Daring Cooks October: Phở Ga (and a little extra something)

Fall is here: the days are getting shorter, the temperature is creeping towards zero, and the trees are showing off their new colors of orange, red and yellow. It's the perfect season to escape to the kitchen and make stews and casseroles, apple pie and hot chocolate. Or as in this month's Daring Cooks challenge: a flavorful, warm soup.

The Daring Cooks had a special guest host this month, Jaden Hair of the blog Steamy Kitchen, who just published her first cookbook: The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook. As the challenge, she graciously shared her recipe for a Vietnamese chicken noodle soup, Phở Ga.

We had great expectations for this challenge. I love noodle soups, and Vietnamese food has never disappointed me. I remember the Phở Ga I had at a small Vietnamese place in a back road in Jordan, Hong Kong. It was packed with flavor of warm, fragrant spices, the noodles were perfectly cooked and the chicken oh so tender.

I was very excited about getting to recreate something so yummy in my own kitchen. We could either do a quick version of Phở, using store-bought chicken stock, or a longer version, where you make the chicken stock yourself. We of course opted for the longer version - making the broth from scratch would surely mean that the soup would be super delicious!

Meet the meat, up close and personal.

We followed the recipe perfectly, and even threw in an extra chicken carcass that we had laying in the freezer, to get some extra bone and marrow in there. We took great care to toast the spices and char the ginger and onion - these are steps that both Jaden and other Daring Cooks said were essential in creating a rich, flavorful broth. Judging from the smell coming from the oven and the stove, it would indeed be lovely.

We had started cooking kind of late, so the clook was approaching 9pm when I finally dipped a spoon into the broth in anticipation of what was to follow: the taste of a rich broth with layers of flavor from the spices.

Total anticlimax.

The broth was watery, and didn't taste much else than chicken fat. We were so disappointed. We really don't know what went wrong. We both went back and re-read the recipe, but no, we hadn't missed anything. The only reasons we could come up with as to why the broth was so flavorless were:
1. We couldn't find whole coriander seeds, only ground. We used the same amount, they were fresh and had a lot of aroma, so I can't imagine that this would have done that much for the end result.
2. It hadn't been simmering enough. The recipe said to simmer for 1½ hours on "low". We did exactly that - we even let it simmer for closer to two hours, but maybe we should have cranked up the heat a little bit to get some more bubbles going. We think this was problem.

We ate the soup with all the sides: rice noodles, the cooked chicken breast, bean sprouts, red onions, red chilies, freshly squeezed lime and fresh cilantro. We had also found sriracha sauce in the store (another bottle of strange condiments for the fridge), and we found ourselves pouring a lot of sriracha into the soup to make it taste something.

While we were eating, we had turned up the heat on the stove so that the broth was simmering more vigorously. The recipe yielded a lot of broth, and the idea was to freeze the remainder, so that we can make more Phở in the future. I want to say that the broth tasted more after it had boiled for another hour or so, but I couldn't really tell, so maybe that's just me wanting to like this recipe. Because I really want it to be great. It has potential, definitely. But in this version, I'm sorry to say, it was only... meh.

Anyway, the remainder of the broth is now in the freezer, and I hope that when I thaw it, heat it and add those lovely Phở ingredients, I will be pleasantly surprised. Maybe the extra boiling was the secret key to a flavorful, rich Phở. I will report back when we have tried it.

The recipe for the long version of Phở Ga can be found on the Steamy Kitchen blog. Jaden also has a recipe for a beef Phở (the challenge said that we could do chicken, beef, seafood or vegetarian/vegan). The recipe for the quick version of Phở Ga can be found on the Daring Kitchen website, where you also can see the other Daring Cooks' creations.

The fine print:
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.

But wait, there's more!

As a bonus, Jaden gave us her recipe for deep fried chocolate wontons (you'll find the recipe in the Daring Kitchen). This optional challenge was to make a creative wonton dessert. Sadly there were no wonton wrappers in our grocery store, and it was way too cold to bike across town to the Chinese shop (we got our first snowfall yesterday; it didn't stay on the ground, but still kind of early in the year), so I had to use phyllo dough instead. I hope this will count as "in the spirit of the challenge"! Voilà, my dessert:

Ganache filled banana in a wrapper

Bananas (the thicker and straighter, the better)
Dark chocolate ganache (I used this recipe)
Phyllo dough
Melted butter
Vegetable oil for deep frying
Vanilla ice cream
Caramel sauce (I used this recipe, scroll down for caramel sauce)

Peel the bananas and cut them in smaller sections of about 5 cm. Use an apple corer to make a hole through the banana (this is why you want straight and thick bananas).

Bananas with holes, ready to be filled with ganache.

Make sure your ganache is soft but not runny. Use a pastry bag to fill the banana with ganache (this didn't work for me so I had to use my fingers, which was messy but got the job done). Place the chocolate filled bananas (standing up) in the freezer for about one hour.

Things to remember about phyllo dough: the sheets are very delicate and need to be stored under a wet cloth, otherwise they'll dry out and break apart!

Cut the phyllo dough into squares of about 15×17 cm. Take a sheet of phyllo, brush it with some melted butter, and put another sheet on top. Place a chocolate-filled banana piece on the short end of the square, roll it up and twist the ends (carefully!) to make it look like wrapped candy.

Place your little packages in the freezer for at least twenty minutes. Heat the oil for deep frying. Deep fry two rolls at the time for 2-3 minutes, turning them halfway through. Place on a paper towel to get rid of excess oil before plating. Dust with confectioner's sugar. Serve with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce.

Needless to say, this was incredibly yummy!


  1. Sorry to hear that your pho was disappointing! I really did love it and we even did not use any sauce as the taste in itself was already very very good. Weird though that you made the broth yourself (and I did not) and it tasted only bleh... I can imagine the disappointment after all that work!

    You should try again though, maybe see if it works better with storebought stock? Your dumplings look delicious!

  2. Junglefrog, thanks for your sympathy! I'm definitely giving it another go. And I'll try to sex up that leftover broth I have in the freezer with more spices and stuff - there's no way I'm wasting it after all that work!

    And yes, those dumplings were indeed delish :)

  3. sorry to hear it didn't turn out as well as you'll like..we typically prefer beef, but when we do make pho ga, it's whole chicken and chicken bones as well.

  4. So sorry that you were disappointed! I don't eat chicken pho as the flavours are lot more muted than beef, Perhaps making the beef pho would be up your alley in terms of flavour?

    Hope you succeed in your next attempt :)

  5. Ravenous and Karen, yeah maybe I'll like the beef version better, I'm definitely going to give it a shot sometimes.

  6. love your wanton toffee!! bananas stuffed with ganache just sounds heavenly!

  7. Those wontons are so adorable - they look like candies! YUM.

    We, too are hoping for some improvement on the next round of pho...I've never had a chicken version, and after reading this, I think I'll stick with beef! Great photos...nice work!

  8. Asha and gatheraround, thank you! I'm happy that at least the dessert part turned out a success!

  9. Shame your Pho wasn't as you wanted it to be. I had partly the same problem, but I wrote my failure down to not having enough experience with making my own stock. It was the first time... I ended up being sneaky and added a cube of chicken stock to make it taste more like chicken and less like spices. And that did the trick for me. I bet that when you make it again it will be tastier, or as suggested you can make it with store bought stock.

    That said, your wontons look really tasty!

  10. That sucks that it didn't seem to turn out to your liking. but hey at least you tried right?
    by the way, I LOVE your blog name.

  11. Moonberry juice: we had a similar problem them, but kind of the opposite one - my problem was that the stock tasted only of chicken and not enough spices. We should combine our broths :)
    Basht: yeah, I'm glad to have tried it and I'm definitely making pho again. Very tempted to try the beef version. I have to give my husband credit for the blog name :)

  12. Well at least your challenge ended on a good note - Next time will be better =D.

  13. I totally agree with you!! The broiled onions and ginger smelled FANTASTIC and I was soooo excited about this broth . . until tasting it and my reaction was similar. Meh. Oh well . . . maybe next time with beef bones!!

    I love your cute dessert idea!

  14. Sorry to hear it wasn't to expectations I simmered for 8 hours (I always do that) and added some bones and tendon maybe increasing the time and some more bones especially from a roast chicken might help. Love you hollow banana shot and those wontons sounds delicious. Cheers from Audax in Audax in Australia.

  15. love your ganache filled banana filling, what a great idea, I bet that's really delicious :)

  16. Lauren: yeah, the dessert part was the best :)
    Jen: glad someone else has the same thoughts about the challenge. Yup, maybe next time...!
    Audax: with the leftover broth in the freezer, I plan to simmer it longer, and add more spices and more charred ginger and onion. Maybe that will help improve the taste.
    Olive: thank you!

  17. So sorry the pho didn't do it for you, but those banana wontons are genius!

  18. I'm so sorry your broth didn't turn out the way you had hoped, but OMG, your ganache filled banana phyllo wontons are spectacular and mouth watering!!! I'm stealing that idea! lol

  19. Natashya and Lisa Michelle: thanks for the sympathy with the pho fail. :) And do make the banana wontons - they're pretty darn great if I may say so myself... ;)

  20. i'm sorry you didn't like your broth. i made a beef version and was pretty happy with how it turned out.