Recipe: Traditional Vietnamese Pho

Today it’s time to get back in the kitchen and cook something Vietnamese. I loved the food so much on my recent trip there and even did a cookery course at the wonderful Victoria Phan Thiet Beach Resort and Spa.

Vietnamese cuisine is considered one of the healthiest in the world. It incorporates lots of fresh herbs like lemongrass, mint, coriander and basil and spices like ginger, chilli and cinnamon. You’re often given a plateful of aromatic herbs to add to your dish at the table.

We ate Pho at the rooftop bar of The Majestic Hotel in Saigon. A huge bowl of tasty broth with plenty of noodles and the meat of your choice, served with that aromatic plateful.

I left Vietnam armed with recipes to try at home and today it was time to make some Pho. It does take some time as the flavours need to infuse properly, but it’s very little work with amazing results. Go on, give it at try.

Traditional Pho noodle soup with chicken

Serves 4

The tasty noodle soup topped with herbs and fresh lime

1 x 3cm piece of ginger, peeled

2 shallots, peeled

1 litre of vegetable stock

1.5 litres of water

2 pieces of Star Anise

1 cinnamon stick

1 tsp cloves

Half a tsp of chilli powder

2 chicken breasts

200g rice noodles, soaked and ready to add to the broth

To serve

150g bean sprouts

6 spring onions, sliced into small pieces

Handful of mint, chopped

Handful of basil, torn

2 limes, halved

Place the ginger and shallots on a baking tray and roast in the oven for about 30mins until soft and cooked.

Leave to cool and then put in a blender to make a paste.

Place a large pot on the hob and turn on to the lowest setting. Add the vegetable stock and water, star anise, cinnamon stick, cloves and ginger and shallot paste and stir.

Leave to heat through and bubble slightly for half an hour.

Add the two whole chicken breasts and leave on low for them to poach for one hour.

Meanwhile, arrange the bean sprouts, spring onions, mint, basil and lime on a plate.

After the chicken has cooked for an hour, remove it from the pan and add the noodles. Warm through for about 5 mins and while that is happening, slice the chicken.

Ladle out the noodles and broth into a bowl. Place the sliced chicken on top.

Serve with the herb selection which gets piled on top of the chicken broth mix.

Squeeze over the juice of half a lime and tuck in.

Pho chopped with tender poached chicken

Today’s top tips

Pho works equally well with beef. Instead of the chicken breasts, add 250g of rump steak and let it simmer in the mixture for about 2 hours.

You should always tear fresh basil rather than chop it to retain maximum flavour.

Try different adding different herbs like coriander or parsley to your Pho.

Vietnamese cooking doesn’t use a lot of chilli but if you’re a fan of hot stuff, up the chilli in this recipe.

Pho is also great for vegetarians, simply leave out the meat.

It also works well with fresh prawns. Just drop them in to the simmering mixture for about five minutes before serving, until they go pink.

I’ve used 200g of noodles here, if you’re a big noodle fan, add more – it can make a substantial meal.

Adding a plateful of crunch and freshness

Do you have a favourite Vietnamese recipe? What did you eat while you were visiting Vietnam. Let me know, I’d love to hear about your experiences.

Back to school for Vietnamese cooking lessons

Lately I’ve been learning all about Vietnamese food and have totally fallen in love with it. The fresh flavours, abundance of herbs and variety of sauces all make for fabulous dishes. So when I was invited to School of Wok for an afternoon of Vietnamese cooking, I couldn’t resist. Even better – it’s in Covent Garden, so off  I went to discover a lovely cookery school just minutes away from the Covent Garden Piazza.

Our enthusiastic group was greeted by Nev, our teacher for the day, who explained our menu and set about demonstrating how we prepared our ingredients using the sharpest of knives. The school’s cleavers are amazingly light and super sharp, making chopping a dream. Definitely something for my Christmas list!

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Taking instructions before the preparations begin

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Our ingredients await

We prepared all these dishes from scratch. Our spring rolls were stuffed full of vermicelli, carrots, spring onions, Chinese wood ear mushrooms, pork and chicken mince, all well seasoned. I discovered that wrapping a spring roll can be quite a challenge. The right quantity of filling is crucial or your rolls end up looking like a plump little pillow, rather than elegantly elongated. We got the hang of it though and produced this plateful, to squeals of joy! My group were very pleased with our results.

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Spring rolls all lovingly wrapped

Next up, the lemongrass beef. A mix of lemongrass, garlic, shrimp paste, fish sauce, soy sauce and palm sugar is melded into beef mince for all flavours to absorb. Smells kinda pungent at the time of making, let’s say that shrimp paste doesn’t have the nicest of aromas. But it does taste surprisingly good. We rolled out our mince into mini burgers and put it aside to fry later.

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Platefuls of baby burgers waiting to be cooked

We also made Pho which is a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup with meat (chicken in this case) that’s served with handfuls of fresh herbs. And while we were finishing off in the spacious kitchen, our spring rolls appeared freshly cooked. All beautifully golden and ready to be sampled. Really delicious and a lot easier to make than I expected, it’s quite therapeutic all that wrapping, too.

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Crispy and delicious with chilli dipping sauce

On our return from the kitchen our preparation table had been transformed into a Vietnamese dining extravaganza, so we all sat down to tuck in.

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The table transformed with the fruits of our labours

And here’s the fabulous pho. A great broth that’s perfect for totally tailor-making to your taste. I added some of the chilli and lime dipping sauce that we made to give it a real nice bite.

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A fabulous bowl of pho

Our lemongrass mini beef burgers came out beautifully and we dipped them liberally in the mix of fish sauce, lime juice, garlic and chilli.

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All our freshly cooked dishes filled the table

An afternoon at School of Wok is so much fun, educational and will satisfy your appetite when  you tuck in to the fruits of your labour at the end (with a glass or two of wine).

It’s a very hands-on experience where you really get to grips with your ingredients and prepare and cook everything yourself. It’s the best way really – I’m a very bad observer on cookery courses, I need to get stuck in. Nev, our teacher was knowledgeable and made it into a really enjoyable afternoon, too. And I learnt even more about the wonderful food of Vietnam…gathering new recipes for my repetoire always makes me excited. A wonderfully entertaining way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

School of Wok is at 61 Chandos Place, Covent Garden

www.schoolofwok.co.uk