Last week brought duck, though the entire bird wasn’t used to prepare the entry. What to do with the remainders, then? Not wishing to be wasteful, and being of a culinary bent, this journal’s future path was clear – make soup! Specifically, Vietnamese duck soup, or pho, elevates the leftovers to stardom and beyond.
Today’s variation on a Vietnamese classic is offered on a site called Honest Food. While the site is oriented to outdoorsmen, and provides tips on what to do in the kitchen following a successful day in the field, that didn’t prevent me from adopting a great suggestion on what to do with leftover duck. Part of yesterday’s poultry made Mondor; what remained went into pho. Quite a spectacular second act, wouldn’t you say?
Just as Duck Pho makes subtle changes to the more familiar beef version, today’s entry continues the innovation and replaces the bean sprouts with baby bok choi and oyster mushrooms. Not only are the latter additions tastier, but they provide a more pleasing texture too.
Of course, broth makes a great pho, and that part remains true to design. The herbs and veggies also are centrally important, though, and today’s entry doesn’t skimp. The noodles matter too, and while most varieties work, good Vietnamese rice noodles fill in with style:
It’s a pity today’s main photo doesn’t convey action, because the steam rising from the soup is intoxicating. Not only does it carry the broth’s spices sweetly embracing the duck, but it also announces the warming ginger, spicy pepper and leafy greenery that await. The steam has more practical purpose as well, to finish cooking the meat.
If the duck above looks a bit pink, that’s because it is, and by design. As with all phos, the meat is pan-seared separately, then is sliced thinly and is placed in soup nearly raw. Because the broth is piping hot, and the duck is so thin, it takes only seconds for it to cook through entirely. What this does is to keep the meat supple and tender, allowing it to absorb the intense flavors surrounding it. Mere seconds after the leading picture was snapped, the duck was no longer pink.
The steam does it all, from cooking, to seducing diners with a spectacular aroma. Fills the house, actually. Hours after the pho was served, a nighttime visit to the kitchen was evocation enough to set the mouth watering once again. This would be a major draw in high summer, but in January, magic.
When aren’t leftovers, leftovers? Going into a beguiling soup, of course. Pho takes mere scraps and elevates them to culinary perfection.
For the broth:
- 3 pounds duck carcasses (*1)
- 2 sliced onions (*2)
- 6-inch piece of ginger, peeled and cut into pieces
- 10 cardamom pods (*3)
- 5 star anise pods (*4)
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 6 cloves
- 1 tablespoon fennel seed
- 3 tablespoons sugar (*5)
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 1/2 cup fish sauce
For the final assembly:
- 2 duck breasts (*6)
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- 2 pounds noodles
- 2 thinly-sliced onions (*7)
- 4-inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced (*8)
- 1/2 pound bean sprouts (*9)
- 1 large bunch of cilantro, roughly chopped
- 4 hot chiles, thinly sliced (*10)
To make the broth, place the duck bits in a large stockpot and cover with water (*11). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.
While the water is climbing to the boil initially, toast over high heat in a separate pan the seeds and pods. Stir the seeds constantly, to keep them from burning. Toast until fragrant, about two minutes.
Once you’ve reduced the duck to a simmer, add the onion, ginger, spices, sugar, fish sauce and salt and stir well. Continue simmering for two hours, longer if you have the time, periodically skimming off the fat that floats to the surface.
Remove the stock from the heat and discard the solids. Strain the broth through a cheesecloth to further remove sediments. For an additional refinement, refrigerate the stock and skim off any addition fat that rises once the stock cools.
About fifteen minutes before serving, cook the noodles per the instructions on the package. It’s best not to do this too far in advance, as the noodles tend to clump if they sit too long.
As the noodles cook, heat the sesame oil in a separate pan. Once the oil is hot, place the duck breasts in the pan and sear them until they are moderately browned all over. Remove the breasts to a cutting board and, once they’re cool enough to handle, slice them as thinly as you can. Duck still will be mostly raw at this point.
Heat the broth again (but don’t let it boil!) along with the additional ginger and onions called for in the “final assembly.” Cook for about ten minutes, until the onions begin to wilt.
Portion the soup ingredients into individual bowls. Pour the hot broth over each until the ingredients are just covered. Let sit for fifteen seconds or so to allow the duck to finish cooking. Garnish with cilantro and serve.
1 – Not being a hunter, I don’t have access to ducks. Moreover, what’s available at the market likely has been frozen since Gerald Ford was president. Mail-order was the best route for me, and I chose the “organic” option. Not only is it healthier, but the ducks come with necks, giblets and other things that are great for making stock.
2 – Shallots are more refined than are onions, so they’re my preference, of course. In this case, three largish shallots equal two onions. Use onions if you wish; it’s your dish after all.
3 – I was surprised to see some cardamom pods burst open in the simmer and release their seeds. Surprised, but not chagrined. I like cardamom, so more cardamom-y goodness!
4 – Normally, I avoid anise because it’s too close to licorice for my tastes, and I dislike licorice. However, the other spices mute the anise’s offensive notes and, well, pho wouldn’t be pho without it.
5 – I had almost exactly this much palm sugar left, so why not? Plus, palm sugar is likely what Vietnamese cooks use, if that counts for much. It probably shouldn’t.
6 – Each breast contains two parts, halves as it were.
7 – See Note #2, above.
8 – Rather than slicing the ginger, as the original recipe suggests, I grated it. This prevents diners from biting into a whole piece of ginger, which is a bit unnerving if it’s unexpected.
9 – As mentioned in the text, instead of sprouts I chose oyster mushrooms and baby bok choi cabbage. While the broth preparation follows fairly set procedures, the vegetable choices are each cook’s to make. These were my selections.
10 – As you can see, I used Fresno chiles. Hot enough to add flavor, but not enough to dominate the soup.
11 – Exact measurements will vary based on the duck size, but I started with about 14 cups of water.