According to Kim, chao and pho are the two most common Vietnamese dishes. Chao, a rice porridge cooked in chicken broth, is generally eaten for breakfast. Pho, a clear beef soup with noodles and flavorful garnishes, is considered a hangover cure, and is a complete meal in and of itself. I'd had pho before at Pho75 in Rosslyn, and loved it. Chao was totally new to me.
These are not quick dishes to make. The broth for the chao, which I made from scratch as per the recipe, took about 5 hours and required me to disassemble a whole chicken. I'd be interested to try it again with packaged chicken broth and see whether I notice a difference. But I enjoyed the finished product, and Kim said it was spot on. Pho is supposed to cook all day (at a minimum) to infuse the broth with a robust beefy flavor. It's a great way to use less-tender parts of a cow like tripe and oxtail. Obviously I didn't have all day to sit on a pot of soup, so I used the America's Test Kitchen recipe, which was ready in about an hour and only used beef tenderloin. It was good (especially the sliced beef), but Kim said it was definitely an American version of the recipe: many of the flavors were there, but it didn't have the meatiness you get from the real thing. I also accidentally got wheat noodles instead of rice noodles, but they seemed fine; I just cooked them according to the package directions instead of the recipe.
I had a great time eating with Kim. He was super helpful toward the end when the last-minute prep got hectic, and it was great to find out how authentic (or not) the finished dishes were. If you know a cuisine and want to get involved with my blog, send an email to 45sqftkitchen at gmail dot com. I'd love to have you!
3 1/2 to 4-lb chicken, cut into serving pieces, including back and giblets (exclude liver)
10 cups water
3 tablespoons Chinese rice wine or medium-dry sherry
3 (1/4-inch-thick) slices fresh ginger
3 scallions, halved crosswise and smashed with flat side of a heavy knife
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup long-grain rice
Accompaniment: fine julienne of fresh ginger, thinly sliced scallions, and Asian sesame oil
Bring chicken and water to a boil in a 5-quart heavy pot, skimming froth. Add wine, ginger, scallions, and salt and cook at a bare simmer, uncovered, 20 minutes, or until breast meat is just cooked through. Transfer 1 breast half with tongs to a bowl and continue to cook stock at a bare simmer, skimming froth as necessary, 2 hours and 40 minutes. Meanwhile, cool chicken breast long enough to remove skin and bones, returning skin and bones to stock.
Cool breast meat completely and tear into shreds. Chill shreds, covered, and bring to room temperature before serving.
Pour stock through a large seive into a large bowl and discard solids. (you should have about 8 cups: if less, add water; if more, cook longer after adding rice.) Return stock to cleaned pot and add rice. Bring to a boil and stir. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered until consistency of oatmeal, about 1 3/4 hours, stirring frequently during last 1/2 hour of cooking. (Chao will continue to thicken as it stands. thin with water if necessary.)
Season with salt. Serve topped with chicken and accompaniments.