Asian cuisine became an integral part of my life only a couple of years ago when I moved to Vancouver, BC where the number of ethnic Asian restaurants is really astonishing; I tried one and then another one and became addicted to the flavors, colors and smells. I crave Ramen soup and my eyes shine when I see a fresh pink piece of tuna; I am fascinated by the fire coming from under hot woks and am willing to stand in a very long line waiting for a table in a favorite place. Asian food crept into my home as well, there isn’t a week of grocery shopping when I don’t stock up on fresh ginger and lemon grass, garlic and cilantro and my pantry has all the staples – you can trust me on that one – from soy sauce to fish sauce, from mirin to rice vinegar, from garam masala to star anise. Recently I have decided to start reading some books on regional Asian cooking and enjoy the stories and recipes, I do find it a bit difficult to find good books on the theoretical aspect of the various cuisines but I’ll keep trying.
The recipe I want to share today is for a traditional Vietnamese chicken noodle soup; it is based on a traditional recipe though I did make it mine at the end of the day.
For the broth:
2 chicken breasts
1 quart (liter) of water
2 quarts (liters) chicken stock – store bought (low sodium) or home made
2 inch (5 cm) piece of ginger
3 start anise
1 cinnamon stick
2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 to 1/2 cup fish sauce (I used 1/4 cup or so and it was salty enough for me but if yours is not add more)
For serving: freshly ground black pepper, green onions, cilantro, Thai basil, Thai chilies, lime wedges, vegetable of your choice thinly sliced (you can see an optional array on the picture above), noodles – traditionally those would be thin rice noodles but I have used both Somen noodles (Japanese thin wheat noodles) as well as Soba noodles (Japanese as well, made partially with buckwheat flour).
Step 1: place chicken breasts in the water, add a few peppercorns a pinch of salt and a bay leaf, bring to a boil and reduce heat skimming the scum until the chicken is cooked through, remove the chicken and strain the resulting broth – reserve.
Step 2: under a broiler or on the bbq or just on an open flame if you have a gas stove char the ginger and shalot until black; smash each with a back of a knife.
Step 3: In a dry pan, heat up cinnamon and star anise until fragrant, add shalot, ginger, chicken stock and the broth in which you cooked the chicken. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and let cook for about an hour.
Step 4: When the chicken is cool enough to handle shred it with your fingers.
Step 5: When broth is ready add the fish sauce, sugar and a pinch of salt.
Step 6: Arrange chicken, noodles and all other garnishes in a bowl and pour the hot soup over them, serve with lime wedges on the side.