This is a simplified version of the Vietnamese national dish, pho, which contains varying proportions of liquids to solids and can range from what looks like a soup to a bowl of noodles with various condiments. In this version, adapted as a base for sautéed salmon, the emphasis is on the noodles so they can prop up the salmon and keep it from overcooking. In traditional recipes, pho is served with rice noodles, sometimes called rice vermicelli or rice sticks, which are sold in Asian groceries in little bunches that look like nests. Rice noodles should be soaked in cold water until they’re soft and pliable, about 30 minutes, before they are cooked. If you don’t want to bother seeking out rice noodles, use Japanese soba noodles or regular vermicelli noodles, following the directions on the package.
Season the salmon with salt and pepper and refrigerate until needed.
If using rice noodles, soak for 30 minutes in cold water and drain in a colander.
Bring the chicken broth to a gentle simmer. Crush the star anise by placing it on a cutting board and rocking over it with the corner of a saucepan, using your weight to push down on the pan. Crush the cinnamon into splinters and the cloves in the same way. Add the anise, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, garlic, sugar, and onion to the simmering broth and simmer gently, covered, for 20 minutes. Just before you’re ready to strain the broth, crush the peppercorns under a saucepan and stir them into the broth. Simmer for 1 minute. Stir in the fish sauce and taste the broth. If it seems to need more salt, add more fish sauce. Add the lemon juice and strain the broth through a fine-mesh strainer or a triple layer of cheesecloth and reserve.
About 10 minutes before you’re ready to serve, bring
Sauté the salmon fillets as described in the recipe. Bring the reserved broth to a gentle simmer while the salmon is sautéing.
Coordinate the noodle cooking with the salmon sautéing. If you’re using rice noodles plunge them in the boiling salted water for about 30 seconds and immediately drain in a colander. If you’re using soba noodles, cook them according to the directions on the package (usually for about 8 minutes—start them about the same time you start sautéing the salmon) but bite into a noodle every few minutes to know when they’re done. If you’re using vermicelli, follow the directions on the package.
When the salmon and noodles are just about ready, stir the cilantro, mint, basil, chilies, lime juice, and scallions into the simmering broth and simmer for 1 minute.
Use tongs to transfer mounds of noodles from the colander into heated deep bowls and ladle the broth over so it comes about halfway up the sides of the noodles. Place a piece of sautéed salmon (skin side up if you’ve left the skin on; flesh side up if you’ve removed the skin) on top of the noodles and serve.
© 2001 James Peterson. All rights reserved.