Wednesday, February 27, 2013

"Tortoise Tower" Chicken Pho

As you might have read in one of my previous posts, Russell turned (29+1) earlier this month & I wanted to make his birthday extra special by cooking him some delicious food.  Even though I am more Chinese - genetically & culturally - than he is, I had never heard of the Chinese tradition of eating chicken on one's birthday before I met the guy.  He told me that in the Taishan (Toi-San, 台山) dialect, the word for "chicken" sounds very similar to the word for "luck" so a person should eat chicken on his/her birthday in order to ensure good luck in the year to come.

I was originally planning on making surf-&-turf, but chicken is good...until...

Me: "So what kind of chicken do you want me to make?  Fried?  Chicken wings?"
Him: "How about chicken pho?"
Me: "You want to go to out for your birthday?"
Him: "No.  I want you to make it...from scratch."


I didn't hit the panic button just quite yet.  His mom had gotten me a cookbook for Christmas that was all about Vietnamese home cooking.  Lo & behold there is a recipe for chicken pho in there.  Phew.  But still, can I tackle making pho?

Watch out for the "trick ingredient"...
     1 chicken, about 3 pounds
     6 whole scallions
     1 2-inch piece of ginger, crushed
     1 tablespoon salt
     0.5 package thick vermicelli noodles
     6 cups homemade chicken stock*
     2 tablespoons fish sauce
     1 scallion, chopped
     0.25 cup cilantro, chopped

And it takes longer than one'd think...
     In a large pot, bring some water (~6 cups) to boil
     Add in the chicken, scallion, ginger, & salt.  Bring back to a boil for 20 minutes
     Remove the chicken & place it in an ice bath for 20 minutes
     Remove the chicken from the ice bath, pat it dry, remove the skin, & shred up the meat
     Cook the vermicelli noodles according to the package instructions
     Boil the chicken stock, seasoning with fish sauce to taste
     In a bowl, place the vermicelli noodles, the chicken meat, & then pour over with the hot broth
     Garnish with chopped scallion & cilantro

Makes 2 servings

What seemed complicated @ first turned out to be more time consuming than anything else.  The end result was not too shabby.  The noodles could have been cooked a little longer & the broth could have used a bit more salt, but that was about it.  The "trick ingredient" I mentioned above is the homemade chicken stock.  I actually went ahead & made one a day ahead & it took about 5.5 hours start to finish.  I think it's nice to have a homemade stock but it is by no means necessary in my opinion.  Actually, store-bought stocks are much more flavorful than the one I made.

So why am I calling my chicken pho "Tortoise Tower" chicken pho?  For those of you who live in or around San Francisco, you might know of a Vietnamese restaurant called Turtle Tower that is quite famous for its chicken pho.  As a matter of fact, it is the only place I get chicken pho.  Since I was trying to riff off Turtle Tower, I thought I should give my dish a cleaver name that involved a similar reptile.  If you want, you can read more about the real Turtle Tower chicken pho here.

* To make the chicken stock, roast 0.5 yellow onion & 1 3-inch piece of ginger at 350F for 1 hour.  Blanch 3 pounds of chicken scraps (i.e. neck, wings) in boiling water for 3 minutes & rinse.  Cut the roasted onion in half & the roasted ginger into coins.  In a large pot, bring to boil 8 quarts of water along with the chicken, onion, ginger, 0.75 tablespoon salt, & 0.75 tablespoon palm sugar.  Reduce heat to a simmer & let it go for 4 hours.  Remove any large solids & strain the broth through a fine mesh strainer.  Refrigerate or freeze in air tight containers.

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