Today is Mom’s Birthday.
And like every year on her birthday, I’ll fix up a big ol’ steak dinner in her honor. Our tiny giant was quite the carnivore after all. A trait that was definitely passed on to my sister and many of our munchkins.
In years past, I’d post some variation of a steak recipe for her birthday, but this year I thought I would share something comforting – Phở Gà. Because what’s more comforting than chicken noodle soup?
When I was digging through old photos last night, I came upon the one below that I just love. Mom (second from the right) was barely in her mid-teens here and our Ông Ngoại, our maternal grandpa, was in the suit in the back row. There aren’t too many pictures of him so it always makes me smile when we do find one.
And what about our grand uncle seated in the middle? He’s definitely putting out some Vietnamese Colonel Sanders vibes, right?
I’m 100% for it.
I’m also rather obsessed with Mom’s look here. That hair…. those shades!
Very beach chic!
As time has passed, I often wonder what is it that I miss most of her.
Her eyes that somewhat twinkled when she smiled? Maya inherited those….
Her sharp-witted comments? She was not to be messed with.
Her constant rearranging of her plants and furniture? She used to love changing things up.
Then a few months ago, I read an article from a woman who wrote:
“When I lost my mom, I also lost her food”.
And that hit me hard.
It’s exactly how my siblings and I feel.
Of course it’s so much more than just her cooking—which until the day I leave this existence, I will tout that she was THE best.
Cooking was Mom’s way to show her love.
Whether it be the time and painstaking details she would put into elaborate meals or even the quick cooking tips she would give us to prepare our own food. It was her medium of communication.
Which, if you have been with me for the past few years, was the genesis of our monthly family dinners. At the root, we sibbies get together and cook a meal together. Sometimes it’s elaborate and I think that I would NEVER put so much effort into an appetizer or other dish if it wasn’t for my family. And sometimes it’s just comfort food that makes us want to do a little food-shimmy. But there’s never a month that occurs where I don’t think Mom would have loved it that we’ve created this tradition.
And of course, I always talk to her while I cook since I have her photo perched in my kitchen. Very fitting.
One of the reasons why I wanted to share Phở Gà today was because I think this Vietnamese staple really does epitomize some of the cooking lessons Mom shared with us. Although fairly simple, every step and every ingredient counts.
You always have to scrub the chicken with salt and then parboil for a clean broth.
The onion and ginger must be charred for added depth of flavor.
Spices must be toasted — but she also wasn’t opposed to using pre-packaged spice packets.
And of course, the whole thing must be simmered, low and slow. It takes time but every step has its purpose.
Love in bowl form.
Happy, Happy Birthday Mom.
I know we’re keeping you amused with all of our cooking shenanigans.
We love and miss you, always. ❤
ps. How did you keep your waistline the same tiny diameter as that palm tree?!?
Phở Gà (Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup)
Makes approximately 6 bowls
1 4-5 lb. whole chicken
1 whole yellow onion
1 4-5 inch piece of fresh ginger
2 small cinnamon sticks
5 whole star anise pods
12 whole cloves
1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
nước mắm – fish sauce
1 package bánh phở – rice noodles
cilantro and other fresh herbs of your choice
scallions, chopped and sliced into 1-inch pieces
nước mắm gừng – ginger dipping sauce
Place the chicken in the sink and liberally sprinkle salt over it. Using the salt as an exfoliate, scrub the chicken well and rinse with cool water. Place the chicken in a large pot and cover with cold water. Set the heat to high and boil for about 10 minutes. At this point, a lot of the impurities and “scum” will have boiled out. Carefully dump out the water and rinse the chicken thoroughly to remove all the impurities. If you intend on using the same pot for the phở , wash it well before adding the chicken back in.
Pour in about 6-7 quarts of water over the cleaned chicken and bring it to a boil. Once the water has come a boil, lower the heat to a gentle simmer.
While this happens, char your onion and ginger. If you have a gas burner, place the flame on medium heat. Hold the onion and garlic with metal tongs directly over the flame and rotate until they have charred all over. Alternately you can place them on a sheet a few inches under your oven broiler and broil for several minutes—flipping every so often. Once the yellow onion and ginger have been charred, place them into the pot with the chicken. Allow the contents to simmer, partially covered, for about 45 minutes or until the chicken has cooked through.
Carefully remove the whole chicken from the pot and place it on a shallow dish. Allow the contents of the pot to continue simmering. After the chicken has rested for about 10 minutes, carefully (it’ll be quite hot!) carve the chicken into slices and bite-sized pieces. Cover the chicken with plastic wrap and set aside. Place the leftover chicken bones (I throw the wings in too) back into the pot. Allow the contents to simmer, partially covered for about 1.5 hours. During that time, periodically skim and discard any impurities that may have formed on top of the broth. You’ll want a semi-dark but very clear broth like a consommé.
Meanwhile, take the dried spices and place them in a small skillet. Over low heat, toast the spices for a few minutes until they darken slightly and become fragrant. Remove them from the heat and place them in a sheet of cheesecloth. Tie the cloth up and place it into the pot with a 2 tablespoons of nước mắm. Simmer for another 45 minutes.
While the broth simmers, prepare the noodles according to the directions on the package. Usually if using fresh noodles, you’ll want to boil for a few seconds before draining well. If using dried, you’ll want to soak them before a quick boil.
After the broth has finished simmering, taste and add additional nước mắm if needed.
Assemble the phở gà by dividing the cooked noodles between the bowls. Top each bowl with chicken slices, scallions and cilantro. Pour the boiling broth over the noodles and serve with bean sprouts, jalapeno slices, lime and nước mắm gừng on the side.