Welcome back to my 3-part series on how to make Pho, the famous Vietnamese noodle soup. In part 1 we learned to make a Saigon pho. In part 2, it was a Ha Noi Pho. And today, for part 3, we’ll learn how to make a Chicken Pho recipe, known as Pho Ga in Vietnamese.
Chicken Pho is a great alternative to Saigon and Hanoi Pho (which are types of beef Pho). This is especially true when you don’t have the time or inclination to make a long-simmered beef broth.
Another great reason to make this Pho Ga or Chicken Pho recipe is that you can choose to make it in the Saigon style, with lots of seasonings and herbs, or, in the Hanoi style, which is all about the broth and contains fewer seasonings.
This entire 3-part series was inspired by The Pho Cookbook by Andrea Nguyen, a native of Vietnam.
I’ve made a lot of faux Pho recipes in the past, which take some shortcuts in the broth-making process, but Nguyen inspired me to go all out and make Pho Ga the way it’s traditionally made in Vietnam.
Her book has 3 classic recipes called “old school stunners” which I’ve re-created for this series, adapting each one to suit my own tastes and my own creative instincts.
All three emphasize REAL bone broth, slowly simmered with all the spices, herbs, charred ginger, and onion to bring out some incredible flavors.
There are 11 steps to make a traditional Pho Ga/Chicken Pho Recipe. However, just like with Saigon Pho and Hanoi Pho, the key is the broth. In the case of Chicken Pho, that would be the first 6 steps. Once you get those first six steps down, everything else is a piece of cake.
For the Chicken Pho recipe below we’ll be making about 4 quarts of chicken broth. To make four quarts you’ll want about 5 to 6 pounds of chicken. Make sure to use some meaty parts like thighs, legs, and even breasts. You can use either a whole chicken (about 3 to 4 pounds) and/or a bunch of chicken parts. Add in some gelatinous parts if you can like wings, backs, necks, feet, and leftover bones for a more nutrient-dense broth.
Put everything in a good-sized stockpot (at least 8 quarts) and cover it with about 4 to 5 quarts of cold, filtered water. Make sure all the parts are submerged in the water.
Bring the water to a boil and skim any scum that comes to the surface before the water boils. Upon boiling, turn the heat down to a gentle simmer and cover. Make sure the broth continues to simmer gently when the cover is put on the stockpot. You may have to turn down the heat quite low for this.
Charring ginger and shallots/onions will convert their sugars and add a slight sweetness to the broth. It also enhances their aromatic quality which makes the broth that much more delicious.
First, cut one unpeeled white or yellow onion in half. You can also use one or two large shallots in place of an onion. Next, take about a four-inch piece of unpeeled ginger and slice it in half lengthwise.
There are a few ways to char the onion and ginger depending on your stovetop situation.
The best way to char them is via a grill. Simply add them to a moderately hot grill, turning them every so often until they’re slightly blackened but not charred to a crisp.
The next best option is to use a gas stove. Put a grate of some sort over the burner and char them the same way as if you’re grilling them. Make sure to put the stove fan on for this.
The last option is to broil them under high heat. This option will take a little longer and the onions will likely char faster than the ginger. Watch them closely, turn them on occasion, and remove them from the oven after about 10-15 minutes.
For this Chicken Pho recipe, I used some shallots in place of onions (which Nguyen recommended for more savory notes) and charred them with the ginger via option 3 in my oven…
Once charred, remove them from the heat for a few minutes to let them cool. Then remove the outer skin from the onion or shallots and peel the ginger and remove any blackened pieces…
Add the shallots or onion and ginger to your beef broth.
Here’s one place I’m going to do things a little differently than Nguyen. Her Chicken Pho recipe called for coriander seeds, cloves, cilantro, and rock sugar. I liked this but I didn’t love it. I thought it lacked just a bit of depth. So I made it again but this time I used the more classic trifecta of pho spices pictured here…
That would be 1 cinnamon stick, 4-5 whole star anise, 6-7 whole cloves, and about a half-ounce of rock sugar. I thought this made a significant difference. Add them all to the simmering broth.
If you can’t find rock sugar locally, this is a good brand on Amazon.
They should be cooked through. If you’re using a whole chicken, remove the whole thing and let it cool for a bit. Keep the broth gently simmering.
Slice or pull the meaty parts from the whole chicken (thighs, legs, etc.) and keep them reserved until the broth is done. Keep them as whole as possible to keep them tender. We’ll be using the chicken meat from these parts when assembling the bowls in the final steps.
Taste the broth after an hour. It should have a nice chicken flavor. If it lacks flavor, simmer with the cover off to cook the broth down a bit to condense the flavors. You can simmer it for a few hours if necessary. However, be careful not to condense it too much otherwise you’ll lose a lot of the broth to evaporation.
When the broth is ready, cut the heat and let it sit for about 20 minutes. Strain it through a fine-mesh strainer and/or fine-mesh cheesecloth.
Season with 2 TBSPs of fish sauce. Taste and add 1 TBSP more at a time, to taste. About 4 TBSPs total gives it a nice saltiness but you might like it a little more or less. Keep in mind that you can always add more fish sauce to individual servings. If you’re making this Chicken Pho for a group of people (especially those not familiar with the taste of pho), better to err on the side of caution and add less fish sauce.
Slice the chicken off the bone of the reserved meaty parts and slice it into small bite-sized chunks and pieces. You can keep the smaller on-the-bone parts like thighs, wings, and small drumsticks intact. Whole chicken parts in soup are not uncommon in Asia!
Best to do this while the broth is resting. Use standard medium-sized flat rice noodles (which look like fettucini). Most health food stores now carry them in dried form though if you can find freshly prepared rice noodles in an Asian market, that would be even better. Here’s the brand of dried rice noodles I used.
This is totally optional but I thought it worked great. It’s hard to go wrong with soft-boiled eggs (especially duck eggs) in not just Chicken Pho but most types of brothy Asian soups!
Here’s where you have a lot of choices. For a Pho Ga in the Saigon-style, you can add hoisin sauce, sriracha, fish sauce, bean sprouts, mint, Thai basil, and cilantro.
But I’d caution you against that.
As I stated in part 2 for a Hanoi-style pho, sometimes less is more. And I’ve come to really love a more simplified style of Pho.
In the case of this Chicken Pho recipe, I’d recommend some different garnishes and seasonings.
First, try some thinly sliced red onions. Nguyen recommends soaking them in water for 10 minutes to soften their sharp bite but I’ll go one step further and recommend some lacto-fermented red onions.
Second, instead of hoisin sauce and sriracha (which can obscure the taste of the broth), try one or both of these seasonings instead…
The one on the right is a simple homemade garlic vinegar that I made in the Hanoi pho post. It adds some wonderful sour and spicy notes to the broth.
The one on the left is a sweet and sour homemade ginger dipping sauce that Nguyen recommended specifically for Chicken Pho.
To make it, finely chop about 2 TBSPs of fresh ginger and add the juice of 1 lime, 1 TBSP of coconut sugar, 2 TBSPs of fish sauce, and finely chopped jalapeno or serrano chile. Mix well, taste, and adjust the flavors with more of each to your liking.
The garlic vinegar can be spooned right into the soup while the ginger sauce is more of a dipping sauce for individual pieces of chicken. It could be too powerful if added directly to the soup!
Finally, for the herbs, keep it minimal. Nguyen recommends just using cilantro and green onions but if you really love mint and Thai basil, you can add a little of those too.
Place a handful of rice noodles in individual serving bowls, followed by a spoonful or two of chicken meat, and pour in the hot broth. You might have to re-heat the broth if it’s cooled a bit after straining. Add additional fish sauce, garlic vinegar, herbs, and red and/or green onions, to taste. Add a soft-boiled egg or two (optional). Serve with the ginger dipping sauce on the side.
Craig Fear is the creator of Fearless Eating and the author of three books, The 30-Day Heartburn Solution, Fearless Broths and Soups and The Thai Soup Secret. After years helping clients with digestive issues, Craig decided to pursue writing full-time. He intends to write many more books on broths and soups from around the world! Click here to learn more about Craig.