There is pho. And then there is pho pancake.
Yes, my friends, get ready for something all together different and delicious.
Leave it to my friend and cookbook author extraordinaire Andrea Nguyen to come up with this novel version of everyone’s favorite soup noodles.
“Pan Fried Pho Noodles” is from her newest tome, “The Pho Cookbook” (Ten Speed Press), which already went into its second printing before it was even officially released in February.
You may have enjoyed steaming huge bowls of brothy noodles countless times at neighborhood Vietnamese restaurants. But with this book, you’ll learn how to make your own — from preparing the broth from scratch to choosing noodles and assembling garnishes and toppings.
Depending upon how labor-intensive you’re feeling, you can choose among quick versions of pho (which calls for doctoring purchased low-sodium broth or buying a rotisserie chicken) to pressure-cooker recipes that speed up the process to non-traditional riffs such as seafood pho.
You can even round out the meal with the recipes for “Rice Paper Salad Rolls,” “Cashew, Coconut, and Cabbage Salad,” and creamy “Coconut Coffee.”
Being Chinese-American, I am a sucker for chow fun noodles, the wide, flat, soft rice noodles that are often stir-fried or plopped into bowls of broth. That’s why “Pan Fried Pho Noodles” caught my eye.
You can buy packages of fresh chow fun noodles or dried ones at Chinese markets. Use your fingers to separate into individual strands. This takes a little patience. Just a little. But it’s crucial to the recipe. After all, you wouldn’t want a wad of stuck-together noodles here just as you wouldn’t in your spaghetti Bolognese.
The separated noodles get shaped into a pancake and crisped in a frying pan until golden. It’s like making Shanghai crispy noodles, only using much thicker, floppier noodles instead.
Once the noodle pancake gets browned on both sides, make the “Chicken, Mushroom, and Bok Choy” stir-fry that is served on top.
This is not your overflowing bowl of broth-type of pho. In fact, there’s hardly any broth, just a generous amount of saucy chicken and veggies that flavor the noodle pancake. The recipe calls for chicken breasts, but I used thighs instead. It also makes use of leftover chicken pho broth, but Nguyen gives you an easy substitution if you don’t have that. It also calls for chicken pho fat, but if you don’t have any, Nguyen advises to just use canola oil instead.
I wouldn’t say this dish necessarily tastes of what you think of when craving pho. It is something entirely all its own — stupendous with its tangle of noodles that are at once crisp yet also custardy and chewy. I love the texture of this noodle pancake so much that I could practically eat it all on its own, just tearing into it with my fingers. Yes, I have no shame. But it also would be fantastic with just about any kind of stir-fry topping it.
Get to know another side of pho. You’ll be thankful you did.
Panfried Pho Noodles
(Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish)
5 ounces dried wide flat rice noodles, or 14-16 ounces fresh chow fun rice noodles
3 1/2 tablespoons canola or other neutral oil
Chicken, Mushroom and Bok Choy stir-fry topping (recipe follows)
Scant 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
About 1 tablespoon water
If using dried rice noodles, boil them in water for about 7 minutes, until just cooked. Drain, flush with cold water, and drain again. Transfer to a large plate or small baking sheet. Toss with 1 1/2 teaspoons of the oil and then spread the noodles out to dry and cool completely, about 15 minutes. The noodles may be refrigerated for up to 3 days; bring to room temperature before seasoning and panfrying.
When starting with fresh rice noodles, do your best to separate the noodles into strands or layers (they may be sticky or hard). Set aside.
Prep the topping ingredients. Keep them by the stove so you can easily stir-fry them after panfrying the noodles.
Season the noodles just before panfrying. In a medium bowl, stir together the salt, sugar, cornstarch, and water; add the noodles and toss to coat. To panfry the noodles, use a 10-inch nonstick skillet and heat over medium or medium-high. Add about 2 tablespoons of the oil to film the bottom of the skillet. Add the noodles, spreading them into a large pancake. Let gently sizzle for 4 to 5 minutes; until light golden on the underside (check the rim or lift to peek) and stuck together as a nest of sorts.
Drizzle about 1 tablespoon of the oil on the noodles, then flip with a wide spatula or confident sharp jerk of the skillet handle. Fry the second side, adjusting the heat as needed, for 3 to 4 minutes, until crisp chewy and pale gold; some brown spots are okay. When done, slide the skillet into the oven to keep warm (there’s no need to turn it on).
Stir-fry the topping as instructed in its recipe. When done, take off the heat. Slide the noodles onto a serving plate, with the crispier and more handsome side up. cut with kitchen scissors into 4 or 6 wedges. Top with the stir-fry and serve.
Notes: If the noodles soften while waiting for the stir-fry, refry them over medium-high heat for 1 to 2 minutes to recrisp. If they dry out, refry with a splash of water and cover toe rehydrate; add oil as needed to coax back crunchy chewiness.
Chicken, Mushroom, and Bok Choy
(Serves 4 to 6 with panfried noodles)
8 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast (or thighs), cut across the grain into slices 3 inches long and 1/4 inch thick
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon sugar
Scant 3 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons regular soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon dark soy sauce or dark molasses (optional, for rich color)
Generous 3/4 cup chicken pho broth (or see Notes for substitution)
Fine sea salt
Chubby 3/4-inch section ginger, peeled and cut into fine matchsticks
1/2 medium red or yellow onion, cut along the grain into thick wedges
8 ounces baby bok choy, cut on the diagonal into pieces about 3/4 inch wide
6 ounces large fresh shiitake and/or regular white mushroom, trimmed an cut into thick slices
2 1/2 tablespoons chicken pho fat, canola oil, or other neutral oil
In a bowl, combine the chicken, white pepper, sugar, 1 teaspoon of the cornstarch, sesame oil, and soy sauces. Taste the pho broth. If needed, season with fish sauce and/or salt. In a small bowl, dissolve the remaining scant 2 teaspoons cornstarch in 1 tablespoon of the broth. Set all by the stove along with the ginger, onion, bok choy, and mushroom.
To cook the topping, heat a large wok or skillet over medium-high heat, then swirl in 2 tablespoons of the fat. Add the ginger, and onion. Stir-fry for 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Bank the aromatics on one side.
Raise the heat to high and add the chicken, spreading it out into a single layer. Let cook, undisturbed, for about 1 minute, until the edges turn opaque. Use a spatula to flip and stir-fry the ingredients for 1 to 2 minutes, until the chicken is barely cooked through. Hold on a plate.
Reheat the pan over high. Add remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons fat. Add the mushroom and stir-fry for 1 to 2 minutes, until slightly soft, and glistening with moisture. Add the bok choy. Cook for another minute, or until heated through, and tender-crisp. Pour in the broth.
When things start bubbling, return the chicken to the pan. Stir and cook for 30 to 60 seconds to finish cooking the chicken. Restir the cornstarch slurry, then add and cook for about 30 seconds, until the sauce is smooth and thick. Turn off the heat and mound atop the panfried noodles.
Notes: If you don’t have pho broth, mix 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons fish sauce, 1 tablespoon regular soy sauce, 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil, and 3/4 cup water. Combine the 2 teaspoons cornstarch with 1 tablespoon water for a thickening agent.
Recipes Adapted From “The Pho Cookbook” by Andrea Nguyen
More Andrea Nguyen Recipes To Try: Baked Char Siu Pork Buns