The Beef Bone Experiment
A slow Sunday with some leftovers
Compared to the last month, this week is something of a long exhale for me. A ton of projects have been completed, we had our trip to Italy (and another wedding at the weekend). But work has been quite demanding, and every hour of the working day (plus several most evenings) has been spent toiling. No time for Scraps, which has been a shame.
But I’m back today because last weekend was our first proper foray into autumnal cooking, and it was so satisfying. I got short ribs from the butchers so we could make the New York Times Cooking’s seared short ribs recipe — I think I’ve actually featured it here before, but for the uninitiated, it’s a quick-cook version of short ribs, which are typically braised in something saucy for an afternoon. You ask the butcher to remove the bone, and then you cut the ribs, which are usually thick and long, into 1 -inch cubes. You sear them like you would a steak, let them rest, then slice them into these neat little strips.
Might be the album of the year, you know.
The thing I like about this recipe is just how simple it is. While the steak is resting, you add some roughly chopped spring onion and tomato (the recipe actually calls for tomatillos, which are a nightmare to find in South East London). These go into the pan you cooked the steak in and cook down until the tomatoes go jammy and the spring onions char and crisp (a sprinkle of cumin also brings heat and a savouriness to them). In a bowl, you make a very basic salsa with more roughly chopped spring onion and tomatoes with a squeeze of lime. You spoon the collapsed sauce over the steak and serve with the salsa. We have it in tortillas, but I think it would be pretty good with crispy potatoes or a big platter of roasted vegetables, too.
Every time I eat this, I can’t believe how flavoursome it is. It’s so basic! But it just works. Anyway I always buy double of whatever I need at the butcher, and as a result we had some short ribs left over for the rest of the weekend. And when the man asked me if I wanted to keep the bones, I naturally said absofuckinglutely.
Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef-and-Noodle Soup)
I’ve done stocks a few times on Scraps, but I’d never made one with beef bones. I thought this recipe on the NYT for beef noodle soup looked perfect for a Sunday night, but before I could make that, I had to make the base stock. It felt like an opportunity to just experiment.
In the slow cooker, I added what I had in the cupboards: some carrots and shallots, roughly chopped. A clove or two of garlic. Some peppercorns. The beef bones, which are thick and slab-like, get laid on top, and I poured water over to cover. I also added in a vegetable stock cube for good luck. The slow cooker was switched on before bed on Saturday night, and the next day, a beautiful, rich aroma wafted through the house.
I tried to keep the base stock as simple as possible and it really was good enough to drink (N.B: remember when everyone was obsessed with ‘bone broth’?).
To make the Pho Bo, you simmer the stock with star anise, cinnamon, ginger, onion, and cloves for an hour, before straining. Cook packet noodles while you bring the strained stock to a simmer, and drop in the leftover beef — I sliced it as thin as I could with a good knife — before turning the heat off. The paper-thin beef cooks in the hot broth in minutes. All that’s left to do is add the noodles to the bowls, ladle over the stock, and add toppings — lots of fresh herbs, fried shallots, spring onions, a dash of fish sauce.
It was the best soup I’ve ever made.