Photography by Scott Rounds
The most challenging part of this recipe might be finding the ethnic ingredients, but I can always find all of them at my local Whole Foods. Other than that it comes together quickly and is kind of more about assembly than "cooking." You will have all burners going, but no complicated techniques, just some chopping and some simmering.
For 2 people: (This is easy to double or halve for more/less people.)
2 Biscuits Instant Rice Noodles
4 cups Chicken Broth/Stock* (or Chicken and Pork mixture.)
5-6 oz. Chicken Breast
1 cup Thick Bean Sprouts
5 sprigs Cilantro
1 or 2 chopped Scallions
2 tb Fish Sauce
Crushed Chile de Arbol
Fresh Thai Chilies
1/2 cup Vegetable Oil
Back burner 1: Steam the chicken. I get the chicken going first because it usually takes the longest. Set a mesh colander inside a pot with an inch or two of water, put the chicken breast in the colander so that it's not touching the water, and then cover it, get the water boiling, and let it steam. Takes about 20 mins to cook.
Back burner 2: Put your broth on to heat up. If you like spicy, cut a slit into a Thai chili and throw it in there to infuse.
Front burner 1: While the broth and chicken are doing their thing slice 2-3 garlic cloves as thin as you can and fry them in vegetable oil. This happens quickly so don't turn the heat up too high and take them out as soon as they stop bubbling aggressively. Drain on paper towels and set aside. I use a very small pot, like a milk or butter pot, so that it heats up quickly and I don't have to use too much oil. I save the left over garlic infused oil and use for stir frys.
Front burner 2: Put on a kettle of water.
While waiting for that kettle to boil, chop up scallions and cilantro and rinse bean sprouts. Chop up a few Thai chilies and put into a small bowl with fish sauce (the fish sauce to chili ratio will determine how spicy this becomes). Also, put your soup bowls out on the counter top and set a rice noodle biscuit into each bowl. When the water boils pour it into each bowl submerging the noodles. Soak slightly less than package instructions. The brand I use recommends soaking for 3 minutes, so I soak for 2 and then drain. They're going to soak more in the broth, you know? And we don't want them to get soggy.
Once the noodles are drained, plop them back into their newly warmed bowls and sprinkle a little crushed chile de arbol over them. Divide the bean sprouts and nestle in there, divide up cilantro, scallions, and fried garlic and throw those on top.
Hopefully the chicken is done by now, if it needs a few minutes, no worries. The broth can keep simmering and the other stuff in the bowl can hang out. When it is ready, shred it with some forks, and add it into the bowls. Measure 1 tb fish sauce into each bowl and- grand finale- fill with broth. Serve with fish sauce/chili condiment, adding to your desired spiciness. If it gets too spicy (this has happened to me) add just fish sauce (from the bottle) and it will kill the spice a little. It really works. Happy soup slurping!
*A note about chicken broth/stock: This soup is all about the broth, it is the key ingredient. Use a fresh, high quality broth, either homemade or bought from a good butcher. Sometimes Whole Foods also has chicken stock that they've made in house in the soup area of the prepared foods section. Try to avoid canned or boxed broths, they're just not fresh and lack that great flavor.