First up, an admission – I’ve never been to Vietnam. But I should probably book a trip, just so I can justify my interest/obsession/fascination with the food. This recipe is my own take on various versions I’ve tried over the years, culled from all manner of splashed and stained cookery books.
Serves: 2 PeopleTime: 45 Minutes
* indicates optional ingredients
2 x large free range chicken thighs (I prefer boned with skin from my butcher, but supermarkets often only offer with bone and skin. You can always remove the bone once it's cooked).
1 x thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger
*2 x garlic cloves
1 x onion (white or red)
5 x spring onions
1 x lime
*1 x small bunch fresh coriander
*1 x small bunch fresh mint
*100g x beansprouts
*1 x hot red chilli
200ml x water
100g rice noodles (Fresh are great, but dried are much more widely available and perfectly good. You can use the Thai vermicelli-style or the Ban Pho flat linguini-type ones. I prefer the Thai.)
*1 x heaped tsp sugar (Palm sugar is ideal, but I use Golden Unrefined Granulated. If you're avoiding sugar entirely then omit, but it really does lift the flavours and helps the sweet/sour balance).
1 x tablespoon fish sauce
2 x lemongrass stalks (Preferably fresh, but dried is fine)
*1 x dash Sriracha
5 x black peppercorns
1 x star anise
2 x cloves
5 x coriander seeds
1 x pinch salt (sea salt or pink Himalayan)
*1 x pinch fennel seeds
*5 x Kaffir lime leaves
*1 x cinnamon stick
Heat the oven to 190°C Fan/200°C Standard
Peel the ginger and chop into four equally sized pieces. Peel the garlic and keep whole. Chop the onion into quarters.
Pour the two pouches of bone broth and 240ml water into a medium-sized pan and heat on the hob. Bring to the boil for 30 seconds then reduce to a simmer.
Halve the red chilli, remove the seeds, and slice into (approx.) 2mm thick strips.
Chop the spring onions in half down the stem and remove any dry/brown bits. (Unlike European recipes, we need to keep the green bits - these are super tasty and shouldn't be thrown away.)
Heat a dry pan on the hob but make sure it's not intensely hot. Smoke = bad! Dry grill the ginger, onion, garlic, coriander seeds, star anise and cinnamon stick until they are a little charred. This adds a lovely 'umami' flavour to the dish. Scrape any heavily charred black bits off and set aside.
Dust the skin of the chicken thigh with a pinch of salt and a light sprinkle of Chinese Five Spice. Place in an ovenproof dish and cook in the oven for 20 minutes.
Add the charred aromatics to the simmering pot (in a mesh spice bag if you have one) and add the other spices - black peppercorns, fennel seeds, cloves and half of the chopped red chilli.
Halve the lime. Juice one half and add to the broth.
Add the sugar and fish sauce to the simmering broth and stir.
Boil a full kettle and place the noodles (without breaking them) into a suitably large pan. Once boiled, add the water so that it covers the noodles. Cover the pan and allow noodles to steep for 10-15 minutes (or as the pack suggests). Give them a stir to make sure they're completely submerged and drain when ready to serve.
Remove the cooked chicken from the oven. It should be brown on top (crisp skin) and cooked through without being too dry. Set aside to rest for at 5-10 minutes.
Before serving ensure the broth has been cooking for at least 25-30 minutes. Taste and add salt and/or sugar. Sometimes another dash of lime juice does the trick.
Drain the broth or fish out the aromatics. Then put the broth back on the heat. Add the spring onion and simmer for a further 5 minutes.
Slice the chicken into (approx.) 2cm thick pieces.
Prepare a plate of aromatics - beansprouts, mint leaves, coriander leaves, the other half of the lime and the rest of the chilli.
Drain the noodles (I love tossing the noodles in a bit of sesame oil at this point, but I'm sure it isn't traditional!)
Place the noodles into the base of the two bowls. Put the chicken pieces on top.
Pour the hot broth with spring onions over the noodles and chicken.
Add a sprig of coriander to garnish.
Serve with the plate of aromatics to add as you wish. Another popular addition to the table is a bottle of Sriracha sauce - this is like a hot sweet chilli sauce.