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Daring Cooks - Vietnamese Chicken Pho and Wanton Napoleon

Yes, I sign up for everything at the same time :) Last month when I signed up for the Daring Bakers blogroll, I decided to throw taking-it-a-step-at-a-time to the wind and go with the cooking challenges as well. So far (I know it's been only a month... still...), I am having loadsa fun. Two new things to try out every month; I couldn't be happier! So far it's been some French and a bit of Asian now!

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. The book hits bookshelves sometime this month.

Some background on the Pho from our hostess -

"So what is Vietnamese Pho? Well, it’s like the most insanely delicious noodle soup popular in Vietnam. The broth is simmered for hours and hours with either beef knuckle/leg bone or with a whole chicken. Other accompaniments include ribbons of rice noodles, fresh herbs like cilantro or basil, a wedge of lime or lemon, fresh bean sprouts and fresh sliced chilies if desired.

What makes Pho so different than any other type of noodle soup is the spices that go into the simmering broth. Warm spices like coriander, star anise, cloves, cinnamon, fresh ginger transform an ordinary broth into a very authentic Vietnamese Pho.

So off I went, thrilled to be trying out one of my favorite comfort cuisines - East Asian. There have been soo many times when I have craved Thai or Malaysian or Vietnamese. But, I have never really tried to make them at home except for perhaps Thai red curry. Honestly, I think I found them to be a bit daunting. So, I was happy for the excuse to step out of my comfort zone!

And, guess what! I have actually never had Pho before. Well... I don't usually order soups at restaurants and I am not really a huge fan of Udon (I ate a lot of them when I was in Tokyo). So, as it was, it was a complete new experience for me that I thoroughly enjoyed!

Jaden's recipe is so simple that it is really hard to mess up. I, honestly, was blown away by its flavor given its unpretentious ingredients. It takes less than an hour to make and I imagine it as the perfect family style dinner on a cold muggy day, slurping loudly on the flavorful broth. The soup is just subliminal.

Oh! My favorite part of the pho was the optional accompaniments. It's so fun when every one at the table can customize their dinner to their taste, isn't it?! I chose to go with red onions, red pepper, spicy green chilis, fresh coriander, shaved button mushrooms with plum sauce and sriracha sauce for extra kick!!

There was also a sweet side to this challenge. We had to make something dessert with wantons. I made a very simple fried wanton napoleon with a banana and chocolate filling between the layers. The flavors come through clean and I love bananas with chocolate sauce. So, it was a perfect bite to end a lovely Vietnamese meal!

Vietnamese Chicken Pho
(courtesy Jaden Hair)

For the Chicken Pho Broth:
2 tbsp. whole coriander seeds
4 whole cloves
2 whole star anise
2 quarts (2 liters/8 cups/64 fluid ounces) store-bought or homemade chicken stock
1 whole chicken breast (bone in or boneless)
½ onion
1 3-inch (7.5 cm) chunk of ginger, sliced and smashed with side of knife
1 to 2 T sugar
1 to 2 T fish sauce
1 lb. (500 grams/16 ounces) dried rice noodles (about ¼ inch/6 mm wide)

Accompaniments: (that I used)
Fresh cilantro tops (leaves and tender stems)
1/2 cup shaved red onions
1/4 cup red bell pepper julienned
1/2 cup shaved button mushrooms
1/2 lime, cut into 4 wedges
3-4 green chilies, sliced
Sriracha chili sauce
Plum sauce

To make the chicken Pho broth, heat a frying pan over medium heat. Add the coriander seeds, cloves and star anise and toast until fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Immediately spoon out the spices to avoid burning.

In a large pot, add all the ingredients (including the toasted spices) and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer for 20 minutes, skimming the surface frequently.

Use tongs to remove the chicken breasts and shred the meat with your fingers, discarding the bone if you have used bone-in breasts. Taste the broth and add more fish sauce or sugar, if needed. Strain the broth and discard the solids.

Prepare the noodles as per directions on the package. Ladle the broth into bowls. Then divide the shredded chicken breast and the soft noodles evenly into each bowl. Have the accompaniments spread out on the table. Each person can customize their own bowl with these ingredients.

Banana and Chocolate Wanton Napoleon
(for each)

3 wanton wrappers
sliced banana
4 oz semi sweet chocolate
2 T heavy cream
powdered sugar
2 inch cookie cutter

Cut wanton wrapper with cookie shaper and fry until golden. Cook the chocolate with the cream in the microwave in 30 second bursts until the chocolate has melted into the cream to make a nice sauce. Stir in sugar if you like your sauce sweeter.

To assemble, place a wanton on plate. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Spread a bit of chocolate sauce and then layer banana slices. Spoon some more sauce on the bananas. Top with another fried wanton and repeat. Finish with a final layer of wanton. Sprinkle more sugar and serve.


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