Chicken Pho with Spaghetti Squash Noodles
I am a total soup fiend, I love it in all its forms and all year long. Blended veggie soups are my go to, I love congee and other porridges, tom ka gai and tortilla soup are obsessions of mine, but pho ranks up there as one of my favorites.
Pho has so many complex flavors, some fresh, bright and aromatic, some rich, deep and comforting. A dish with such complex layers understandably requires a laundry list of ingredients and hours to develop, so I usually save myself the time and just get it from a restaurant. Every once and a while, I like to take the time and make it myself, just the way I like it.
I’ll warn you now that this is not a simple weeknight meal. This is for a special Sunday when you have the time to chop, roast and simmer all afternoon long. It also requires a number of ingredients which might be tough to find at a standard grocery store, so a trip to an Asian grocery store might be in order, but one trip is all you need to get stocked and make this over and over again.
Especially when you make this recipe with spaghetti squash noodles, which keeps it very light, it makes for a special and memorable meal. I first made this recipe for a couple of friends who were coming over for dinner and aiming to eat low carb, but it is also gluten free and paleo, perfect for people with dietary restrictions. So eat up!
Chicken Pho with Spaghetti Squash Noodles
2 medium yellow onions
4-1/2 inch pieces of ginger
3 star anise pods (optional)
1 cinnamon stick (optional)
1 tsp coriander seeds (optional)
1 small stalk of lemongrass (optional)
1 whole pasture-raised chicken (about 3lbs)
1 large or 2 small spaghetti squash
coconut oil for coating the squash
2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp fish sauce (optional)
a few handfuls of mung bean sprouts
a few basil leaves
a few cilantro leaves
4 scallions/or thinly sliced onion
chili garlic sauce to taste (optional)
Preheat oven to 400F.
Quarter the onions, leaving skin and roots on. Smash the ginger slices with the back of a knife until broken up. Roast on a greased roasting pan for 30 minutes.
Open up the spaghetti squash lengthwise, removing the stem and seeds. Rub with coconut oil and place face down on a roasting pan. After roasting the onions/ginger put the spaghetti squash in the oven, keeping it at 400F. Roast for 20 minutes for small squashes, up to 30-40 minutes for a larger one, or until the squash is soft and flakes with a fork. Let cool before scraping the noodles out with a fork and setting them aside and discarding the skin.
(Note: in my pictures you’ll only see 1 small spaghetti squash because that was all I had on hand, it was only enough for 2 servings of pho but the whole recipe makes about 4. You can also just use rice noodles for a more traditional pho.)
Toast the star anise, cinnamon and coriander in a saute pan over medium heat for 3-5 minutes, or until they become toasty and fragrant. I notice a lot of recipes only include these spices when making pho with beef, not chicken, but I love the spicy sweet notes they contribute to the broth, especially when toasted, which brings out even deeper flavors. If you don’t have these herbs on hand you can leave them out.
Rinse the lemongrass and smash with the back of a knife until it is pliable but still in tact. Tie it in a knot once or twice, just to keep it together while cooking. Again, not all chicken pho recipes call for lemongrass and I know it can be somewhat difficult to find, but it adds such a bright and tangy flavor that I love to add it in, you can skip it and still have a very tasty broth.
Rinse the chicken, removing and giblets if present. If the neck is included use that in the broth, it adds a lot of flavor to broths.
In a large stock pot add the salt, sugar, roasted onions and ginger, toasted spices, lemongrass, whole chicken and chicken neck if you have it, fill with water to cover the chicken entirely. Cover, bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer for 30 minutes. Take the chicken out with tongs, allowing it to drain sufficiently before setting it on a cutting board and allowing it to rest, at that point it should be cooked all the way through.
Once cool enough to handle, separate the white and dark meat from the bones and skin of the chicken. Cut the breasts off whole, then slice thinly. Cut the legs off at the hip joint, then shred the dark meat from the legs/thighs, along with any meat you can pull off of the back and wings.
Return the bones and skin to the pot to simmer an additional 2 hours. Set aside all the chicken meat in a sealed container in the fridge for later.
While the broth is simmering prep all the other toppings, the smell in your kitchen will be unbelievable.
Slice the lime into wedges, mince the scallion or thinly slice the onion (full disclosure: I forgot to add scallion or onion to mine – oops,) slice up the jalapeno into thin pieces and remove the seeds, wash the basil and cilantro and pull off a few of the top leaves.
Once the broth is done, strain it and return to the pot to keep simmering.
Add the fish sauce to the finished broth. Fish sauce is a fermented condiment that has a rich umami flavor which really fills out the broth. Too much fish sauce can push the flavor profile into being a bit too fishy and funky, so a little goes a long way. If you don’t have fish sauce on hand o then consider using a little soy sauce, tamarai or coconut aminos as a replacement. Stir in and taste, add more sea salt to the broth if needed.
To serve, add some chicken and spaghetti squash noodles to each bowl, then ladle the hot broth over and let warm for a minute. Serve with bean sprouts, jalapeno, scallions/onion, basil, cilantro, lime wedges and chili garlic sauce on the side.
Yields 4 servings