Clear Asian Soup

This is a deliciously simple comfort dish.  A clear broth is warming and filling so works brilliantly on Fast Days.  And depending on the volumes you have in mind there are a couple of simple places to start – from making your own stock and cooking a chicken, through to just throwing it all together from the cupboard with a pack of ready to eat chicken and a couple of prawns.

Mrs P. and I discovered the Pho on a holiday in Vietnam.  It’s traditionally made with beef and noodles and fried onions and makes a brilliant hangover breakfast.  But in this stripped down version it’s still delicious and because of the flavour it’s a great way to fool yourself into thinking that you’re eating more than you are.  It reads more complicated than it is because there are a couple of stages but basically it’s just a process of flavouring the stock and sieving it.  Then you build the soup in the bowls for each person and this makes it look a treat.  The Tom Yam is just a hop across the border and you can easily mix and match and create your own signature soup.

  • Two to three pints of chicken stock – made from bouillon, from a carcass or just start with a chicken.  Fish stock is equally lovely.
  • Some chicken – a breast or similar amount of cooked meat each.  Or a whole chicken that will leave you lots of meat left over.
  • A few prawns (optional)
  • A boiled egg (also optional)
  • Fresh ginger – a big chunk
  • A couple of red chillies
  • Fresh coriander – a handful
  • 2 spring onions
  • Nam pla (fish sauce) (optional)
  • Soy sauce
  • Bok choi – a couple of leaves each
  • A lime

Tom Yam Style Extras:

  • 2 stalks of lemongrass
  • A few kaffir lime leaves
  • Some Thai basil (or just basil) leaves

Vietnamese Pho Style Extras:

  • A star of star anise
  • Four or five coriander seeds
  • Four or five black peppercorns
  • A few tiny black mustard seeds
  • A few tiny yellow mustard seeds
  • Some mint leaves


Your stock is the most important basis to good soup so it pays to get it right.  At the very least, for the most instant no-nonsense version of this soup, use a good powdered bouillon.  Marigold does a good one.  Make up about two pints according to the instructions on the pack.

Your next best alternative is to use a homemade stock and here you have two choices.  Roast a chicken and use the carcass.  Or boil up a pot of stock while cooking your chicken.

If you’ve got a carcass from yesterday’s roast just strip it down and be sure to keep all the meat and chuck away all the skin and any fat.  Then just bung the bones into a big pan.  Cover with two and a half pints (ish) of water.  Throw in an onion, a couple of carrots, a couple of sticks of celery.  All just as they come - after a rinse if they need it.  Bring it to the boil and just as it starts to bubble turn down the heat to a very low flame – on the brink of going out.  You’re aiming to keep the stock gently warming; just an odd bubble, popping on the surface with a barely audible blip, from moment to moment.  Leave it like this for as long as you can.  The smell of chicken will pervade the house and after a few hours you’ll have a delicious stock on its way.  Take the pan off the heat and leave it to cool.  Once cold, sieve the liquid into a bowl that fits in the fridge and throw away the carcass and vegetables – all now robbed of their flavour.  Chill the stock in the fridge and after a few more hours you’ll see that some fat has hardened on the surface.  Maybe just a thin film.  Scrape this away with a spoon and then sieve the stock back into your clean pan.  You’re ready to go.

If you’ve got a whole fresh chicken then there’s no need to roast it first.  It boils beautifully and creates its own stock as it does it.  Just put your chicken into a big enough pot.  If you’ve got giblets so much the better, just make sure they’re out of the bag.  Cover it with water – no more than three pints ideally – and bring it to the boil and keep it gently bubbling away.  You notice that a foamy scum starts to collect on the surface and you should remove this with a spoon as it cooks.  Keep it gently boiling for about half an hour.

After half an hour turn off the heat.  Remove any remaining scum and take out your chicken.  Sieve the stock and return to the pan.  You're ready to go.

So now we just turn that stock into a delicious chicken soup.

If you are starting with some raw chicken meat – a couple of breasts perhaps, then add them to the stock and bring it to a simmer.   If not we just start flavouring the stock first.  It’s time to add some spice. 

There are any number of combinations that work here are two good ones:

Tom Yam Style

Cut a chunk of ginger to expose the wet flesh.  Chop up a couple of red chillies, seeds and all.  Bash and snap a couple of stalks of lemon grass. Tear a few kaffir lime leaves.  Add them all to the pot.

Vietnamese Pho Style

Cut a chunk of ginger to expose the wet flesh.  Chop up a couple of red chillies, seeds and all.  Take a star of star anise, four or five coriander seeds, the same of black peppercorns,  Take a few tiny black and yellow mustard seeds too.  Add them all to the pot.

Simmer your soup for half an hour to cook the chicken, or a little less if your chicken is already cooked.  If you fancy an egg then chuck one in here to cook for ten minutes.

Meanwhile prepare the fresh garnish part of the soup.  This should be some more red chilli, this time deseeded and finely sliced, a couple of spring onions chopped, a little more very thinly sliced ginger and some chopped herbs: mint leaves for Pho or Thai basil (or just basil) for Tom Yam, plus coriander leaves for either. 

Once the stock is flavoured you’ll need to sieve out the star anise/lemongrass and other stuff and remove the chicken breast if you have one.  Put the chicken to one side, but keep the liquid simmering and add the finely sliced ginger and a couple of leaves of bok choi along with splashes of nam plah and soy sauce.  Have a taste!  Now it’s time to prepare the bowls. 

Rip your chicken into bits and put a good portion into each bowl.  Add a couple of prawns and peel your egg, if you have one, and halve it lengthwise.  Half goes in each bowl.

Pour out your hot soup between the bowls, sprinkle over the spring onion then mint/Thai basil and coriander.  Finally a pinch of the sliced chilli adds a beautiful splash of red.  Cut a wedge of lime each for you and your loved one to squeeze into the soup yourselves.  Enjoy.