Only on very rare occasions does Kurt make meal suggestions. I suppose I’m lucky that most of the time he’s happy to partake in whatever meal I’m planning to concoct. So, it’s a bit of a surprise when he does mention something particular he’d like to have. A few weeks ago, he started talking about how we hadn’t gone out for pho in a long time and then suggested I should try making it or something similar. Since I probably won’t hear another food request from him for the next year, I jumped at the opportunity to deliver on this one. I remembered a soup from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table that she describes as a mix of two of her favorite Vietnamese soups: pho ga which is a clear broth soup with noodles and la sa ga which is a curried coconut milk soup. She orders both frequently at Kim Lien in Paris. The combined soup in the book brings together the chicken broth, shredded meat, and noodles with coconut milk and lots of great flavors from lime, chiles, ginger, and spices. It’s easy to prepare since the chicken poaches in the broth and coconut milk of the soup, and while it’s cooking, you can ready the noodles and garnishes.
The first step of this soup is to make a spice packet with cilantro stems, star anise, coriander seeds, and peppercorns in some cheesecloth tied with kitchen twine. I always have cilantro in my herb garden in the fall, so I picked enough stems to use and saved the leaves for a garnish. The spice packet was added to a soup pot with chicken broth, coconut milk, finely chopped onion, sliced garlic, minced ginger, and some dried chiles. The mix was seasoned with fish sauce, a little brown sugar, and a pinch of salt. It was brought to a boil, and then boneless, skinless chicken breasts were added. The heat was reduced so the soup would simmer while the chicken cooked for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, I cooked some rice vermicelli, grabbed some Thai basil leaves, also from my herb garden, cut some lime wedges, and opened the bottle of chile oil. Once the chicken was cooked through, it was removed from the soup, allowed to cool, and shredded. Just before serving, I tasted the soup and added lime juice and more fish sauce. To serve, I placed some noodles and chicken in each bowl, ladled the soup into the bowls, and added garnishes.
To store the leftover soup, it worked well to place the noodles, chicken, and soup in three separate containers. That way, the noodles didn’t absorb any more liquid from the soup, and the soup could be re-heated by itself. With the spices, aromatics, chiles, coconut milk, and all the great garnishes, this soup was big on flavor. It hit all the notes Kurt was looking for in a soup, and the noodles and chicken made it a substantial meal. Now, I wonder when he’ll have another special request and what it will be.