Oh my god it’s 2017. Hi there. I’m not even going to with what a horror 2016 was. Instead I’m going to talk about food. The other day Professor Furious got a hankering for pho. Impossible to find in Small Town, where we are unfortunately still living. So, like I do whenever I’m faced with a problem, I turned to the internet. So many recipes. Most of them are even pretty similar. I’m working off of the Serious Eats Quick and Easy 1-Hour Pho, mostly. Meanwhile, I had my own craving for barbacoa, which is tradiontal Mexican deliciousness made by slow roasting a cowhead in a pit. I opt for beef cheek meat and the slow cooker.
The biggest problem cooking anything around here is getting ingredients. I rarely see cheek meat at our grocery store, but luckily the one “downtown” actually had it. (And a beef heart, which I almost bought because I have been wanting to try cooking beef heart for freaking ages, but never have for various reasons, mostly of the not finding it variety.) Luckily the spices for pho are pretty easy. The weird thing was our store was out of limes. I don’t think they even carry bean sprouts or fresh basil or the noodles. No flank steak, either. Luckily, there’s a hippie store on the outskirts of town, so everything is organic and cost like twice what would be at HEB for pesticide laden stuff, but whatever. I really wanted to make it. Still no flank, we’re doing chuck, instead.
Barbacoa is stupid easy. Chuck the amount of meat you want into the slow cooker with salt, pepper, garlic, and cumin, and like a little bit of water. Use a lot of salt. More salt than that. I mean you can salt it when you’re eating it, but put in plenty. I am really bad about cooking by sight, and didn’t really pay attention to how much meat I had. So let’s say it was like a pound? A pound and a half? I threw in like a small handful of salt? What do I look like, a food blog? You do you, and it’s not the end of the world if you err on the side of caution and just put some salt on your taco. When we buy it already made, I always end up adding salt. Put your slow cooker on low and let it go overnight. I started ours about 8:30 on Saturday night, and woke up about 10:30 on Sunday. Twelve hours is probably good. I like frying it in a pan before making tacos. It crsips up any fat on it, and helps cook off any extra liquid. After that, it’s all up to you. I do corn tortillas, Professor and Mini like flour. You can dice up some onion, and cilantro, and slice some limes. (The acid in the limes helps cut through the fat.) I use the Herdez Taqueria salsa, which is red and has a smoky flavor it it. The Professor like the green avocado one they do. (And so do I, it’s really good. So is their tomatillo salsa. This is my go to brand for not making my own.) Or make some fresh pico de gallo and throw that on. Sky’s the limit my friends. No pictures, because it’s hard to make it look pretty, but man I wish you could smell my house right now, and that is really not something I say often. Here’s a cat instead.
Pho time! It’s a lazy Sunday, so I have more than an hour to get it done, which means I have to rely less on some of the quick bits in the Serious Eats recipe. I’m skipping the ground chuck, mostly because I hate the idea of tossing it after using it for stock, especially when I found perfectly good stock bones at the store for once. (Never ever do they have them. So frustrating.) Instead, I’m diligently skimming. I have this tiny strainer that is about sized to sit on a coffee cup. No idea where it came from, it’s just one of those things I’ve had forever. Possibly it’s from one of the times I broke a french press and decided to look into other options for my cold brew? (Mason jar and then straining directly into the glass I think this was. … It did not work great.)
- 3 whole star anise pods
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 4 cloves
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 2 quarts low-sodium chicken broth, plus some water
- 1 ounce (four packets) powdered gelatin
- 2 cups of water
- 1 smallish (mine was maybe 5 inches) hand ginger, quartered
- 1 medium onion, sliced into thick rings
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/4 cup fish sauce
- Oil, I used olive
- 2 pounds rib bones, with some meat on them
- 2 pounds chuck roast
- To Serve:
- 1 box rice noodles, the wide flat kind, prepared according to package directions
- A bunch of cilantro, basil, and thai basil
- Bean sprouts
- I had time and rib bones, so I decided to make stock. Heat up some oil in the bottom of a stock pot, and brown the ribs. What I had was two or three inch chunks that were probably the leftovers from the butcher doing up packs of ribs. Some of them had pretty good sized bits of meat on them. Work in batches, don’t crowd the pan. Generally, I ignore that advice, dump it all in, and hope for the best. I didn’t this time, and I’m glad.
- Add the ribs and cover with the chicken broth. I added about two cups of water because the broth didn’t cover the bones. I also threw in a good sized pinch of salt. A couple of tablespoons? IDK, y’all. I mostly make things up as I go along. If you’re trying to cook off my directions and are a beginner, ask me questions in the comments. Otherwise, y’all are making beef stock, but don’t go throwing in anything other than the salt.
- Bring it to a boil and turn it down to a simmer, and let it go for about 3 hours.
- Wander into the kitchen every half hour or so and skim off the gunk from the top.
- At about 2 1/2 hours, remember there are more steps to this whole thing and they take time to do.
- Put the chuck roast in the freezer for about 15 minutes to facilitate slicing.
- While the chuck is chilling, slice up your onion and ginger and put it under the broiler. Probably not on parchment paper like I did, because that gets sort of burnt. (But didn’t actually catch on fire, so it’s not the worst kitchen decision I’ve ever made.) Keep an eye on it. My onion charred nicely, but the ginger just sort of looked dried out. When one side is getting a nice black on, go ahead and flip it.
- While the aromatics are charring, get the spices (cinnamon, anise, coriander, cloves) together. I don’t have cheesecloth, but I do have a ton of coffee filters. I tied mine with kitchen twine (why do I have that? No freaking clue!), but you can probably staple it shut. I just dropped the cinnamon stick in, because it wasn’t going to fit in my little spice bag. Add to the pot.
- Dump the gelatin packs into 2 cups of water to bloom. Stir a bit to make sure it’s all submerged. Get distracted and start playing with it. Go back to cooking.
- Realize that the chuck isn’t going to fit in the stock pot with the bones, and it’s been about three hours, and the bones have given up about all they’re going to anyway. Use tongs to pull them out. Have a helper (I used a husband feeling guilty about playing video games while I was in the kitchen) remove any meat from the bones and add it back to the pot. Careful, it’s hot. Be sure to pull any gristle that hasn’t broken down. If it hasn’t yet, it isn’t going to.
- The gelatin should be properly bloomed, dump it in.
- Also add in the fish sauce and sugar.
- And the ginger and onion.
- Slice the chuck roast thinly, and probably about 1 inch long slices. This entirely depends on what you feel like trying to eat. Definitely remove as much silver skin as possible, and large chunks of fat. Add to the pot.
- By now, all of the ingredients should be in your stock pot, except for the”To serve” stuff.
- Bring to a boil and back down to a simmer. Let it simmer about 45 minutes to an hour.
- Again with the wandering in and skimming.
- The noodles should take about 8 to 10 minutes to rehydrate. So, about 20 minutes before you’re ready to eat, get started on that. Also on slicing up scallions.
- Put your noodles in the bottom of the bowl. Ladle soup in on top.
- Add your chosen add ins.
So very good. I was doubtful, because I don’t always nail stuff like this on the first go, but this is amazing. Even Mini really liked it, and she’s generally iffy on food as a whole, unless it’s pepperoni and crackers. Next time I will probably let it cook with the chuck and spices a little longer. I’m also getting some cheese cloth, or maybe one of those reusable bags for this sort of thing, because the cinnamon fell apart. It wasn’t horrible, but it happened. I might also go with 4 anise stars, and 5 cloves. I wanted just a little bit more out of those. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m working with about 4 more cups of liquid than the original recipe called for, or if it’s just my personal taste. It could just be that my brain is looking for things to fuss with, because how could I get it so right on the first go. (More fish sauce? But that’s totally me. I love fish sauce.) To put it away, I put all the meat in one container and the broth into mason jars on its own. (I got a canning funnel, and seriously, one of the best kitchen things I have. It combined with the mini strainer made separating meat and broth super easy.) I also could have probably done less meat. IDK. Go with how meaty you like your pho. I love the gelatin trick, and I am probably going to be using that one in the future for other soups.
Our new year started with our family together, a roof over our heads, and plenty of tasty food. All in all, not a bad beginning.