Life has just speeded up incredibly. i have been into slow cooking, sous vide cooking and slow roasting to maximise flavours and textures…but I’ve been blown away yet again by my magical Instant Pot. I always thought that pressure cooking had the potential for very tender meat dishes but the pay off would be in the depth of flavour, but I was so wrong. Ever since getting the Instant Pot I have been experimenting with various beef dishes and I have come to a conclusion that contrary to what I believed, pressure cooking can be just as flavourful and delicious as slow-cooker products.
Asian cooking, as compared to European or American-style cooking, often surprises people at the amount of preparation time and effort is actually needed. Even simple stir fries need lots of chopping and dicing beforehand, and if you actually make a curry from scratch, the preparation of spices – toasting, grinding, frying would actually take half the time for cooking the dish. Which is why I have been so fascinated by my pressure cooker as anything that slices off time from making meals is, frankly, a winner.
Once a month on a Saturday morning, I have a group of ladies that comes for mentoring group. This is a group that bonds over a prolonged breakfast and deep sharing. Unbeknownst to my MG friends, they are my guinea pigs for cooking as it is a great opportunity to try out recipes. They have always been a willing and appreciative audience, and have never objected to any of my experiments. Breakfast ranges wildly from noodle dishes to classic American breakfasts, frittatas and bakes. The only constant is that the recipes are low carb and that the sharing is authentic.
Ultimately food is really for sharing and community usually is centred around meals. There is nothing that defines a place more than its food culture. I like that despite our very busy schedules, we still have lots of meals at home as a family (thanks to D, my helper, who is a pretty good cook). And I love cooking for family and friends as I always find that conversations are actually different over meals. I’m pretty used to cooking big meals, which may be why the butcher loves me so much!
Mentoring Group breakfast this month was Vietnamese Beef Pho. It is a really doable one-pot meal as I can adhere to my low carb restrictions by using Shirataki noodles while my friends who are not doing low-carb get thin rice noodles. The clincher for Beef Pho is a rich stock and I can’t imagine any instant mixes coming anywhere close to stock prepared from scratch. For this recipe I used a variety of meat cuts – oxtail for the rich bone broth, brisket for the collagenous content that with prolonged cooking melts into the broth, and finally shin beef that also has a high collagen content due to the tendons in the muscle. I used the Instant Pot to prepare the beef stock that was like a concentrate that I used the next day for the Pho soup. The actual beef served with the Pho was shabu-shabu type thin beef slices that are easily found in supermarkets in Singapore.
The other thing that contributed to the wonderful beef stock, besides the rich meat cuts, was my Red Boat fish sauce. I have become a fish sauce snob after a friend (S, the Lobang Queen) introduced me to extra-virgin fish sauce. This pricey fish sauce is worth it because it has a cleaner fish taste. This is a magic secret ingredient because many dishes actually improve in depth of flavour with a good dash of fish sauce. I even throw this into my bolognese sauce – it lends a surprisingly umami overtone.
So here is the Vietnamese Beef Pho recipe, made low carb and super fast on the Instant Pot. The Instant Pot saved about 2 – 3 hours of stove top cooking. I almost feel guilty for how little work went into making this meal!
Instant Pot Vietnamese Beef Pho
- 500g beef brisket, cut into 1 inch pieces
- 500g beef shin, cut into 1 inch pieces
- 1 kg oxtail pieces (try to choose less fatty pieces)
- 500g sliced shabu-shabu beef (or thinly sliced sirloin or beef round)
- 1 large onion, cut into large chunks
- 8 slices of young ginger
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 green cardamom pod
- 3 star anise
- 5 cloves
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup good quality fish sauce
- Shirataki noodles or fresh thin rice noodles
- 1 bunch of coriander
- 1 bunch of mint
- 1 bunch of sweet Thai basil
- 3 large limes, quartered
- 3 chilis, sliced thin
- 1/2 large onion, sliced paper thin
- 2 cups of been sprouts, lightly blanched
- In a hot skillet over medium heat, toast the spices – cinnamon, fennel seeds, cloves cardamom and star anise. Place in a spice bag (I use a paper tea bag for loose leaves).
- Put the Instant Pot into SAUTE mode. Add the olive oil to the pot. Saute the ginger and onion until caramelized. Remove and set aside.
- Brown the pieces of oxtail, brisket and shin, only placing one layer of meat at the base of the pot, and browning in batches.
- Add the meat, ginger and onion back into the pot. Place the spice packet into the pot. Fill with water up to the maximum mark.
- Close the lid of the Instant Pot and put the valve into the sealed position. Put the pot into SOUP mode, but press ADJUST to increase cooking time to 60 minutes. Cook for an hour, then allow natural pressure release.
- Remove the meat from the pot and set aside. Discard the pieces of ginger and onion as well as the spice packet. Strip the meat from the oxtails and discard the bones.
- If you are serving the pho immediately, skim off the oil from the stock. If not, refrigerate the stock overnight. The solidified fat layer is easy to remove the next day.Strain the stock to remove any tiny pieces of meat or scum.
- The stock is a concentrate, so add 6 – 8 cups of water, salt and fish sauce. This soup can be boiled in the Instant Pot using the SAUTE mode, or in a regular pot over the stove.
- Prepare the Shirataki noodles by draining the liquid they came packed in, then dry fry on a skillet. If using rice noodles, briefly blanch in boiling hot water.
- Assemble the bowl of pho as follows: place the noodles in a deep bowl, topped by several thin shabu-shabu slices of beef. You can also add in the stewing beef as well although classical pho only has the thin beef slices. Ladle in boiling hot soup onto the noodles and beef, and top off with generous handfuls of bean sprouts, herbs (coriander, basil and mint), some thinly sliced onions and chili. Serve hot with a side saucer of sriracha sauce.