When I moved away for college, this was the dish I made regularly. With its hearty broth, rice vermicelli, shredded chicken, steamed pork roll, fried eggs and fresh greens, this soup was (and still is) the perfect combination of Viet flavors. It’s a dish that was pretty simple to make and I felt good about cooking some authentic Vietnamese food for myself. My recipe hasn’t changed much over the years, except back then I varied the greens depending on what I could find. I’ve been known to throw in bean sprouts, mint, spinach–whatever was convenient and inexpensive. One ingredient I could never forgo when enjoying this soup was the shrimp paste. (You simply take a dab or more of the shrimp paste and mix it in the soup.) For those not familiar with shrimp paste, it is fermented ground shrimp with salt. “Yikes!” you say? Yes, it’s a pungent, potent condiment that is extremely salty. That’s one of the reasons I don’t over-salt the broth. It’s quite common to add salt or fish sauce to your bowl depending upon individual tastes. And if you’re like me, you’ll load up on the shrimp paste. If you’ve never had shrimp paste, I encourage you to give it a try and let me know if you’re a fan!
Watch the video below for instructions.
1.5 lbs chicken breast with ribs
1 medium sweet onion
1/2 tsp salt
10 cups water
2 Tbsp fish sauce
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 lb steamed pork roll (cha lua)
2 Tbsp milk
olive oil or non-stick cooking spray
8-10 cups cooked rice vermicelli
1 cup Vietnamese coriander, washed and trimmed
2 red chilies, finely chopped
2 limes, cut into wedges
1 cup cilantro, washed and finely chopped
3 green onion tops, finely diced
Peel onion and cut into large wedges. Add onions, salt, chicken breast and water into a medium stock pot. Make sure the water covers the chicken completely. Heat over high heat. As the liquid starts to boil, skim the foam from the top. (This helps to keep the broth clear.) Continue skimming as the broth comes to a rapid boil. Turn heat to low. Cover pot leaving a slight opening and simmer for 25-30 minutes depending on the size of chicken breast. To check to see if the chicken is done, cut into the thickest part of the breast meat using a sharp knife. If the juices in the meat run clear, the chicken is cooked. If the juices are pink, cook for another 5 minutes and then recheck. Remove chicken from stockpot and place on a plate. Allow to cool until it can be handled.
Remove the onions from the broth and discard. Season the broth by adding fish sauce and black pepper.
Remove steamed pork roll from its wrapping. Cut into thin slices, approximately 1/8-inch thick and then cut into thin strips.
Add eggs, milk, salt and pepper into a medium bowl. Whisk together until well blended. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat until hot. Spritz a bit of olive oil or non-stick cooking spray into the pan. Pour the egg mixture into the pan. Swirl the pan so the egg is evenly distributed in the pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until the egg is no longer runny. Gently flip the egg over and cook on the other side for another 2 minutes. Remove from the pan and allow to cool slightly. Slice into thin strips similar to the steamed pork roll.
Use your fingers to shred the chicken into thin strips. Remove any fat or cartilage as you’re doing this.
To assemble the soup, add a generous amount of the Vietnamese coriander to the bottom of the bowl. Add the rice noodles on top. Layer the shredded chicken, steamed pork roll and fried egg. Ladle the broth covering the noodles. Garnish with the green onions, cilantro and red chilies.
Serve with fresh limes and shrimp paste.
Yields: 4-6 servings