Vietspices Search

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Phở Gà Khô Hai Tô (Vietnamese Dry Chicken Noodle)

If you have a chance to visit the mountainous region of Pleiku where I was born, you must try the dry noodle dish (phở khô) - the pride of Pleiku.  When ordering your food, you just called out: "cho một tô phở khô" (give me a bowl of dry noodle) - and automatically they will bring you two bowls.  How's that for service?

Phở khô known as 'phở hai tô' (two bowls of phở). The first bowl consists of noodle and toppings.  The second bowl consists of delicious broth, meatballs, or rare beef. Then served with a plate of bean sprouts, lettuce, and herbs.

Every phở khô place has its own way of preparing a bowl of dry noodle. My favorite place for phở khô gà (dry chicken noodle) was Á Đông (now renamed to Ngọc Sơn). Their dried noodle bowl consists of noodle, shredded chicken, chicken gizzard, heart, liver, and fried pork fat and serve with another bowl of beef broth.

Phở khô Hồng is another of my favorite place.  Her noodle bowl is full of goodness ground pork, fried pork fat, and fried shallots, served with your choice of a bowl of broth with thin slices of beef or beef meatballs.

When eaten, squeeze a bit of lime juice, toss in the vegetables and herbs, a few slices of red chili pepper, and mix them up. Then take your time to enjoy the noodle and sip a spoon of broth at a time. "phở two bowls" is not meant for you to combine into one bowl. You will lose the taste and essence of the noodle flavor and the natural sweetness of the broth.

It's has been over 25 years and yet the aroma of their phở khô and the broth have not faded from my mind. It has definitely left an indelible mark in my food memory band.  I introduced phở gà khô (dry chicken noodle) to my husband and instantly it's become one of his favorite phở.  Here's your chance to try them. 
RECIPE: Phở Gà Khô
for broth
1 hen (available at Asian market)
1 large piece ginger, peeled, cut into 3 slices
1 onion, peeled, cut into half or
a handful of shallots, peeled
a handful of garlic cloves, peeled
1 rock sugar, about 1 tablespoon
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 packet phở spice
for sauce
3 shallots, thinly slices
4 large cloves of garlic, minced
2 white and light green parts of green onion
1 tablespoon olive oil or annatto oil (recipe here)
1/2 cup Maggi Europe soy sauce
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon paprika, optional
other ingredients
fried pork fat, click here for recipe
2 bags phở noodle
bean sprouts
lettuces, optional
basil leaves
culantro leaves (ngò gai), finely chopped, optional
cilantro, finely chopped
chili peppers, thinly sliced, optional
lime or lemon, cut into wedges
black pepper

Cooking the Chicken and Broth

Discard any excess fat from a hen. Rinse hen with cold water and place in a stockpot. Add the water (just enough to submerge the hen), ginger slices, onion or shallots, garlic, rock sugar, salt, and bring to a boil. Once the water is boiling, turn off the heat, cover with a lid and let the chicken sits for another 10-15 minutes.

Remove the chicken, let cool, and shred or cut the meat. You can also cool down the chicken quickly by placing in ice and water.

Reserve the chicken bones to put back into the broth pot.  Add a tablespoon of fish sauce, and a bag of phở spice.

any brand you pick would be fine

Simmer the broth for another 15-20 minutes. Skim any foam that rises to the surface. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.  If you like beef meatballs, cut each meatball into half, and add them into the pot. 
Preparing Pork Fat

click here for the recipe

Preparing the Sauce

Heat olive oil or annatto oil in a sauce pan over medium. The purpose of using annatto oil is to give the sauce its distinctive red color. You can skip the annatto seeds if preferred.  Cook shallots, green onion, and garlic, stirring occasionally, until soft and fragrant. Add sugar, paprika if used, and chicken broth from the broth pot, stirring, until sugar dissolved. Turn the heat off. Add soy sauce last.

First Bowl - Blanch phở noodle in a pot of boiling water for a couple seconds. If you don't like eating raw bean sprouts, blanch both pho noodle and bean sprouts together. Don't blanch it too long as the noodle will be mushy.

Place noodle into a bowl.  Top with shredded chicken, fried pork fat, fried shallots, chopped herbs, and sprinkle some black pepper.

shredded chicken with egg yolks inside the chicken

Second Bowl - If you like to have steak in your broth, add thin slices or chopped steak into the bowl, then ladle the boiling broth into the bowl.

I prefer serving phở with chopped steak over sliced steak

Otherwise, ladle broth, with or without meatballs into the bowl. Garnish with cilantro and a dash of black pepper.

Serve  'phở hai tô' with a side of  sauce, bean sprouts, lettuces, basil, lime wedges and chili peppers for each person to garnish their own noodle as desired.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Loaves and Fishes - July 2017

Once a year when the children are off school for the summer, I like to create an opportunity for them to learn about giving back and serving others. July of last year, a dozen of kids were eager to help and excited to get involved which speaks volume about their generous hearts. As parents, we hope this will inspire and motivate them to do well and become great successes so that they will be in a position to give back to the community.

Last Wednesday it was hard to get up at 5:00 in the early morning to cook up pots of oatmeal but I couldn't complain when these children were getting up at 6:00 am to get ready to feed over 200 homeless guests. What an amazing sight it is to see our spirited, caring youth stepping up to serve our community. 

Thank you everyone for being a part of The Spices Of Life and sharing your good fortune, time and love. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Grace Community Presbyterian Church in Elk Grove, Ca for donating $430 toward this event as well. It means a great deal! 

Below are some pictures from the recent breakfast at Friendship Park located inside Loaves and Fishes in Sacramento.

prepping team

making sandwiches

he's enjoying a cup of warm oatmeal

couldn't get shopping done without the help of my daughter

dropping off the eggs for Dan

Dan delivering hard boiled eggs the next day

he's enjoying hard boiled eggs

early morning at Friendship Park


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Pickled Lemon Chicken and King Oyster Mushroom Soup (Súp Gà Chanh Muối Nấm Bào Ngư)

Despite the sweltering summer heat, I enjoy eating hot soup anytime of the day. Peculiar isn't it? Yet, it's so comforting to be able to enjoy - slurp to be exact - a nice bowl of well balanced soup, preferably one with a zesty hit of citrus.

One of my favorite soups is the pickled lemon chicken and king oyster mushroom soup. I preserve the lemons every year around the winter season. It's when I harvest them from my friend's lemon tree and preserve them in salt and water to make salty lemonade and use them in cooking such as in this chicken soup. The downsize is there's not enough heat from the sun during winter to help with picking the lemon and there is chance of getting mold/fungus growing in the brine. I usually just let them sit at room temperature near by the stove. It takes a long time, at least 2 months, for the pickle lemon peels to soften, and for the flavors to fully mature. When Spring comes and the sun is out, I let them bake in the sun to hasten the process. Click here for preserved lemons recipe.

What I enjoy most about this chicken soup is the zestiness of the broth.  The roasted rice and the preserved lemon in this soup give it a nutty and sharp citrus kick. Cooking the king oyster mushroom in this soup also brings out a savory umami flavor that goes well with the velvety, meaty texture of the mushroom that reminds me of abalone. And lastly, the distinct earthy aroma of lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and garlic make this a hearty, comforting,  yet light and nourishing soup.
RECIPE: Pickled Lemon Chicken and King Oyster Mushroom Soup

1 whole free range chicken, available at Asian market
about 3-4 king oyster mushrooms, sliced
1 whole garlic, peeled
1/2 - 3/4 cup rice
2 lemongrass stalks, slightly smashed, cut into 4 inch pieces
5-8 kaffir lime leaves, optional
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1-2 preserved lemons, optional 
1 bunch culantro leaves, optional, roughly chopped
a bunch of green onion, finely chopped
Roasting Rice

I always toast my rice first when cooking porridge or any kinds of soup to give it a nutty flavor that complements the soup perfectly. This process takes only a few minutes and it will add an extra layer of depth to the  dish. Wash the rice for a few times until water is clear.  Drain well. Place rice in a skillet over low heat and stir the rice in the skillet constantly for about 10 minutes until you start to smell the nutty heat and the rice start to turn golden brown. Remove the rice from the heat.
Cooking Chicken

I am obsessed with lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves, therefore, kaffir lime tree and lemongrass are must-haves in my vegetable garden.  If lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves are not available for you, you can substitute them for a few slices of ginger root.

For this soup, I like to use free range chicken from an Asian supermarket. It is smaller and less meaty than chicken from American supermarket but when cooked, it produces an intense chicken stock with a beautiful yellow hue.  The chicken skin becomes yellow and looks amazing. 

Rinse the chicken well under cold running water. In a large pot, about 8 quarts, add chicken, roasted rice, mushroom, garlic, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and enough water to cover it at least by 2 inches and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low to maintain a simmer and cook for about 45 minutes to extract as much flavor as possible from the bone and meat so all the goodness goes into the broth, and the rice grains expand and become soft. Add sugar, salt, and fish sauce. Use a fork to break the chicken apart into small pieces. 

At this point, smash a preserved lemon one at a time and add to the chicken pot. Give it a taste and adjust the seasonings to your liking. Add more preserved lemon if you want a bit more punch. Eliminate preserved lemon if you prefer. The flavor won't be the same but broth is still hearty and delicious. You can substitute fresh lime juice and serving it on the side. Cook the chicken soup for another 10 minutes.


Ladle chicken soup into a serving bowl. Garnish with green onion, and culantro leaves. Serve with lime or lemon wedges on a side if you don't use preserved lemon in the dish. I like to add a few slices of fresh red chili pepper to my bowl as hot, fragrant and sour is how I like.
Eat well. Stay healthy.