Just so you know, this past Sunday, Well Fed turned two years old. I meant to do a special birthday post featuring a new version of a recipe I did on my previous blog that was sort of the inspiration for the formatting for this one, but I ran out of time. I'll probably do it this weekend. Look for it early next week.
And speaking of birthdays, this past Saturday I hosted a belated celebration for my friend Lauren. A couple weeks ago she had a gathering at a really cool wine bar near her place in Santa Monica, but I was unable to attend. Neither could our friends Heather and Jessica, who you might know as the Fug Girls. They were out of the country on a special fug mission. Upon their return I decided to have them all over for a low key dinner thing to celebrate Lauren's special day. Better late than never, right?
As I've mentioned before, since my place is so small and there is no
dining table, I usually try to serve dishes that can be eaten with a
fork only, no cutting with a knife, since my guests will be either
balancing their plates in their laps or holding them with one hand
while eating the other. I want whatever they eat to be easy. As such
I usually serve tender meats or fish.
One of my goals this winter was to do some more braising and this seemed like a good occasion to do so. I had planned on doing another one of Ms. Goin's recipes, a slow-cooked pork stew with roasted root vegetables, but it seemed a little complicated, a few too many steps that needed to be done at the last minute. I have every intention of eventually giving it a try. I thought back to an issue of Bon Appetite from October that featured this recipe on the cover. Beef short ribs were an ingredient I've not ever worked with but have wanted to and I had just happened to have read a chapter devoted them in Bill Burford's captivating book Heat, an account of the author's time spent working under Mario Batali at his restaurant Babbo.
Over the last several years short ribs have been showing up on lots of menus at many of the more trendy restaurants, and with good reason. First of all, they are relatively cheap. Meats that are braised usually are. They tend to be cuts that are usually tough and require long slow cooking. However, these cuts also have lots of flavor, thanks to the ribbons of fat that runs through them. Remember that people. Fat = Flavor. Short ribs come in two different styles, English cut and Flanken cut. English are nice little rectangles, about 2 inches by 3 inches by about 1 1/2 inches thick, with a wide, flat bone running through them, longways. Flanken cut are longer with two bones running through, shortways. One of the nice things about them is that one short rib is pretty much a perfect serving, sort of like a shank. Which might be why the chefs at Bon Appetite thought it appropriate to serve them with gremolata. Made of parsley, garlic and lemon zest, gremotala is a traditional accompaniment to the Italian braised veal shank dish known as Osso Buco. This version also has thyme and rosemary. Two of my favorites herbs. Wine, meat, garlic and fresh herbs, all served atop a creamy mound of Gorgonzola streaked polenta. How could this not be great?
(For the short ribs seasoning)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
6 pounds meaty beef short ribs (10 ribs, English style)
(For the braising)
1/4 cup (about) vegetable oil
1 large onion, sliced
2 carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 750-ml bottles Cabernet Sauvignon
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons all purpose flour
(For the Gremolata)
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
3 tablespoons finely grated lemon peel
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme
(For the Polenta)
4 cups low-salt chicken broth
1 1/2 cups polenta (not instant)
3/4 cup (about 4 ounces) crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
1/4 cup heavy cream
Arrange ribs in single layer in 15x10x2- inch glass baking dish. Mix rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper in small bowl; sprinkle all over ribs.
Cover and refrigerate overnight. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour before continuing.
Preheat oven to 375°F. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy wide oven-proof pot over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add ribs to pot and sear on all four sides (don't worry about the ends), about 3 or 4 minutes per side. Don't rush this process. The darker the meat, the more richness and flavor the finished result will have.
As you brown, you may have to add more oil to the pot if needed, although the short ribs will give off some fat. After all the ribs have been browned, pour off and discard the remaining oil and drippings.
Add the sliced onion to the pot and and add a little salt, cooking until translucent, about 5 minutes or so. The salt will extract the juices in the onions which will help you deglaze the pan, using a spoon to scrap up any of the the crispy bits and color left in the bottom from the browning of the meat. Add the garlic, carrots and celery, stir to combine and cook for an additional 2 minutes.
Add wine and return ribs and any accumulated juices to pot and bring to boil.
(To properly braise, the liquid should not quite cover the meat. I probably used too many short ribs for a pot this size, since some of them where completely submerged. Oh well.) Cover and then transfer to the oven and braise until meat is very tender and almost falling off bones, about 2 hours.
These next few steps might sound sort of fussy and overly complicated, but they really aren't. Remove the short ribs, place in a baking dish and once they've cooled, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Pour the braising liquid through a strainer, pressing gently on the solids. The braising liquid will likely be very greasy. A great way to skim the grease off is to cover the bowl of strained braising liquid with two layers of cheese cloth, criss-crossing one another. To keep it from sinking into the liquid I use mini bull clips to keep the cheese cloth in place. Place the bowl full of braising liquid in the refrigerator over night.
The next day, the fat will have solidified into the cheese cloth. Simply remove the bull clips and lift off the cheese cloth. All the solidified fat will come right with it leaving behind perfectly de-greased braising liquid.
I much prefer this method to using a spoon. It's kind of like magic. It could also be used for de-greasing homemade stock. Isn't this a great trick to know?
Remove the ribs from the refrigerator and let sit for one hour, so they can come to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Remove the plastic wrap from the baking dish, spoon a little of the braising liquid over each short rib and then reheat in the oven for about 30 to 45 minutes until the meat is heated through.
Meanwhile, pour the rest of the braising liquid into a pot and bring to a boil, reducing it to approximately 2 generous cups, which should take about 20 minutes. Combine 2 tablespoons butter, 2 tablespoons flour, and 2 tablespoons of the hot liquid in small bowl and mix with a spoon until well blended. Whisk butter mixture into reduced braising liquid. Continue whisking over medium-high heat until sauce thickens very slightly, about 2 minutes.
To make the gremolata, mix all ingredients in small bowl. This can be made 1 day ahead. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
When it's getting within about twenty minutes of when you want to serve the ribs, make the polenta. Bring 4 cups chicken broth and one cup of water to a boil in heavy 4-quart saucepan. Gradually add polenta, whisking constantly. Return mixture to boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until polenta is tender, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes. If the polenta becomes too think, add a little more water or chicken broth. Remove from heat. Add Gorgonzola and cream; stir until cheese is melted. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Divide Gorgonzola Polenta among plates. Top with one of the ribs and a couple spoonfuls of sauce. Sprinkle with Mixed-Herb Gremolata and serve.
Even though there seem to be a lot of steps, it's all totally manageable. With the exception of the seasoning the meat and letting it sit overnight, all of this could be done in one day, but it's so much easier if you spread it out making it great for entertaining. A majority of it can be done ahead of time and then when your guests have arrived, it's totally laid back. As was the case when my guests were present. There were lots of offers to help in the kitchen but I assured them that everything was covered. It's so satisfying.
Equally satisfying are the results of all the work. The meat, having been braised for hours winds up perfectly tender, falling off the bone, not at all mushy. Then reheating them in the baking dish it with just a little of the braising liquid spooned over sort of caramelizes the outside a little and gives it a really pleasing crust of sorts that contrasts nicely with the soft center. The Cabernet sauce is thick and rich, sort of glazing the meat and then pooling in and around the creamy polenta. The blue cheese melts leaving little pockets of pungent saltiness. Blue cheese, of course, is fantastic with red meat and this is an unexpected way to do it. Since so much of the dish it quite rich, the gremolata gives a nice juxtaposition - bright, fresh and light.
Be sure to make more than you think you'd need. You will want leftovers. Govind Armstrong, chef of Table 8, makes a fancy grilled cheese sandwich with some braised short ribs. You could use it in a hash topped with poached egg. I've seen a number of recipes that turn it into a hearty ragu to be served over pappardelle or gnocchi. You might be seeing the short ribs make another appearance.
Serves 6 to 8