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Daring Cooks' challenge October: Vietnamese chicken pho from Steamy Kitchen

>> Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I was missing something in my life... a little bit more chaos perhaps, so I decided to join the Daring Cooks. For my first challenge I had to cook something Vietnamese and that I hadn't even tasted before: a pho from the delightful blog Steamy Kitchen by Jaden. Timely challenge for me, as so far I've never been especially fond of Far East food...

Before this event, I had only tasted Vietnamese food once in my life. When I was 25 and lived in The Netherlands, a Vietnamese girl joined my company. She had had the most peculiar life. She had fled Vietnam in a boat when she was 12 or 13... yes, she had been one of those "boat people" we used to hear about in the news. She had two older brothers approaching the military service age. At the time Vietnam was in a non-declared war with some neighboring country (I don't remember which, she told me this a loooooong time ago). That meant an almost certain death for the two boys. Therefore their parents collected all their savings, bought two boat tickets for the boys and another one for my friend. Yes, she was sent along to take care of the boys, that is to cook, wash, do the laundry and the like, those things a servant... excuse me, a woman usually does in a lot of countries in the world for no wages at all. The boat was rescued by a Dutch ship which took the refugees to The Netherlands, where they were well catered for. They were given refugee status and received acommodation and education. My friend studied Chemical Engineering and ended up working for my company. We didn't work together for a long time, just a few months I believe. When I decided to go back to Spain, I was leaving some furniture and household equipment behind that I gave to her. She then organised a Vietnamese dinner to thank me. I don't seem to have been too impressed by the cooking, because I hardly remember what we had. My memories of her and her husband are a lot more vivid. She was a tremendously happy person, nothing gave away all the misfortunes she had gone through. Her name was Nga. Here's looking at you, kid.

The October 2009 Daring Cooks’ challenge was brought to us by Jaden of the blog Steamy Kitchen. The recipes are from her new cookbook, The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook.

You can find the recipe here. As Jaden says, the most important thing is to obtain a very clear broth though packed with flavor. I chose to make pho with chicken, you could choose among some other varieties like vegetarian, beef or shellfish broth. I know how to make a Spanish chicken broth, but I tell you, the flavor of this broth has nothing to do with it. The spices and condiments are so very different, regardless of the chicken base. Some condiments are really peculiar for me, like the fish sauce and the star anise (in a savory soup? Are you nuts?).

The most important part of the challenge was to obtain a broth packed with aroma while keeping it clear. It seems I did all my skimming well, because the final broth came out quite transparent. The only change I made was to boil two additional carcasses with the whole chicken, to add even more flavor. Well, I'm not telling the truth, I made another change, a mistake in fact. I forgot to toast the spices, shame on me. But the ginger and onion were beautifully charred, don't you think? After the boiling I let the broth cool and left it overnight in the fridge, so that I could easily defat it the next day, it seems my chicken was rather fatty. You know how that's done, don't you? Just get rid of the solidified fat on the surface by spooning it out.

The broth was wonderfully aromatic and tasty. I found it difficult to adjust the seasoning though... how can you tune something when you have no idea of how it should taste? I did the best I could. Regarding the garnish, I couldn't find red onion at this time of the year and I hate bean sprouts, so I skipped them. I only used the noodles, cilantro leaves, shredded chicken and lima slices (the noodles are at the bottom of the bowl, that's why you can't see them). Instead of boiling the noodles in plain water, I boiled them in the broth itself for more flavor. Despite my initial reluctance, I found the soup delicious. The flavor is so different from what I'm used to in a soup, yet so good. I could clearly make out the ginger and the star anise flavors (even though my star anise dates from the 12th century...). This was a very interesting experience for me, as so far I've been a complete ignorant of the Far East cuisine. And it brings some colour to my dull life... Jaden, I hope you're proud of your disciple!

27 comentarios:

Miranda October 14, 2009 at 12:45 PM  

Let me start by saying I LOVE YOUR SITE!
I love your posts, pictures and recipes.
Very well done.

Jenn October 14, 2009 at 2:17 PM  

Wow, amazing story about your Vietnamese friend and what she went through - great job on this challenge!

Mardi @eatlivetravelwrite October 14, 2009 at 3:08 PM  

Beautiful! I also love Pho and just back from Laos, ate quite a bit of it!!

Your broth is wonderful!

Karen @ Citrus and Candy October 14, 2009 at 3:36 PM  

That spoon is to die for :) And your pho is so beautifully clear! Great job!

Audax October 14, 2009 at 4:56 PM  

Wow you are one great photographer and that soup stock looks so goregous clear and oozinig so much flavour. Wonderful that you loved the pho (so did I). Yes in Australia we have a lot of 'boat' people also and therefore a lot of Vietnamese food. Well done bravo on a wonderful effort and results. Cheers from Audax in Australia. Congratulations on your first challenge.

Jessie October 14, 2009 at 5:54 PM  

wonderful soup, it sounds so comforting and delicious

Woman with a Whisk October 14, 2009 at 6:01 PM  

Beautiful pictures and such an interesting story about your friend.

Peggy Bourjaily October 14, 2009 at 7:27 PM  

I love the story you share. Very touching.

And yum! I want to try the chicken pho next. Your pics are gorgeous!

Miriam October 14, 2009 at 7:40 PM  

Miranda: thanks a lot, you're too kind!
Jenn: thanks, it's hard to believe.
Mardi: I saw it some time ago! But I didn't want to give away the DC challenge... :-)
Karen: thanks! Funnily enough, it's not Asian, it's African... but it was the most rustic spoon I had around!
Audax: thanks a lot for your cheering, here and in the DC forum, it's really nice to find such support and kind words!
Jessie: it was indeed very good.
Woman with a whisk: thanks! Glad you liked it and thanks for stopping by.
Peggy: Thanks for your kind words and also for stopping by!

5 Star Foodie October 14, 2009 at 9:11 PM  

Wonderful soup, the broth sounds perfectly aromatic!

Amy I. October 14, 2009 at 9:37 PM  

Welcome to the Daring Cooks! Love your site and your photos.

Lauren October 15, 2009 at 12:55 AM  

Stunning! Your photos are simply gorgeous =D. Wonderful job with your first challenge, it looks amazing!

Jenni October 15, 2009 at 3:00 AM  

Great job! Your Pho looks absolutely lovely. You have a perfectly clear broth! Your photo of the charred onion is simply stunning! I saw it on the forum and it made my jaw drop! Great work - on both the soup, the photography, and the blog! Welcome to the Daring Kitchen!

Margie October 15, 2009 at 4:09 AM  

You had me laughing about the star anise. And wishing I had a bowl of that gorgeous soup.

climbhighak October 15, 2009 at 5:39 AM  

Your photo of the charred onion is beautiful. Welcome to the Daring Cooks. Learning new food is what it is all about. Excellent first post.

chef_d October 15, 2009 at 11:54 AM  

I love your blog!! amazing photos!

Olive October 15, 2009 at 1:19 PM  


You did well on your first challenge.. love your photos and how cute is your wooden spoon..:)

dale311 October 15, 2009 at 6:25 PM  

Your photos are stunning! Amazing! Incredible! :)

Your story about the Vietnamese girl gave so much depth and meaning to your post.

And, as I said in the forum, I love that spoon! :)

nikki October 15, 2009 at 7:15 PM  

What a great story, thanks for sharing it. Your broth is absolutely pristine, great job!

Miriam October 16, 2009 at 9:51 AM  

5 Star Foodie: thanks!
Amy I: thanks, I'm already enjoying it a lot!
Lauren: thanks for your warm welcome!
Jenni: I must admit the charred onions photo is also a favorite of mine... those onions were photogenic... ;-)
Margie: thanks ;-) Most of my spices are ages old...
Climbhighak: thanks for all the support!
Chef_d: thanks!
Olive: yes, the spoon is lovely...
Dale: thank you :-)
Nikki: thanks!

pinkstripes October 17, 2009 at 6:14 AM  

It looks so good. I'm sad I missed it.

Lisa Michelle October 18, 2009 at 10:38 AM  

Gorgeous soup and broth! You totally rocked this challenge :)

Miriam October 18, 2009 at 12:45 PM  

Pink: wow, so you're also a Daring Cook... :-)
Lisa: thanks a lot!

a tasteful garden October 21, 2009 at 2:46 AM  

hi Miriam. i wanted to say thanks so much for dropping by my blog. i'm excited you did because now i got to discover your site. what a great story and such beautiful images. i'm looking forward to ready much more.

Miriam October 21, 2009 at 1:10 PM  

Tasteful garden: you're more than welcome, I always enjoy discovering blogs with beautiful photos like yours!

Belinda @zomppa January 24, 2010 at 9:37 PM  

I'm so super impressed with your challenges. Is there anything you can't do??? That pho sounds perfect for a day like today. I've never tried it before...might have to give a go at the challenge!

Miriam January 26, 2010 at 10:10 PM  

Belinda: there are quite some things I can't do... only I don't post about them XD


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