Fed up with all that heavy food? Yes, me too a bit. Probably that second, or was it third?, slice of blue cheese tart that did it. This gorgeous Vietnamese soup is the perfect antidote to all of that buttery, floury heaviness and just right for refreshing the palate and brain after a few weeks of stodge. I have made Thai soup lots and lots of times and, although the basic ingredients aren’t that different, I have to say I prefer this. It might have something to do with the star anise and white pepper, which are always included in every Vietnamese recipe I have tried and though the latter isn’t my favourite ingredient, the former is becoming one. My best friend told me that she put a couple of anise in the beef mince she was cooking for her shepherd’s pie, post reading about it in Heston Blumenthal’s new book. I tried it cold and the anise added warmth to the flavour, if that makes sense. It does something wonderful to this soup too.
This recipe is adapted from Around My French Table, still high up on my current preferred cookbooks. Damn, the recipes are long, you might say when you see it but, in fact, they only look long; in reality, with a bit of judicious pruning they are nowhere near as daunting. What’s more, having tried baking, soups and stews from it I have yet to encounter a dud; that is quite a feat. I cut this one back quite a lot because a) there is no way I am wrapping spices up in cheesecloth and tying them with kitchen string (by the way, Dorie’s editor, you forgot to remove them) and b) Dorie poaches her chicken whole, cools the soup then cuts the chicken into small pieces, then reheats it; I decided just to cut the chicken into smaller pieces in the first place to avoid all that faffing and, finally, c) most dried noodles available today only need soaking in cold or hot water not cooking. Once I’d done all of that cutting, this was a 30-minute wonder. And it really is wonderful. Positively brimming with health too if, unlike me, you manage to eat just one bowl…
Vietnamese soup (adapted from Around My French Table)
For two to three portions you will need:
Cupboard (or things you may already have)
small white onion, ½
garlic cloves, 2
chicken stock, 750ml
brown sugar, 1 scant teaspoon
salt, to taste
Shopping list (don’t be scared now…)
fresh coriander, small bunch with stems if possible
star anise, 2
coriander seeds, ½ teaspoon
ground white pepper, ½ teaspoon
fresh ginger, a piece about 1 cm
dried red chillies, 2
coconut milk, ½ normal-sized tin i.e. 200ml
fish sauce, about 25ml (a tablespoon)
bone-in chicken pieces, leg or thighs, 250g (you may prefer to use chicken breasts but it won’t be as tasty; meat on the bone is more flavourful)
rice or egg noodles, 75g
Optional (to garnish)
beansprouts, a handful (about 50g)
fresh mint leaves
1. First, wash the coriander, trim the ends then cut the stems off. Chop one of the limes in half and juice the halves.
2. Peel and chop the onion, garlic and ginger finely.
3. Make up the stock, if necessary.
4. Using kitchen scissors, cut the chicken off the bone and into small pieces. Keep the bones.
5. Put the coriander stems, chopped onion, garlic and ginger, stock, sugar, star anise, coriander seeds, white pepper, dried red chillies, coconut milk, fish sauce and pinch of salt into a saucepan and bring to the boil.
6. Lower the heat so that the liquid is just simmering then add the trimmed chicken meat and the bones (they will need removing at the end but they will enrich the flavour), cover and cook until the chicken is cooked through (this can take from 5 to 15 minutes depending on the size of the pieces).
7. Whilst the chicken is cooking, prep the noodles according to their packet instructions. Once done, tip them into a colander, rinse in lots of cold water and drain well.
8. As soon as the chicken is cooked, remove the bones if used, bring the soup back to the boil for a second or two, lower the heat then add the noodles. Season to taste with the lime juice, more fish sauce and salt.
9. Finally, stir in the coriander leaves and any of the garnishes, if using (I added only beansprouts), and serve with some extra lime quarters for squeezing over the top.