Monday, February 14, 2011

Meatball Beef Pho

Happy Valentine's Day, or rather, Happy Chocolate Day! I prefer to celebrate this Hallmark holiday without the Hallmarkness, and I see this calendar holiday mostly as a good excuse to bake a decadent homemade chocolate dessert. Tonight, I'm making individual chocolate souffles (cooked exactly 14 minutes) using Julia Child's recipe. With the typical February weather we are having today -wet, cold and nasty- they will be perfect.

"We got up in the morning to the persistent steady thumping of rain on the roof and we lay in bed at night and listened to the persistent steady thumping of rain on the roof." "It rained and rained and rained and rained. It drizzled -misted -drooled -spat -poured -and just plain rained." -Betty MacDoanld, The Egg and I

When the weather is wet and cold, a beef soup is the perfect food to have. Beef Pho, a Vietnamese beef broth and rice noodle soup, is always a popular choice for a quick and filling lunch or dinner. It is especially comforting to have when it's rather cold outside and the skies have been pouring down rain for days on end, as is generally the case here in the Puget Sound area, off and on from the first of November to the end of May. With a decent bowl of Pho available on practically every block in the city, it may not seem worth it to bother to make your own, but we live thirty some miles north, and when I have a craving for a bowl of Pho, I find it much preferable to spend my Sunday afternoon puttering in the kitchen making beef broth, than to drive through traffic in search of good Pho -and there's the added bonus of having leftovers the next day (or freeze half for a second meal later). This is not at all difficult to make, and the time required is mostly hands off cooking, so you can make Pho while you're watching a movie, knitting (or both), or whatever.

The key to really good Pho is a genuine broth. Beef is classic, though I often make a Duck Pho that's really pretty amazing. Canned beef broth can be used (and I have) but it is just not quite the same thing. Beef shanks, or some other bone-in soup-bone-type cut, are what you need for this. I made this in the pressure cooker Sunday afternoon, and our kitchen smelled absolutely heavenly with the fragrance of the beefy cinnamon, star anise, ginger and lemongrass broth.

Pho Beef Broth
Place in pressure cooker:
2 # beef shank meat (best if browned first, but I forgot to)
5-6 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
3 whole garlic cloves
1 large shallot
5 black peppercorns
4 whole cloves
2 inch ginger root, sliced
1 t. vegetable oil
1-2 carrots, whole or broken
1 stalk lemongrass
1 stalk celery
Fill cooker to 3/4 mark (about 3 quarts). Bring to high pressure, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for one hour. Shut off heat, allow pressure to drop, and broth to cool a bit.

Remove shank bones and meat, shred, and set aside. The pressure cooked shank bones made a tasty treat for our old dog, Jane.

Strain the broth, and discard the STUFF. To strained broth, add:
2-4 T. fish sauce
1-2 t. sugar
salt and ground pepper to taste

meatballs -I used these frozen meatballs (click here), but pork meatballs would also be great. Simmer 10 minutes, or until the meatballs are done.

Meanwhile, cook 12-16 oz. rice sticks in boiling water for 8-10 minutes or until tender. Drain, rinse in cold water, drain and set aside.

Place a serving of noodles in a large bowl, add meatballs, shredded beef, and broth. Top individual bowls with:
fresh bean sprouts
fresh whole or shredded cilantro, basil and/or mint leaves
finely sliced Thai chilies
sliced green onions (or diced yellow onions)
squeezes of lime juice
soy sauce and/or hot chili sauce, as desired

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