“The Pho Cookbook.” By Andrea Nguyen. Ten Speed Press. 168 pages. $22.

For my first test drive of Andrea Nguyen’s “The Pho Cookbook” I brought out the biggest gun in my kitchen; the pressure cooker. If I was going to tackle a kind of food I love but find mysterious, in a I’ll-never-pull-that-off kind of way, I figured I might as well use a piece of equipment I find mysterious and, even with several years of experience canning with it, somewhat daunting.

Besides, in her recipe notes for “Pressure Cooker Chicken Pho,” Nguyen described this Vietnamese version of chicken noodle soup as the one she’d come up with in an effort to mimic her mother’s old-fashioned version, but without all the hours of simmering. I could have made one she described as “simple and satisfying” (40 minutes) but it called for store-bought broth, and I wanted more of a challenge. Plus, recently I’ve been tinkering around with turning my own homemade chicken broth into pho. Winging it, in other words, and the mixed results (OK, not great) convinced me I needed a real recipe. Out of all the 50-plus recipes in this book (including some for sides and other Vietnamese treats like sweet coffee), this one seemed best built for my harried lifestyle. Nguyen lists it with a handful of other “fast and fabulous” phos and said it would take only about 90 minutes total.

I didn’t get the bird into the pressure cooker until 7 p.m., and the bowls landed on the table just before 9. Given that I was multitasking by making pizza for my resident picky eater (who doesn’t eat soup unless it’s made from melted chocolate ice cream), Nguyen’s estimate was a good one. Moreover, she delivered on her promise of “very good results in little time” in a major way. This pho, from scratch and in a rush, tasted completely authentic and utterly delicious.

“The Pho Cookbook” is a slim book, but rich on photos of everything from street life in Vietnam to the funky broth ingredients an American home cook might not be familiar with, like cassia bark or seasonings ranging from fish sauce to Chinese yellow rock sugar (“the go-to sweetner for many pho cooks”). There’s also a handy photo labeling the six kinds of rice noodles Nguyen suggets for her dishes. It includes a history lesson about pho and even a pronunciation guide for those of us who have been bastardizing it by ordering “foe” instead of “fuh.” Among the things I learned from Nguyen’s engaging and accessible introductory chapters: Pho has only been around about a century, and the conjecture that the name comes from “feu,” referring to the French pot-au-feu, is unproven. In short, this book covers all the bases and could serve like a “Pho for Dummies,” but goes beyond that, offering a chance for non-novices to deepen their expertise.

Proof that a recipe makes all the difference: I have felt my way through plenty of improvised dishes based on recognizing flavors in professional versions. But it would never have occurred to me to put an apple, a Fuji to be precise, into the broth. Or maple syrup (which serves as a substitute for those who don’t want to hunt down the rock sugar). I used a 5-pound plus chicken and skipped the muslin-lined straining process, but otherwise didn’t vary the recipe. It doesn’t dictate how you garnish yours, but I served mine with bean sprouts, wedges of lime, fresh basil and a squeeze bottle of siracha, just the way I typically get it at a Vietnamese restaurant. (Nguyen has separate sections devoted to preparing bowls and garnishes). This soup serves four, although it was so good that in our case it fed just two, very heartily and happily. This cookbook is going in the permanent collection, and it is going to get very splattered.



Very lightly adapted from “The Pho Cookbook” by Andrea Nguyen. Nguyen said her technique of cooling the chicken in water gives a “silky” quality to the cooked flesh; she was right.

Serves 4


1 rounded tablespoon coriander seeds

3 whole cloves


Chubby 2-inch section ginger peeled, thickly sliced and bruised

1 large yellow onion (10 ounce), halved and thickly sliced

8 cups water

1 (4-pound) chicken

1 small Fuji apple, peeled, cored and cut into thumbnail-size chunks

3/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro sprigs


21/4 teaspoons fine sea salt

11/2 tablespoons fish sauce

About 1 teaspoon of organic sugar or 2 teaspoons maple syrup


10 ounces dried narrow flat rice noodles

About half the cooked chicken from the broth


1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, leafy tops only

1/2 small yellow or red onion, thinly cut against the grain and soaked in water for 10 minutes

2 thinly sliced green onions, green parts only

Put the coriander seeds and cloves in a 6- to 8-quart pressure cooker. Over medium heat, toast for several minutes, shaking or stirring, until fragrant. Add ginger and onion, stir until aromatic, about 45 to 60 seconds, to coax out a bit of flavor. (A little browning is OK).

Add 4 cups of water to arrest the cooking process. Put the chicken in the cooker, breast side up. Add the apple, cilantro, salt and remaining 4 cups of water. Lock the lid in place.

Bring to low pressure over high heat on a gas or induction stove, or medium heat on an electric stove. Lower the heat to maintain pressure, signaled by a gentle, steady flow of steam coming out of the valve. Cook for 15 minutes or, if your cooker only has a high pressure setting, for 12 minutes. When done, slide to a cool burner and let the pressure decrease naturally, about 20 minutes. Remove the lid, tilting it away from you to avoid the hot steam.

Let settle for 5 minutes before using tongs to transfer the chicken to a bowl; if parts fall off in transit, don’t worry. Add water to cover the chicken and soak for 10 minutes to cool and prevent drying. Pour off the water, partially cover, and set chicken aside to cool.

While the broth is cooking, or cooling, soak your rice noodles in hot tap water until pliable and opaque. Drain, rinse and drain well. Pull the chicken apart and skin it, reserving half of the chicken and all of the skin for another use. Skim fat from the broth, strain it. Discard the solids. You should have about 8 cups. If you’re using right away, season the broth with the fish sauce, maple syrup and extra salt as needed. When all your garnishes are ready, assemble the bowls as you please, heating up the broth if necessary, and then pouring it over the chicken, noodles, herbs and other garnishes, which you have divvied up into 4 individual bowls.

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