginger – 3-4, ½-inch slices
Star anise – 3, whole
Fish sauce – 3 tbsp
Dried rice noodles –1 packet
Bean sprouts –1/2 cup
Green onion – 1-2, roughly chopped
Cilantro – ½ bunch roughly chopped
Basil – a few leaves
Lime – 1, cut into wedges
Hot sauce (Sriracha) – to taste
Salt – to taste
- Add the chicken, onion, ginger and star anise to a pan with enough cold water to completely immerse the chicken.
- Bring the water to a rolling boil. Turn the heat down and cook for 2½ -3 hours on simmer.
- As the chicken starts to cook, a foamy bubble scum forms on the surface. Skim the scum off with a spoon or ladle.
- Once the liquid is clear, add the fish sauce.
- When the chicken is tender, (the bones separate), strain the liquid through a colander. Reserve the stock and keep the chicken pieces. Add salt to the stock.
- Meanwhile, soak the rice noodles in a pan filled with cold water for an hour. Then cook in boiling water for a minute.
- Fill a bowl with rice noodles. Ladle the hot stock over it.
- Top it with chicken, a few bean sprouts, green onion, cilantro, basil, and a wedge of lime. Add the hot sauce.