I can’t begin to tell you how happy I was when I took a look at this recipe. Really. Actually, “happy” doesn’t begin to cover it. It’s happy plus…familiarity. Like seeing an old, very dear friend.
This is our third week of French Fridays with Dorie, and while I loved the first two weeks, with the gougeres and the mustard tart, I’ve really been looking forward to this dish.
Bill and I do a lot of Asian cooking – and I’m not using “Asian” lazily. I use it because it takes up less space then writing Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, etc. etc. etc. We have one whole cupboard – the high one to the right of the stove – that contains nothing but a huge assortment of Asian ingredients. Plus extra packages of noodles and rice paper in the little space between that cupboard and the ceiling.
So the cool thing? When I looked over this recipe a few weeks ago to make my shopping list, the only thing I needed to buy was the chicken. The rest of the ingredients were either up in that cupboard or growing in the garden.
THAT kind of happy.
The other cool thing was that just this past weekend, Bill made pho. Dorie mentions that her recipe is a blend of two traditional Vietnamese soups, one of which is pho ga, or, basically, a clear-brothed chicken noodle soup. (The pho my husband made is the better known beef broth version.) So it was fun to make the long-simmering beef stock for pho recently and then do Dorie’s shorter but equally delicious chicken version a few days later.
So here we go.
One of the key ingredients for the stock flavor is this little guy:
Star anise. You don’t find it in a lot of western cooking, but we have a bag of dried star anise (well, it’s not a full bag) in our cupboard for recipes like this.
The star anise is combined with cilantro stems (I used leaves, too), white peppercorns (Mine are dipped in chocolate. Just kidding. I didn’t have any whole white, so I used black.) and coriander seed in a piece of cheesecloth.
A little Vietnamese bouquet garni…
With that, I’ve got coconut milk, fish sauce, salt, homemade chicken stock, chopped onion, garlic, two dried red chili peppers, and grated fresh ginger.
Now, my chicken stock was still frozen, so I just put the blocks of stock in the dutch oven first, and added everything else in on top. I put the lid on to keep heat in and melt the chicken stock more quickly.
While all that was happening, I took out the boneless, skinless chicken breasts I’d bought the day before and weighed them all til I found one that was a hair under the 12 ounces called for in Dorie’s recipe.
And once the stock was boiling, I turned it down to a simmer…
And gently lowered the chicken breast into the stock, slapped the lid back on (okay, I carefully placed it) and poached the chicken in a fragrant bath of stock and coconut milk and aromatics.
Lucky chicken breast.
Once the chicken was done, I removed it from the broth, shut the heat off, and let everything cool. I was doing this first part earlier in the day, many hours before dinner time.
Once the chicken had cooled, it was time to shred.
Now, at this point, I tasted the broth, and it was very nice, but I thought it needed something…more.
So I cut up a stalk of lemongrass, and I took two kafir lime leaves from the freezer, and added them to the broth. I added some more fish sauce, too. And when the broth had cooled somewhat, I put it, and the shredded chicken, in the fridge til later.
Dinner time arrived and all I had to do was reheat the broth and add in the shredded chicken and the softened rice noodles. (We actually had leftover par-cooked rice noodles from the pho earlier in the week.)
We also still had a lot of the same garnishes Dorie suggests, along with some we’d used for, yes, the pho. On that blurry platter in the background of the image below, we’ve got Thai basil leaves, bean sprouts, cilantro, lime wedges, sawtooth herb (tastes a lot like cilantro), scallions, dried and fresh red chilis, and a bit of garlic-chili paste.
Once I was done taking pictures and holding the family at bay, it was time to dig in.
And we did. All four of us. Alex and Julia both like to add bean sprouts and a bit of cilantro. Oh, and Alex likes plenty of lime juice. Bill and I added a bit of everything, and for a while there was no sound in our house other than the clinking of spoons and chopsticks against the bowls and the slurping of noodles.
Thank you, Dorie, for a fabulous recipe. Yes, I know, there are lots of others equally fabulous, but this was like – as I said at the beginning – an old friend.
If you’re wondering what the other members of French Fridays with Dorie thought of this soup, click here and start reading.
P.S. I had leftover broth, so I poached the remaining chicken breasts in it this morning and shredded two of them, put them back in the pot with some of the coconut milk/broth mixture, added two cubes of red curry paste, slowly cooked it down, and then made a Vietnamese guacamole (I’ve been on a weird anything-goes fusion kick lately) with avocados, scallions, cilantro. fish sauce, and lime juice to go with it. I heated up some hard corn taco shells and some cole slaw I’d made the other day, and my husband and I had Vietnamese Chicken Tacos with the leftovers from this soup.
I love playing with my food!