In this The Willowbee Tree story, “The Jewel Island”, the Willowbee Children receive a gift of coins and sparkly crystals from their aunt, and Clancy immediately wants the "treasure" for his own collection. This turns into an argument between the three of them, and it is not until the Willow Tree takes them to Halong Bay in Vietnam that they all learn what treasure truly is.
If I were looking for treasure in Vietnam, I would go no further than a local noodle shop. There I could sip a bowl of proper Vietnamese pho (pronounced “fu”, like “fun” without the “n”) and that would be all the riches I would need!
Ordinarily, you'd bind the spices up in cheesecloth and let the broth cook for the better part of a day to give it the deepest possible flavor. Because that time commitment is not always practical, I've come up with a cheat's version in order to get my pho into my tummy faster.
For this version, be sure to use chicken with bone and skin included, as it will give the resulting broth so much more flavor. Also, be aware that even though it's “quick” it will still take an hour to simmer — you just can't rush it much more than that — but the treasure that awaits you at the end will be worth it.
“Quick” Chicken Pho (serves 4)
3 chicken thighs, with bone and skin
a thumb sized piece of fresh ginger, chopped into large chunks
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
5 star anise
a cinnamon stick
1 package rice noodles
1 bunch bok choy
½ cup shredded carrots
salt, to taste
Put the chicken, ginger, oyster sauce, star anise, and cinnamon into a large stock pot and cover it with about 12 cups of water. Bring the pot to a boil, then let the mixture simmer for about an hour. At the end of that time, skim out the chicken and spices, but reserve the water, which will have transformed into a magically scented broth. Keep the broth hot as you complete these next steps.
Separate the chicken from the spices as best you can, and use a pair of forks to shred it and remove the bones and skin. (You can discard the spices.) Add the chicken meat back to the simmering broth.
Next, get a separate pot of water boiling to cook the noodles. While the water is heating, rinse and roughly chop the bok choy. Cook the rice noodles according to the package directions.
When the noodles are almost done, add the bok choy and shredded carrots to the broth, and turn down the heat until it's just enough to keep the soup warm. Taste the broth and add a pinch of salt if you think it's needed.
When the noodles are finished, rinse them well. Put a pile of noodles into each serving bowl, and ladle warm broth over the top. Serve with lime wedges, bean sprouts, jalapenos, soy sauce, and/or hot sauce.
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About the Author
The Sparkle Kitchen Series is created by Meryl Carver-Allmond.
Meryl lives in a hundred-year-old house near the prairie with her sweet husband, two preschoolers, one puppy, one gecko, and about ten chickens. While she's been writing since she could pick up a pen, in recent years she's discovered the joy of photography, too. She feels lucky to be able to combine those skills, along with a third passion — showing people that cooking for themselves can be healthy and fun — in her Sparkle Kitchen posts.