Chicken pho is made with a slowly simmered chicken broth and the classic pho spices. This recipe is modeled after a Hanoi-style pho which uses minimal garnishes and seasonings. It's all about the broth!
Place whole chicken and/or chicken parts in a good sized stock pot (at least 8 quarts) and cover with about 4-5 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 in the minutes 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.
Cut the onion or shallots in half. Slice unpeeled ginger in half lengthwise. Char ginger and onion on a grill, gas stovetop or by broiling in the oven. Watch closely, turn on occasion and remove from the oven after about 10-15 minutes. Once charred, remove from the heat for a few minutes to let them cool. Remove the outer skin from the onion/shallots and peel the ginger. Remove any blackened pieces and add them to the beef broth.
Add the cinnamon, star anise, cloves and rock sugar to the broth. Cover and keep the broth gently simmering.
After the chicken cooks for about 30-40 minutes, remove the meaty parts from the broth. 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. Don't slice the parts yet. Keep them as whole as possible to keep them tender.
Return the carcass and/or bones with meat removed to the broth and continue simmering for 1-2 more hours.
Taste the broth after an hour. If should have a nice chickeny 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 beyond 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 a little more or less. Keep in mind that you can always add more fish sauce to individual servings.
Prepare the chicken. Slice the chicken off the bone of the reserved meaty parts and slice into small bite-sized chunks and pieces. You can keep the smaller on-the-bone parts like thighs, wings and small drumsticks intact if you want.
Prepare the rice noodles. Do this while the broth is cooling. 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.
Prepare some soft-boiled chicken or duck eggs. This is totally optional.
Prepare the garnishes and seasonings. See the directions in the blog post above for all the choices.
Put it all together. Place a handful of rice noodles in individual serving bowls, followed by a spoonful or two 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, the herbs and red and/or green onions, to taste. Add a soft-boiled egg or two. Serve with the ginger dipping sauce on the side.