Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Beef Pho, in the Crock-Pot!

Once a month we get together with some of our friends and have what we call, "Beef Night". I realize this sounds really silly, or maybe even weird, but we think it's awesome. It all started in October 2009, we went to Spooner Farms' pumpkin patch and corn maze with our friends. While we were there, I bought a butternut squash (determined to find a recipe I'd like) and my husband bought a spicy BBQ sauce (it was called Bear Bite). Out of the adventures that day, we all decided that we should get together for dinner. My husband and I would make steaks with the BBQ sauce, I'd make something delicious with the butternut squash and our friends would bring the dessert. Dinner went over so well, and we had so much fun that we decided to have beef night once a month with those friends, and we've been doing it ever since. We switch hosts each month. One month my husband and I host at our home, and we provide the beef recipes and our friends bring dessert. The next month our friends host, and we bring dessert.

I'm always looking for new ways to amp up the beef when it's my turn to host. After almost three years of beef night, we've really had to put some thought into the main course. I've been wanting to make an Italian pasta dish for the last few months, and thought I'd do it this month, but when the day got closer I wasn't in the mood for it. So I got to researching and brainstorming and came up with Pho. I found a recipe for the crock-pot and it was decided. For those of you who have no idea what Pho is: it's simply Vietnamese noodle soup.

This recipe does take some time to cook, but it's all hands off while your stock cooks in crock-pot. Give yourself about 30 minutes of prep time to get everything into the crock-pot. You have to char your ginger and onions, as well as hard boil your beef bones to get rid of the scum (yuck). But then it goes into the crock pot and your essentially done! 

The only thing I had a hard time with in this recipe, was that the stock wasn't hot enough to completely cook the steak strips even though I thought I had cut it pretty thin. So next time I will either ask my butcher to cut the steak super thin, or I might put the beef in the crock-pot for a few minutes before we're ready to eat.

We served this with rice noodles, cilantro, Thai basil, limes, chilies, bean sprouts, hoisin, chili garlic sauce and sriracha. I also made some vegetable pot stickers, but that recipe is for a later date ;) Our guests were impressed with this recipe, and we all enjoyed it immensely! I was impressed that the stock tasted just like our favorite Pho restaurant. I would like to try to make Pho on the stove top next time, just to see if the depth of flavor is different than with the crock-pot. I'm not complaining about this recipe, I just like to tweak things :) I'd also like to try a chicken and vegetarian version of this. I always order the vegetarian Pho when we go out for Pho, I really like how their veggie stock tastes over the chicken or beef stock. However you like Pho though, you gotta try this recipe! You'll knock everybody's socks off!

This is a recipe for a 6.5 quart (or larger) Crock Pot. Any smaller really isn’t that great – you won’t get enough stock out of it…because the beef bones are really chunky and big. The thinly sliced meat for the bowls may be easier to slice if you freeze the chunk of meat for 15 minutes prior to slicing. You really want them as thin a possible. You can also do what I do – palm your butcher a $5 bill and he’ll slice the meat for you on his fancy slicing machine

Serves 4

For the Pho Stock:
4 pounds beef bones
1/2 onion
4 inch section of ginger, sliced
1 package Vietnamese Pho Spices (or as many of these spices as you have: 2 cinnamon sticks, 2 teaspoons whole coriander, 1 teaspoon fennel, 3 whole star anise, 3 whole cloves, 1 cardamom pod)
9 cups water
2 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce or to taste
1 teaspoon sugar

For the Pho Bowls
16 ounces fresh or dried rice noodles
1/2 pound flank, london broil, sirloin or eye of round steak, sliced as thinly as possible.
11 ounces Vietnamese beef balls, cut into half

For the table
1-2 limes, cut into wedges
fresh herbs: cilantro, Thai basil, mint
2-3 chili peppers, sliced
2 big handfuls of bean sprouts
Hoisin sauce
Sriracha hot chili sauce

1. Bring a large stockpot with water to boil over high heat. When it comes to a rolling boil, add the beef bones and boil vigorously for 10 minutes.

2. In the meantime, heat a frying pan on medium-low heat. Add the Vietnamese Pho Spices and toast until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Dump the spices to the empty Crock Pot or slow cooker immediately. Return frying pan to medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon of oil. When the oil is hot, add the ginger slices and the onion half. Cook until the ginger is browned on both sides and the onion half is nicely browned and softened. Add the ginger and the onion to the Crock Pot or slow cooker.

3. When the bones have been pre-boiled, drain, discard water and rinse bones briefly to clean them. Add the bones to the Crock Pot or slow cooker. Fill the Crock Pot with fresh, clean, cool water to just 1-1/2 inches below surface, add the fish sauce and sugar. Cover and set the Crock Pot or slow cooker to cook on low for 8 hours. Taste and season with additional fish sauce if needed.

4. When you are just about ready to eat, you’ll prep the rest of the ingredients for the Pho bowls. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the beef balls and cook until heated through, about 2 minutes. Remove the balls, keeping the water boiling and now cook the noodles according to package instructions. If you are using fresh noodles, all they need is a couple of minutes. Drain immediately.

5. Strain the stock with a fine meshed sieve. Discard the solids.

6. Line up 4 large bowls on counter. Distribute the noodles, beef balls and thin steak slices evenly amongst the bowls. Ladle the hot Pho stock into each bowl. The hot stock should cook the thin steak slices. Serve with lime wedges, fresh herbs, chili peppers, Hoisin sauce and Sriracha hot chili sauce at the table.

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