Like half the moms in the US who didn’t already have one, I received an Instant Pot (IP) for Christmas this year. I was a little reluctant to hop on the bandwagon, since I’ve always kind of viewed them as a gimmicky way to get people who don’t really know how to cook into the kitchen. You won’t find a lot of recipes here for dumping canned ingredients on top of frozen meat and calling it dinner, but when used as a pressure cooker should be, the Instant Pot can be a valuable addition to your kitchen arsenal.
As most people know by now, the IP can be used for everything from cheesecake to egg bites. I feel it shines best when used to reduce cooking times without sacrificing quality. It does well with tough cuts of meat that benefit from low and slow cooking, and it makes an excellent bone broth. In this recipe, I use both of those attributes to make one of my favorite soups with one of my favorite cuts of meat.
Pho is a classic Vietnamese soup that typically requires a highly flavorful long-simmered broth made from beef or chicken and a variety of spices. The broth is poured over rice noodles (bánh phở) that can be purchased dried in most grocery stores or fresh from your local Asian market, varied cuts of meat, and is garnished with fresh herbs, bean sprouts, sliced onions and chiles, and hoisin and chili pepper sauces. If you’d like to learn more about pho and where it comes from, I would recommend clicking over to Andrea Nguyen’s blog (https://www.vietworldkitchen.com) or picking up one of her cookbooks. I have read two of her books, Pho and Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, cover to cover, and they’re a wonderful resource for Vietnamese cuisine.
Is pho kid-friendly? Mine sure think so. It’s just noodle soup with meat in it, and they can skip the garnishes if they’re afraid of spicy food or things that are green. This is my seven year old slurping away at a Vietnamese restaurant in San Francisco prior to me making it at home more regularly. After the first time I made the beef tendon pho, he asked me to please thank grandma for giving us the IP, because it was his new favorite soup! Give things like this a try if you haven’t, it’s a great way to expand your family’s horizons.
Beef tendon can be a little intimidating if you haven’t worked with it before. It is what it sounds like – tough connective tissue – and despite it being my favorite pho inclusion at my local Vietnamese restaurant, I never dared make it home before receiving my IP. I had made pho in the past, but the broth took all day and quite honestly wasn’t quite as good as what I could order out. It was one of the few meals I used to prefer to leave to the professionals.
This is where the pressure cooker comes in. No all-day simmer required, and the beef tendon is tenderized as part of the stock-making process. Simply turn your IP on to “sauté,” add your spices and cook a few minutes until aromatic, then add your beef and other ingredients with water and cook under pressure for a little over an hour. Let the IP release pressure naturally for about 20 min, and then you can quick release the rest. Voilá! Delicious pho broth, with tender tendon to boot. You then strain the broth and it can be used immediately or save for a later date. The tendon fares best if used the same day as it was cooked, as it seems to get a bit gummy when refrigerated.
The other intimidating part of this recipe can be the ingredient list. Many people have never heard of some of these, and that’s okay. Fortunately, most mainstream grocery stores have an “Asian food” section these days, and you should be able to find the rice noodles, fish sauce, and hoisin here. The only spice I had trouble finding in Green Bay was star anise, but the second grocery store I tried carried it. All of the dried ingredients can also be ordered online. For the chile sauce you can certainly use sriracha, but my preference is a Vietnamese sate sauce. My Asian market carries a few brands, amazon does as well, and Andrea Nguyen has a recipe for it here if you prefer to make your own: https://www.vietworldkitchen.com/blog/2007/07/lemongrass-chil.html. For bean sprouts, fresh are better than canned, but if you can only get canned feel free to use them. For herbs, I like Thai basil and cilantro, but regular basil and mint work well too. If your Asian market carries chiles pick some up there, but Serranos or even jalapeños from your grocery store will work in a pinch.
Meat is the only part of this that might be challenging if you’re in a rural area. I can get marrow bones at my regular grocery, but not beef tendon. I would try an Asian grocery first if you have access to one, a Latino grocery next, then ask at the meat counter of your regular grocery or the butcher/meat processor if your town has one. My Asian grocery carries pre-sliced carpaccio style steak, but you can always buy flank steak or even sirloin and slice it thin yourself. Put it in the freezer for a half hour or so before you slice it to make it firmer and easier to get thin – you don’t want it thicker than 1/8″.
Instant Pot Beef Tendon Pho
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 4 star anise
- 10 cloves, whole
- 2″ ginger root, peeled, cut into chunks, and bruised with a meat mallet
- 1 onion, thick sliced
- 2 lb beef marrow bones Other beef bones may be substituted if marrow bones unavailable
- 1 lb beef tendon
- 1 Fuji apple, cored and roughly diced
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 2 Tbsp fish sauce increase to taste
- 2 Tbsp Chinese yellow rock sugar increase to taste
- 1 lb rice noodles/bánh phở fresh or dried
- 1 cup bean sprouts preferably fresh
- 1/2 cup fresh herbs – Thai basil, mint, and/or cilantro
- 2 small chile peppers, thinly sliced
- hoisin sauce
- Vietnamese sate sauce or sriracha
- 1 lb Beef steak, flank or sirloin, sliced to carpaccio thickness (1/8″)
- Turn IP on to sauté.
- Add cinnamon stick, star anise, and cloves to dry pot. Sauté 1-2 min until aromatic.
- Add ginger and onion, cook in dry pot 1 min until aromatic.
- Add water to a depth of 2 inches.
- Add marrow bones, beef tendon, apple, and salt. Add water to “max fill” line of your IP.
- Pressure cook on high pressure manual setting for 1 hour 15 min. Allow pressure to release naturally for 20 min.
- Strain stock through fine mesh strainer. Stock may be cooled and refrigerated at this point for use later, or you may proceed with the recipe. Transfer tendon to cutting board.
- Transfer strained stock either to pot on stovetop or back into IP on sauté. Heat to simmer/low boil. Add rock sugar and fish sauce to taste. Salt may be added as well. Keep in mind that this stock will flavor the rest of the ingredients, so it should be strongly flavorful.
- While stock simmers, thinly slice beef tendon with an extremely sharp knife, to a thickness of no more than 1/4″. Return to simmering stock.
- Follow package directions for rice noodles. Many require a very brief boil. Do not overcook.
- Assemble 4 bowls: Divide rice noodles equally. Top noodles with thinly sliced steak, spreading individual pieces in a single layer over the noodles (overlapping is fine). Pour piping hot broth into the bowls, making sure to include the sliced tendon, and serve.
- Offer garnish plate consisting of bean sprouts, fresh herbs (basil, mint, cilantro), and thinly sliced chiles. Diners should add these directly to soup. Offer hoisin sauce and sate/sriracha as well, and provide small dishes so diners may dip meat separately into sauce if they choose. Slurp away!