"Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup?" I asked, puzzled, when I first saw this recipe was featured for October. "I thought this was a French cookbook." Dorie, bless her, answered my question in the first paragraph on page 98 of Around My French Table: "Because of France's long and deep ties to Vietnam (a former colony)," she writes, "it's common to find Vietnamese restaurants in even the smallest French towns." She goes on to add that Vietnamese ingredients can be found in French fridges, and that most chefs have a Vietnamese recipe or two tucked up the sleeves of their white coats. Photographed on my kitchen counter and ready to be swaddled in cheesecloth and bound with kitchen twine are a mort of aromatic spices and herbs: cilantro, coriander, anise and pepper.
I had to make some substitutions in this recipe, most notably with the dried red chilis, which I couldn't find anywhere, and the Asian fish sauce. The chilis were an easy substitute - I just threw in a teaspoon of crushed, dried chili peppers from the big bottle we always have on hand in the refrigerator (we like our food spicy.) They looked pretty in the golden broth, particularly once I'd added the cilantro. But then there was the fish sauce. Hmm. Was this, I wondered, a sauce for fish, or a sauce made out of fish? Because the first option would be do-able, but the second? No way. I know it sounds hidebound and unadventurous, but none of us are that crazy about "fish" around here. And we like our chicken noodle soup to taste like, well, chicken. So I passed on the Asian fish sauce, feeling a little bit ashamed. [Just did a little research and discovered that Asian fish sauce is made out of anchovies, so thank heaven I didn't use it.]
The soup got a last-few-minutes-of-cooking addition of pretty, lacy cilantro leaves and a squeeze of lime juice. The rice noodles, like most pasta, were cooked in boiling salted water, drained, and added to the rest of the soup. I added a garnish of cilantro and lime to each bowl and it looked very nice -- hearty and healthy and fill-you-up-with-good-things delicious, yet also exotic and interesting.
I'm not sure how I managed it, but I actually caught steam wafting up from the bowl. The soup was spicy and chickeny and had a fresh, citrus hit from the cilantro and lime that I found very appealing. The rice noodles, like so many store-bought noodles, were fairly tasteless and didn't add all that much to the flavor or the texture, but I am the Supreme Goddess of Noodle Making and I refuse to bow even to the Amish ladies on this, so I might be a bit biased. I make a mean noodle, of wheat flour of course. Maybe I'd be a dab hand with rice flour, too. Who knows? But anyway, this was a nice comforting soup and I was happy to try it, especially on a weekend when I'm suffering from a head cold. I added some hoisin sauce as a condiment and enjoyed it tremendously. Thanks, Dorie, for a very simple and delicious recipe.