Chicken Pho (Pho Ga) – the little sister of famous Beef Pho, equally delicious but much easier to make! I call it the Vietnamese version of homemade chicken noodle soup made from scratch. Except – dare I say it – so much more exciting!
Ready to take a virtual trip to Saigon??
Chicken Pho soup
Chicken Pho – called Pho Ga in Vietnamese – is the chicken version of Beef Pho, Vietnam’s most famous food export.
The magic of Pho is that while the broth looks completely unassuming, it’s actually full of complex-yet-delicate spice infused flavours. That special something-something that makes it unforgettable, and you just can’t stop eating it.
If you’re a Pho fan, you will love this chicken version because it’s easier to make than Beef Pho – no need to hunt down specific bones, just use chicken pieces!
This magical Pho soup broth is made the traditional Vietnamese way, using chicken pieces and infused with spices. Using store bought stock just isn’t the same!
Chicken Pho Soup broth
We’re making this Chicken Pho from scratch today – no cheating with store bought broth!
Here’s what you need:
- Chicken – I use chicken thighs for convenience (easier than man handling a whole chicken) but you can use a whole chicken too. Do not sub with breast – we need to use dark meat here, and we need skin to maximise flavour into the broth!
- Leftover chicken – We use some chicken to top the soup, but you will have leftovers – and it will be infused with lovely flavour! See bottom of post for things to use it for;
- Spices – cloves, fennel, star anise, coriander (fresh and seeds) and cinnamon – infuse the broth with the distinct Pho fragrance that you know and love so well!
- Onion and garlic – these are broth aromatics that are charred first to add a hint of smokiness to the broth. A traditional and mandatory inclusion!
- Fish sauce – this provides more complexity and depth of flavour than soy sauce, as well as salt in the broth;
- Sugar – Pho broth is actually a bit sweet. Most people don’t realise it because it’s subtle! But it’s there – and if you don’t use enough sugar, you will notice something lacking in the broth;
Desperately need a speedy version??
I get it! I’ve been there…. so I’ve popped a shortcut version starting with store bought chicken stock in the recipe notes.
Chicken Pho Toppings
Pho is a dish that is the sum of its parts. It wouldn’t be Pho if you didn’t have the toppings – especially fresh herbs, a signature of Vietnamese food!
What is Thai Basil?
Thai Basil is the Asian version of standard Italian basil. It has a similar flavour with the addition of a subtle aniseed flavour. Though called Thai Basil, it’s used across South East Asia. It’s used in popular dishes such as Pad Kee Mao (Thai Drunken Noodles), Thai Red Curry and Thai Basil Chicken.
Sold at large grocery stores in Australia, but normal basil can be substituted in a pinch so don’t stress if you can’t find it!
Can’t get all the herbs?
Don’t worry if you don’t have ALL the herbs. At least 2 of 3, and you still have a near authentic experience. If you can only get one, make it coriander!
How to make Chicken Pho from scratch
Here’s how to make it. Little more than a plonk-and-simmer job!
Essentially, there’s 3 steps:
- Char onion and ginger – this provides a subtle smokey fragrance to the broth that is a signature feature of Pho. So char them well!
- Simmer everything gently for 1.5 hrs to infuse the water with all those incredible broth flavourings; and
- Strain, shred chicken, serve with Toppings!
See how clear the soup broth is? Beautiful! (And if only you could smell it…. those spices! It’s intoxicating!)
Chicken Pho making tips
I really wasn’t exaggerating when I said that Chicken Pho is straightforward. So I don’t actually have many tips to share! But here are a few:
- Char well – Burn that onion and ginger well! Burn, baby, burn – you want that flavour in your broth!
- Do not use an enamel cast iron pot – the charring may require you to scrub the base, and if you scrub an enamel pot, the enamel will come off and the pot will start rusting;
- BIG POT is essential – 6 litres/quarts is ideal. If yours is a bit smaller, that’s ok, you can hold back some of the water and add it as the chicken shrinks / liquid evaporates (water reduces by 25%). Also, water level can be very close to the top because we simmer very gently, so spillage risk is very low;
- Simmer GENTLY – this is the key to a clear broth;
- Broth slightly on the salty side – the saltiness of the broth dilutes slightly once you ladle it over the noodles (which are cooked separately instead of in the broth). Beansprouts are also a watery vegetable. The combination of both of these means that if the broth tastes just right when it’s on the stove, then it will seem a little under seasoned once served with the noodles etc. So if it seems a bit too salty when the broth is in the pot, then it will be perfect once served! I’ve been very specific with my fish sauce and salt measurements in this recipe; and
- Prepare noodles JUST before serving – so they are hot and fresh, and also so they don’t break (rice noodles tend to be prone to breaking if left sitting out for ages).
How to eat Pho the traditional Vietnamese way!
Really, there’s no rules. But if you’d like to eat Pho like a pro (read: traditional Vietnamese way), here’s how it goes down:
- Arrival – The bowl comes to you with noodles, chicken, broth and scattered with green onions;
- Take a small sip of the broth by itself, just so you can appreciate its pure, unadulterated perfection;
- Help yourself to herbs, beansprouts, squeeze of lime, fresh chilli slices. You can add more beansprouts and herbs later as you progress through the bowl;
- Dollop hoisin and sriracha onto the MEAT (and/or beansprouts).The sauces are not intended to flavour the broth, they are for the meat. In fact, you’ll find some Vietnamese Pho stalls provide little side dishes to put the sauces in so you can dunk the meat in. This makes the flavour quite full-on, so I prefer the alternative of dolloping directly into the bowl – better sauce dispersion. Also, it really is totally fine for some sauce to end up in the broth. Just don’t deliberately squirt directly into the broth and vigorously mix it in (Pho stall owners would look on with horror and be thoroughly insulted if you did that!!)
- Inhale – Lean over the bowl and inhale the incredible smell with all those fresh herbs (I am not kidding!!);
- Swish your chopsticks in the broth where you plan to attack first, to mix up the lime juice. Don’t deliberately push the chicken with the Hoisin on it into the broth – it’s fine if it happens naturally, but don’t taint the broth deliberately;
- The perfect bite – use your chopsticks to pick up some noodles with chicken, beansprouts and herbs. Devour, then follow with a slurp of soup using the spoon; and
- Repeat, until noodles are finished. Then pick up the bowl and drink every last drop of that beautiful broth!
More Vietnamese recipes
That was a lot more writing than I anticipated….. I hope I didn’t put you off, thinking that it’s an overly complicated recipe because it’s NOT! It does take time, but it’s really just a plonk-and-simmer job.
And it’s certainly easier than Beef Pho which calls for hunting down specific types of recommended beef bones.
I really hope you are inspired to try this Chicken Pho, it’s truly incredible! – Nagi x
Watch how to make it
Vietnamese Chicken Pho soup (Pho Ga)
You won’t use all the chicken, but it’s infused with lovely flavour so there’s loads of uses – see Note 7.
- 1 tbsp oil , vegetable or canola (or other plain oil)
- 2 onions , halved (skin on fine)
- 5cm/ 2″ piece of ginger , sliced 0.75cm / 1/3″ thick (unpeeled)
Pho Soup Broth:
- 2 litres / 2 quarts water
- 1.5 kg / 3 lb chicken thighs, bone in skin on (Note 1)
- 1 small bunch coriander/cilantro (Note 2)
- 5 star anise pods (was short in photo & video!)
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 4 cloves
- 2 tsp fennel seeds
- 2 tsp coriander seeds
- 8 tsp fish sauce
- 6 tsp white sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 360g / 13 oz dried rice noodles , thin flat (or 600g fresh)
- 2 green onions stems , finely sliced
Toppings – help yourself
- 3 cups bean sprouts (Note 3)
- 1 small bunch EACH Thai Basil, min, coriander/cilantro (Note 4)
- 2 limes , cut into 4 wedges
- Hoisin sauce
- Red chillies , finely sliced (optional)
Char onion & ginger – Heat oil in a 6 litre / 6 quart pot (Note 5) over high heat. Place ginger and onion facedown, leave undisturbed for 2 minutes until they blacken. Turn and leave for another 2 minutes.
Put everything in pot – Add water and remaining Broth ingredients EXCEPT salt. Bring it a simmer, then lower heat so it’s simmering VERY gently with the lid on, but open a crack (Note 6).
Simmer gently 1.5 hours. Scoop off scum (dirty foam) that rises to surface once or twice during the simmering.
Strain & measure – Remove chicken, then strain broth into a clean pot – you should have 1.5 litres / 1.5 quarts. If you have more, simmer to reduce. If less, top it up with water.
Salt broth – Add salt, bring broth to a gentle simmer. Broth should be slightly on the salty side – it dilutes when you add the noodles.
Keep broth warm until ready to serve
Shred chicken meat, discard bones and skin. (Note 6 Leftover Chicken ideas)
Place Toppings out on the table.
Reheat chicken (can briefly dunk in broth!).
Prepare noodles per packet directions, just prior to serving. Drain very well (excess water dilutes broth).
Place noodle in bowls. Top with chicken, ladle over 375ml / 1.5 cups broth. Sprinkle with green onion.
Pile on Toppings of choice, add a squeeze of lime into the broth. Consume immediately!
Can’t shortcut this with breast or boneless thigh – need to use skin on chicken with bone in so it can withstand the cook time, and also dark meat imparts way more flavour into broth.
2. Coriander/cilantro – small bunch quantity: if you bundled it all up, it should roughly equal 1 1/2 cups. Around 5cm/2″ diameter around base, 20cm/8″ tall (you can chop most leaves off to use for topping, and use stems plus some leaves for broth)
3. Bean sprouts – tend to be a bit floppy and smelly from non Asian stores. To perk them up, put in container, cover in water, refrigerate 12 hours. Drain, let dry then use per recipe. If you change water daily, beansprouts will keep for a week using this storage method.
4. Herbs – these 3 herbs are a classic combination for pho. If you have 2 of three, it’s still going to seem like an authentic eating experience. If I really had to only pick one, I’d choose either coriander or Thai Basil. Thai Basil can be substituted with normal basil (but not if it’s the only herb you’re using).
5. Pot – don’t use a cast iron pot as the base will be charred and you may need to scrub. Pot should be at least 6 litres/quarts big. If it’s smaller, you can hold back some water and add it as the chicken shrinks/water evaporates (been there, done that!)
6. Clear broth – gentle simmer and scooping off scum is the path to a lovely clear broth!
7. Leftover chicken – you won’t even use half the chicken for the Pho. Chicken nicely infused with Asian flavours, so use it for things like: fried rice, Chinese Chicken Salad, Vietnamese Noodle Salad, Peanut Noodle Salad, Chinese Corn Soup, or toss it into a Chicken Stir Fry or Stir Fried Noodles.
8. QUICK Pho using store bought chicken stock – follow recipe but make following changes:
- Do not use thighs, use 500g/1lb chicken breast instead
- Use 6 cups low sodium chicken stock + 1 cup water (instead of just water)
- Reduce fish sauce to 3 tsp, use NO salt
- Char onion & garlic per recipe
- Put all spices, stock and water in pot with breast. Simmer 10 min until breast cooked, remove and shred
- Simmer remaining liquid for 30 min with lid open ajar, reduce to 1.5L/1.5Qt. Strain, proceed with recipe (except NO extra salt in broth).
9. Servings – this will make 4 generous size servings (1.5 cups broth per person, makes a dinner size serving for a person with a very good appetite), 5 sensible servings, or 6 lighter servings (good for a light lunch).
10. Storage – make the broth and freeze for 3 months, or refrigerate up to 5 days. Reheat until piping hot. Do not be tempted to scoop off chicken fat that firms up in fridge – it’s essential for flavour in broth and mouthfeel!
All toppings and noodles must be made fresh.
11. Nutrition is per serving, assuming 4 generous servings. I’ve had to make an educated estimate of the calories from the chicken, noting that while we extract the flavour and some of the fat into the broth, most of the chicken recipe is not used in the recipe.
Life of Dozer
On this very wet, cold day, all I can think about is Chicken Pho.
All Dozer can think about is why he isn’t allowed outside to play!