Thanksgiving in Canada came and past October 11, 2009. With a dear friend then getting married the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, several compromises had to be made. Firstly, there was no time to prep a turkey dinner. Normally, we intend Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner to be “cook from first principles” meals. Everything is made from scratch and, as much as is possible, we purchase local ingredients. Every year, with at least 5 guests invited (family and friends), our turkey dinners typically require a day’s prep and cooking. Before you ask why a turkey dinner takes an entire day’s prep, we cook up a very large batch of turkey stock for a soup course and a veloute gravy; we bake up pastries for dessert; and, given that our guests don’t all like turkey, we confit at least 2 entrees of duck. This all happens before the turkey, sans legs, enters the oven for roasting. The legs are braised separately.
With my better half’s entire family (brother, 2 sisters, and both parents), a family friend, and a neighbour invited over for Sunday night dinner, we opted to serve up a Mongolian-style hot pot, using chicken pho broth (yes, I know the difference between stock and broth). Why? We could prepare the broth in a slow cooker while we attended our friend’s wedding ceremony and reception.
For the pho stock, we took 2 lbs chicken bones and placed them in a stock pot, submerging them in cold water (approximately 2 quarts). Then, we placed it on a burner, set to medium, and brought it up to a simmer. Lowering the head to medium low, we simmered the bones for an hour. Afterward, we fished out the bones, washing off any scum in the cooking liquid and set them aside. The cooking liquid was discarded and the pot washed.
The French tradition for stock involves roasting bones to develop colour and flavour before simmering for the “long term.” Then, everything is strained through a chinoise and/or clarified using egg whites. The Asian tradition involves par-cooking to remove scum. It is then strained, but is partially clarified beforehand.
To simmer for the long term, we placed the par cooked bones back into the stock pot and added the flavourants: one large onion, a dozen cloves, 3 whole pieces of star anise, a small head of garlic, an inch of ginger, a tbsp of black pepper corns, and a dash of kosher salt. The flavourants were chosen according to the chicken pho (pho ga) recipe by @wanderchopsticks, author of the amazing Wandering Chopsticks blog (home of the 100 Vietnamese Foods to Try list).
According to the recipe we were supposed to roast the spices to release “aromas.” We didn’t have time.
Once assembled, we again brought the stock back up to a simmer. Then, we placed the entire batch into a slow cooker set to low and let it cook, very slow simmer, until we came home. The scent that awaited us was amazing. The stock had darkened. The bones were about to crumble. The onion had almost liquefied.
Unfortunately, the resultant stock had also reduced, so the next day at 6:00 am, I repeated the process with another 2 lbs of chicken bones. This time, it cooked on the stove top.
Eventually, we mixed the two resultant stocks, de-fatting them first, and used them to poach fish, pork, beef, and vegetables. Here is what the resultant hot pot soup (can’t really call it a broth anymore) looked like with Pho noodles.
The soup was very rich and deeply flavorful. To serve, I finished the soup with a tbsp of fish sauce, some added umami.
Fear not, besides the Chinese greens we poached, I innovated a more traditional Thanksgiving vegetable side: “Spoonsified” Brussel Sprouts.