Celebrate a Very L.A. Passover with This “Pho-tza Ball” Soup

Chef Michael Hung shares his recipe for a global take on the classic
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Diversity is central to the identity of Los Angeles, and local chefs are particularly attuned to pulling inspiration from the urban melting pot. Take, for example, Michael Hung, a Filipino-Chinese-American chef who celebrates Passover with a Jewish-Vietnamese fusion dish he calls “pho-tza ball soup.”

The idea of blending Jewish and Asian flavors within this creative context made total sense,” he says of his creation. “I have always loved chicken soups and every culture has a delicious soup.”

The dish, with its coriander-scented matzoh balls floating in a pho-inspired chicken broth, is currently on the menu at Hung’s restaurant, XO on Beverly, where it’s served with both traditional Vietnamese garnishes of lime, basil, and jalapeños, and crispy chicken gribenes and a swirl of schmaltz. 

To replicate this global dish on your own Passover table, Hung shared a DIY version of his signature recipe with us.

Pho-tza Ball Soup

The Pho-tza ball soup was inspired by my friend and former Executive Sous Chef Huy Nguyen (currently with Jason Neroni at the Rose).  He put a ‘Pho Gras’ soup on the menu at Faith & Flower and I loved the mashup.” —Michael Hung

Ingredients

For the soup:
4-pound chicken, cut into eighths
3 medium onions
Thumb-sized piece of ginger
½ stalk of lemongrass, cut into one-inch pieces
8 cloves of garlic
2 whole star anise pods
2 whole black cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon black peppercorn
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
2 dried California chiles
4 quarts chicken stock or broth (if using store-bought, choose low sodium)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar

For the matzoh balls:
1 cup matzoh meal
4 whole eggs
2 ounces rendered chicken fat (or substitute vegetable oil)
2 ounces chicken stock or water
⅛ teaspoon baking powder
⅛ teaspoon toasted coriander powder
⅛ teaspoon Kosher salt
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

For garnish:

Shallot, shaved thinly
Basil leaves
Lime wedges
Jalapeño peppers, sliced thinly

Instructions

For the soup:

On a grill or over the open flame on the stovetop, cook onions on high heat until the cut surfaces char. Do the same for the ginger.

In a sauté pan over medium heat, toast the star anise, cardamom, cinnamon, peppercorn, coriander, and chiles, stirring frequently, until fragrant (just a few minutes).

Combine chicken, charred onion, charred ginger, toasted spices, lemongrass, and chicken stock in a pot. Bring to a simmer, turn down heat, and cook at a gentle bubble for 45 minutes. Occasionally skim surface of the soup.

At 45 minutes, remove chicken pieces and reserve. Continue simmering soup at low heat, uncovered, for an additional hour to reduce. Skim occasionally.

In a small, dry sauté pan, heat sugar over medium heat until it caramelizes to golden brown. Immediately—and taking caution from the hot splatter—add fish sauce and vinegar. Stir well until caramel is completely dissolved. Add the caramel mixture to the soup.

Strain the soup through a fine mesh and keep hot. Adjust salt to taste.

Once chicken has cooled, pick the remaining meat from the bones by hand for use as soup garnish.

For the matzoh balls: 

Combine all ingredients and mix until thoroughly incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and rest in refrigerator for 30 minutes.

In a stock pot, bring four quarts of water and ¼ cup of salt to a simmer or, for more flavor use chicken stock instead of water. Do not use the pho soup, as cooking the matzoh balls will make it cloudy.

Lightly oil your hands with vegetable oil. Use hands to form matzoh balls into approximately golf ball size. Immediately drop into the simmering water. Once all matzoh balls are formed, cover pot with a lid and cook for 20 minutes. Matzoh balls should have increased in size and be floating.

Place two matzoh balls into each bowl and add picked chicken as desired. Ladle soup over top and serve with sliced shallot, basil leaves, jalapeños, and lime wedge. Recipe yields five servings.


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