First get your spices together: collecting the coriander seeds, star anise, cinnamon bark and cardamom pods. With the side of a large knife or cleaver, crush the cardamom pods to release their seeds, as well as breaking the cinnamon bark into small pieces. Add all of these ingredients to the bottom of a large deep-sided stock pot or frying pan, without any oil, and heat over a medium to low heat until aromatic.
While waiting for the spices to heat, prepare your noodles and other vegetables. First, place your dried rice vermicelli in a large bowl and cover with boiling water, leaving to soak for 10 minutes. Next, peel and slice half a large onion into rough chunks, before removing the roots of the 2 spring onions and also slicing them into large pieces. Then, take your piece of ginger and, using a teaspoon, peel off the bitter skin. Roughly chop the ginger before crushing it with the side of a knife or cleaver to release its flavours. Moving on to your lemongrass, remove the tough white ends from each stalk before again using the side of your knife to bash and bruise the lemongrass pieces, slicing each stalk into thirds. Lastly, peel and crush the 4 whole garlic cloves, and then set all of the onions, ginger and garlic to one side to be used later in the pho’s stock.
Finally, prepare your garnish. First, slice the lime into 8 equal wedges, before removing the green stalks from both red chillies and slicing them in half length-ways. Open the chillies up, scraping out the seeds and then slicing both chillies into long, thin matchsticks. Set the lime wedges and sliced chillies on a plate to one side, to be used at the very end of the dish.
Once the noodles are adequately soaked, strain them and then run them under cold water to prevent them from cooking any further. Leave to one side for later.
Return to your pan. Your spices should now have released their aroma, so move them to one side of the pan and add approximately 1 tablespoon of oil. Increasing the heat to high, add the chicken thighs straight into the hot oil, skin side down. Sear the chicken until the skin is golden brown, then turn and repeat on the other side.
When cooked, remove the chicken and any excess oil from the pan, saving the chicken but disposing of the oil. Then introduce the chopped onion, spring onion, garlic, ginger and lemongrass into the saucepan, stirring them gently over a high heat for approximately 30 seconds before turning the heat down and leaving them to lightly fry for about 2 minutes. Next, add a small amount of water (approximately 250ml) and, using a wooden spoon or other kitchen utensil, gently release any caramelised spices from the bottom of the pan. Pour in the remainder of the water so that your saucepan is almost full to the top, turn the heat up to high, and leave the pot to boil for between 45 minutes and 1 hour, covered with a lid.
After approximately 45 minutes, strain the stock through a sieve to remove all of the solid ingredients. It’s time to season! Bring the stock back over the heat and add the fish sauce and palm or rock sugar, tasting and adding more of either if required. (Hint: at this point, should your stock be too thin or taste too watery, then bring it back to a simmer and reduce the liquid until you attain your desired consistency).
Finally, compile your completed pho. With the saucepan still over a high heat, re-introduce the noodles to the stock for 30 seconds and then transfer them to a large serving bowl. Quickly blanch the beansprouts by placing them in the boiling stock for approximately 2 minutes, before also removing them to the serving bowl. Return to your chicken thighs and, using a fork, remove the chicken meat from both the bone and its skin before shredding it. Place as much chicken as is desired over the top of the beansprouts and noodles. Next, squeeze some lime juice over the whole bowl, leaving a couple of wedges on the side of the bowl for people to add more. Arrange your whole mint and Thai basil leaves around the edge of the bowl too, and after finely chopping the coriander, also place it on top of the noodles with the dried shallots if using. Finally, ladle stock over the bowl until you have a peak of noodles showing in the middle of the bowl and sprinkle you finely sliced chillies over the top. Serve, share and enjoy!