Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Cheap Tricks

Water, bones, noodles.

Tah-DAH! (clap-clap-clap).   Thank you, thank you, you've been a fabulous audience!...

Actually, when it comes to noodles and broth, I must tip my hat to our former exchange student, the pride of Hanoi, Nghia Pham (KNEE-uh Fam).  This shy, skinny kid showed us how to turn Chicken Noodle soup into and a noisy, lime and cilantro laced, healthy breakfast bowl.  Our kids have always had a leaning towards the savory side for the morning meal, but, one Vietnamese exchange student and two kids on a summer trip to Vietnam later, we are now firmly ensconced behind a bowl of PHO (pronounced, 'Fuh').  OK, American Pho, but, you get the idea that rice noodles, broth, veggies and a few cubes of meat can really make your morning and impact the trajectory of your day. 

There is no slight-of-hand involved, just good solid technical skills and an attentive eye.
Isn't that the truth for any quality job on a recipe?  We could teach monkeys to fly if we had enough bananas, but, developing a sense for texture and balance requires an eye, a brain and the truth.

We need our eyes to create visual appeal; don't boil your bones to death of you want a broth as clear as a mountain lake. 
Employing our 'noodle'; thinking before and after our cooking stages helps us to achieve the desired result, ensuring a positive experience and avoiding a failure (GLEE was on and I forgot to turn the heat down...that's why the broth is cloudy, oops...). 
Being honest with our palate is crucial when adjusting salt, acidity, heat and spice. 

Whaddya say?  Are you game!?
Let's make some Pho!

"I want a clear broth for my soup, how do I get there?" 

Well, you have to think of the flip-side, too.
How does a broth get cloudy?  That comes from agitation; the bones and meat of a chicken getting tossed about by the action of the boil, slamming into the walls of the pot, getting jacked by the bubbles from below, being stirred and prodded by an impatient cook from above.  All ya hafta do is put a whole chicken in a deep pot, cover it with cold water and place on medium heat.  Let that baby go for an afternoon simmering away.  When four hours have passed, gently pour off the liquid through a fine meshed strainer into a storage container.  Remove the very relaxed chicken with a spatula and let cool on a cookie sheet.  Pull the meat off, allow to cool, and store in ziplocs for later use.  Yes, refrigerate if used in the next three days.  Yes, freezer, if to be used at a further date. 

"The cilantro came in a bunch, so, I chopped a bunch for the pot." 
Packaging convenience isn't a good way to add ingredients.  Use the recipe as a guideline, and tweak it as YOU want it to be.  Some of us (the poor sods!) don't like the taste of cilantro, therefore, avoid it all together.  It's your baby, so, create as you like...the culinary world will not fall off it's axis if you leave out an ingredient.  You're eating this, not me.

"I'm from the 'more is better' school of thought.  Is it OK to load up on the fresh ginger?"

Sure, if all you want to taste is a hot ginger liquid.  The sublimity of a great dish is in it's simplicity; I can taste all five ingredients separately and collectively.  Neither ingredient overwhelms another. 

"But chef, I'm a 'Merican an I don't know any Vietnamese pee-puhl!  How the heck does this pho-stuff happen?"

Awright, awright...take it easy there, Vern .  We've all made chicken soup, right?  Only difference here is what you add to it in the end.  If you're a Jewish grandmother, you add matzo balls.  If you're from the South, you drop in some dumplings.  Mexican?  Hominy corn is your go-to starch. 
Got it? 
Pho is 'Chicken Noodle Soup' that doesn't come from a red and white can; it comes from a quick read of a short recipe...and the soul of Vietnam. 

Basic Pho

1.........................Chicken, whole
5 qts....................Water, cold
1 1/2 T.................Salt
2.........................Onion, halved
4" finger................Ginger, sliced
4.........................Clove, whole
3T.......................Fish sauce
2T.......................Coriander seeds, whole, toasted 
1/2 bunch..............Cilantro, fresh

Rice noodles
Onion, sliced paper thin
Green onion, scallion only, sliced
Chicken, cooked and cubed

Place chicken and water in an 8 qt or larger pot on medium/high heat.  Bring to a boil and quickly reduce to a simmer.  Simmer for 3 hours.
While that is happening, place onions and ginger on a grill or over a burner to char the outside.  Relax, it's supposed to get slighlty blackened.  Once charred, place in simmering pot along with cloves and toasted coriander seeds.  To toast seeds, gently heat in a dry saute' pan over medium heat until they begin to sizzle and bronze.  Starting to smell good, isn't it?  Add fish sauce, cilantro and sugar.  Vietnamese insist on rock sugar, but, you make the call.
Once the 3 hour simmer is done, gently pour through a strainer and reserve the liquid.  Place chicken on a cookie sheet to cool, then, pull the meat off.

When ready to serve, bring chicken broth back to a boil (figure 1 cup per person) and pour over the above bowl of condiments.  Rice noodles should be pre-blanched in hot water to soften (about 3 minutes). 

Seems rather involved, but, just break the process down into it's component parts: Broth, condiments, noodles.


Take care, God bless and remember:
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends,
the Best Things in Life Aren't Things!"

chef bq.

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