Cháo – Vietnamese Rice Soup
In its simplest form, cháo (Vietnamese rice soup) is a soup made with broth, rice, and maybe a few pieces of ginger and scallion. I’ve heard it referred to as the Vietnamese equivalent to chicken noodle soup, and the similarities are certainly there: it is simple, easy to eat, and nourishing.
As the soup simmers, the starches released from the rice thicken the soup, and the individual rice grains soften and bloom. A good broth or stock is important, as that is the primary flavoring agent of the soup, but the delicate flavors of scallion and ginger accent a simple store-bought broth nicely. I also like to add a serrano pepper to add additional complexity and a little bit of heat, but that part is perhaps non-traditional, and definitely optional.
If you keep a bag of rice and a few bouillon cubes in the pantry, you can make this soup just about any time. It is a perfect dish for a cold night, as the slow cooking fills the bus with delicious aromas and warmth. The soup itself fills you with inner-warmth and makes an excellent first course (and breakfast the next morning). When stoking your tiny wood stove just isn’t cutting it, make a big pot of rice soup to stoke that inner fire too.
And if you want to make a meal of it, adding a few chicken thighs and an onion makes it hearty enough to be a standalone dinner, just see the second recipe for how to prepare the chicken.
Cháo (Vietnamese Rice Soup)
¾ long-grain rice
2 ½ quarts vegetable or chicken stock
6 quarter-sized slices of ginger
4 scallions, white part only, sliced coarsely
1 serrano pepper, sliced coarsely (optional)
Put the rice in a large pot and cover with 1” water. Stir the rice a few times, and drain the water. Repeat this process, but do not stir the rice the second time around.
Add stock, ginger, serrano, and scallions to the pot, cover, and bring to a boil. Uncover the pot, reduce heat to medium-high, and allow to boil gently for around 5 minutes.
Reduce the heat to medium-low, for a gentle simmer, cover, and cook for 1 hour.
After the hour is done, the broth should be nicely thickened by the starch from the rice. It will thicken more as it cools. Remove and discard the ginger, scallions, and serrano. Add salt to taste.
Cháo Gà (Rice Soup with Chicken)
1 lb. chicken thighs, chopped into large cubes
1.5 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp neutral oil
1 yellow onion, quartered and sliced thin
2 tbsp cilantro, chopped finely
2 scallions, green part only, chopped finely
Marinate the chicken in the fish sauce for 15 minutes.
Cook the onion with the oil in a skillet over medium heat for a few minutes until nicely fragrant and lightly browned at the edges. Add the chicken and cook until browned on the outside and cooked through.
Add all contents of the pan to the rice soup (from the recipe above) once the soup is finished cooking, including any juices.
When serving, sprinkle each bowl with cilantro and scallions.
Bún Gà Nướng – Vietnamese Cold Noodle Bowl