Two amazing soups that were begging to be mashed together.
Pho was created in Viet Nam in the 1880’s under French occupation, influenced by the French taste for beef based dishes. Some even speculate the name comes from the French Feu (fire, as in pot au feu), though others believe that the dish may have inspired by Chinese occupiers from the previous thousand years.
Matzah Ball Soup was likely invented thousands of years ago, from leftover Matzah meal and an egg. Matzah is a flat cracker that is the “bread of affliction” during the Passover Holiday, symbolizing the Israelites hasty escape from Egypt. But the soup we think of as Matzah Ball Soup came to particular prominence in Eastern European Shtetl’s with קניידלעך kneydlach dumplings.
For the broth:
- 2 medium unpeeled yellow onions, halved
- 1 large 4”-5” piece of ginger, cut lengthwise in half
- 5 quarts cold water
- 1 4-5 lb. chicken, cut up
- ½ lb. chicken wings
- 2 tsp kosher salt, or to taste
- 1 Tbsp rock sugar
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 star anise
- 1 tsp whole coriander seeds
- 2 Tbsp fish sauce, or to taste
- 1 small white onion, thinly sliced
- 4 scallions, thinly sliced
For the matzah balls:
- 1 cup matzah meal
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 4 large eggs, beaten
- ¼ cup oil
- ¼ cup minced scallion
For the toppings:
- 1 large bunch of fresh Thai basil
- limes cut into wedges
- 3 cups mung bean sprouts
- 2 jalapeños, sliced thin
- Hoisin sauce if desired
- Garlic chili sauce if desired
- Sriracha if desired
To make the broth:
- Char your onions and ginger. The onions and ginger should be nicely charred but still firm, this step will deepen the broth’s flavor. Once the onions and ginger are charred, remove the skin from the onions. Rinse the onion and ginger, and use a small knife to scrape off excess charred bits to prevent your broth from getting bitter.
- Cut your chicken into parts, separating the breasts, legs, wings and backbone. This will ensure that your chicken cooks evenly.
- In a small skillet over medium heat, toast the cinnamon, anise and coriander until lightly browned and fragrant 2-3 minutes. Don’t burn the spices. Add onion, ginger and chicken to a large pot. Fill the pot with 5 quarts of water. Bring the water to a simmer; continuously skim the impurities as they rise to the top.
- After about 20 minutes of simmering, or once they’re cooked through, remove the chicken breasts and allow them to cool. Add the toasted spices, salt and sugar to the pot. Continue to gently simmer the mixture for at least 1 hour for flavors to develop.
- Remove the remaining chicken parts and strain the liquid through a fine meshed sieve. Bring the liquid back to a simmer until the liquid has reduced by about a quarter. This will deepen the broth’s flavor.
- While simmering, shred the chicken meat and reserve for serving. Once reduced, turn off the heat and add the fish sauce to the broth. Taste, and add additional seasoning if desired.
To make the matzah balls:
- While the soup is simmering, in a large bowl whisk together the matzah meal, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Add the beaten egg and oil (schmaltz would be a lovely replacement for the oil. Schmaltz is rendered chicken fat). Add the scallions. Mix everything together until just combined.
- Refrigerate the mixture for at least 30 minutes.
- Form the matzah ball mixture into even-sized balls. You can determine the size based on your preference, but they will double when cooked.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Lower to a simmer and gently drop the matzah balls into simmering water. Place the lid on the pot and continue to simmer for 30 minutes. Once cooked store in their cooking liquid.
- Add the shredded chicken, raw sliced onion and scallions to a bowl. Ladle hot broth into the bowl. Add the matzah balls to the soup.
- Serve with Thai basil, bean sprouts, lime wedges, hoisin and hot sauces. Allow people to garnish and customize their pho to their liking.