2 yellow onions, quartered
chubby, 4-inch section of fresh ginger, unpeeled
1 organic chicken, about 4 lbs, excess fat and skin, organs and tail removed and discarded
3 lbs chicken parts
5 quarts water
1 1/2 tbsp salt
3 tbsp fish sauce
1-inch chunk yellow rock sugar
2 tbsp coriander seeds, toasted
4 whole cloves
1 small bunch cilantro
1-2 lbs small flat rice noodles, fresh or dried (we used fresh)
1 small yellow onion, sliced paper thin and soaked in cold water to cover for at least 30 minutes
3-4 scallions, green parts only, thinly sliced
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
1 cup bean sprouts
fresh Thai basil
2-3 Thai or serrano chilis, thinly sliced
2-3 limes, cut into wedges
Char the onions wedges and ginger on a grill or grill pan over medium-high heat. After about 10 minutes, the onions and ginger will have softened and should have some nice grill marks all over. Remove from the heat and allow to cool until they are cool enough to handle. Once the ginger has cooled, peel the skin and discard. Halve the ginger lengthwise and bruise lightly with the side of a cleaver. Set aside.
Rinse the chicken under cool water. Detach each wing. Add the wings and neck, if included, to the chicken parts. Set the chicken aside.
Put the chicken parts in a stockpot and add cold water just to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat and boil vigorously for 2-3 minutes to release impurities (this will help make your broth clear). Dump the chicken parts into a strainer and rinse the parts well with water to wash off any nasty residue. Quickly scrub the stockpot clean and return the chicken parts to the pot. Nestle the chicken (breast side up) into the bed of chicken parts. Add 5 quarts of water. The chicken should be covered with water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat to a gentle simmer. Use a ladle or shallow spoon to skim off any scum or froth that floats to the top. Add the onions, ginger, salt, fish sauce, rock sugar, coriander seeds, cloves and cilantro. Simmer, uncovered, for 25 minutes. Remove the whole chicken from the water and transfer it to a large bowl. The chicken should be fully cooked at this point. Flush the chicken with cold water and drain well, then set aside until cool enough to handle, about 15-20 minutes. Continue to simmer the chicken.
Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, use a knife to remove the breasts and the legs (thighs and drumsticks). Set aside on a large plate to cool completely. Return the chicken carcass to the stockpot and adjust the heat to simmer the broth gently for another 1 1/2 hours.
Cover the chicken breasts and legs with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Bring them back to room temperature before serving.
Strain the broth through a sieve lined with a cheesecloth. Discard the solids. Skim as much fat from the top of the broth as you can. If you want, you can cool the broth and refrigerate it overnight to remove the fat that solidifies at the top and then just reheat.
Taste the broth and season to taste with additional salt, fish sauce and rock sugar. There will be about 4 quarts (16 cups) of broth. Continue to simmer the broth while preparing the soup.
Cut the chicken breasts and legs into slices about 1/4-inch thick, or shred as necessary. Set aside.
Prepare noodles according to package instructions and place in individual bowls. Top each bowl of noodles with chicken, yellow onions, scallions and cilantro. Sprinkle with pepper.
Increase the heat on the broth to a rolling boil. Ladle hot broth into each prepared bowl.
Serve immediately with garnishes.