This week has not gone to plan. There wasn’t even a particularly clear plan from which it could veer, but veer it did, when I found myself on Tuesday morning stuck on the floor of my landing having slipped a disc.
Hours and hours spent on the landing, eventually gave way to bed rest and twinges and cancelling plans. The first time this happened, it was so completely shocking and unexpected and I was lost for so long in a fugue of diazepam that I treated it with sugar, self-medicating with the baking equivalent of diazepam: blondies. But this wasn’t terribly shocking, not this time. It was miserable, and boring, and almost heartbreakingly predictable. There was something terribly banal about the whole thing: I’d done it putting on a pair of Marks and Spencer jeggings, for goodness sake. I didn’t want blondies. I didn’t want drama. I didn’t want a narrative. I just wanted soup and normality.
I can’t stand for very long at the moment, and I can’t really get into my low cupboards or stack the dishwasher. But this I can put together in two handfuls of ingredients, with a gentle sit down whilst it simmers. So here’s an easy recipe for a tricky time, because when times are trying, you really don’t want to have to try.
Let’s be absolutely clear: this is a complete cheat of a pho. It is almost in no way authentic. It’s based on a relatively authentic recipe from the gorgeous Bird in a Hand by Diana Henry and is a recipe that I have come back to so many times for its simplicity, but in doing so have streamlined further, to make it almost a store cupboard soup. I hope Diana will forgive me for so thoroughly bastardising this recipe, but this is what I make when I’m sad or heart-tired or just plain incapacitated. On occasions, when I only have egg noodles in the house, or can’t be bothered to leave the house for beansprouts, my version is so far from being a pho that it slips into ‘generic chicken noodle soup’ territory. But, even then, it is fresh and light and bright, and takes so little effort to make, you can do it even with a busted back.
Sometimes, I’ll be extremely organised and terribly smug and have bags of chicken stock taking up too much room in my freezer from when I last poached chicken, but in all honesty, those occasions are few and far between. I know that homemade chicken stock is infinitely better than the little pots or cubes, or even the bags you can buy from Waitrose, but I refuse to feel guilty for making life easier when the world feels too hard. I hope you won’t either.
[Please forgive the lack of photos: normally I would remake a dish for a blogpost, but for obvious reasons, this photograph is from the archives. Imagine plentiful bunches of coriander photographed next to my perfectly manicured hands slicing a chill, demonstrating impeccable knife skills. And maybe me looking seductive holding beansprouts.]
It goes like this:
Makes: Two generous bowls
Takes: 20 minutes
Bakes: 15 minutes on the stove
1 pint of chicken stock in whatever form you want; do not feel guilty for using stockpots
2 thin slices of root ginger
1/4 star anise
1 garlic clove, sliced as finely as you can
60g noodles, ideally rice noodles
2 tbsp fish sauce
Juice of half a lime
1 tsp caster sugar
2 skinless chicken thighs, or 100g cooked chicken
1 red chilli
A handful of beansprouts
As much coriander as you can muster
1. Heat the stock in a large saucepan with the ginger, star anise, garlic and chill. Simmer for 15 minutes and then remove the ginger and star anise. If you’re poaching the chicken, this can go in at the same time, and then be removed with the ginger and star anise and then shredded.
2. While the chicken cools, cook the noodles according to packet instructions. You can do this in the stock, if you’re a little lazy like I am.
3. Add the fish sauce, lime juice, sugar and the shredded chicken.
4. Divide between bowls and garnish with beansprouts, chill and coriander.
5. Ta Dah!
Icing on the Cake
I eat this in big, beautiful bowls, with a chaser of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pills.