Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Spring Forward, Braise Back

I have to put on a coat to go outside, which means it's still winter. Which means rich winter dishes will still come out of my kitchen. At the cooking class I was working at last night, the chef said she hates summertime because she doesn't cook anything. I tried to bite my tongue and not brag about my cute little outdoor space that will neatly fit a grill when we finally just buy one already.

(I also tried not to complain about how every time I walk outside, I feel like I'm getting a back-handed slap to the face by a freezing northeast cold front, that I wish would just ease up once and a while so I can walk the daily-15-blocks-to-my-destination-and-back, aka my job, in peace. But I digress.)

There is something to be said about the chill outside, and the warmth of an oven inside, circulating gentle heat and yummy smells throughout your home. I personally love summer because of the fresh tomatoes and other produce. Plus, I still sweat it out and cook anyways, so it's really the best of both worlds.

Recipe for Braised Short Ribs with Creamy Parmesan Polenta:

Braising sounds fancy but it's pretty easy. A few key things to remember, 1.) Pick a cut with a high amount of collagen, such as short ribs, because it will result in a rich and velvety sauce. If your cut does not have much collagen, throw in a pig ear or beef bone (that's normal, right?) 2.) Always brown the meats and vegetables first. Do them separately - you don't want to crowd the pan. 3.) Make sure you use a heavy pot or dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid that can go safely from stove top to oven. If you're not sure, ask me or look up the manufacturer's website 4.) Onions, carrots and celery are classic. But if the mood strikes, throw in some mushrooms, leeks, or whatever herbs and spices you have hanging around. I made mine with sage, because it's one of my favorites.

Let's say you're cooking for 2, as I often do. If cooking for 1, just half it, if cooking for 4, double it:
  • 4 beef short ribs; make sure external excess fat get trimmed, either by you or by your trusty butcher
  • 1 roughly diced onion
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 4-5 cloves chopped garlic
  • Sage (or other herb of choice - I used fresh, but dried is good, too)
  • 1 Bay leaf
  • Salt & crushed black pepper for seasoning
  • Beef stock (enough to fill up the bottom of your dutch oven about 3/4 inch)
  • Vegetable oil

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Meanwhile, heat your dutch oven on the stove top (or heavy pot/skillet, doesn't matter as long as it has a lid that fits and the food fits inside, AND it can go safely from stovetop to oven) over medium-high heat. Add about 1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil to the bottom. Rub your short ribs with salt, pepper, and chopped sage (about 1/2 tsp sage per rib). Add the ribs to the pot, browning all sides. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Drain off any excess fat from the pan; you have have about the same amount that was in there prior to the beef. Turn down the heat to medium and add the chopped veggies and garlic, plus a pinch of salt, a few twists of the pepper grinder, and a pinch of sage. Cook until the veggies have colored a little (about 5-8 minutes). Add the beef stock, enough just to come up about 3/4 inch on the edge of your pan. Bring to a boil. Return the short ribs to the pot and toss in your bay leaf. Cover the pot and place in the oven. Let it hang out in there for about 1.5 hours. You'll notice the meat pulling itself off the bone. Remove the ribs and cover with foil to keep warm while you prepare the sauce. Skim off excess fat from the braising liquid (and for my dish, I also pulled out most of the veggies, but left a few onions). On the stove top over high heat, reduce the liquid until velvety. Stir in a roux (a simple flour + butter paste) if you prefer it thicker. Pour over the ribs and serve.

For the Creamy Parmesan Polenta:

  • 1 cup of cornmeal
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups of whole milk
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup of shredded parmesan cheese
  • Salt and white pepper to taste

In a small saucepan, bring your stock to a boil. Separately, mix together the cornmeal and the milk, and pour the mixture into the boiling stock in a steady stream, stirring frequently. When everything starts coming together, stop stirring and simmer for about 30 minutes until thick and creamy. Stir in the cheese and butter, and taste for seasoning. Add salt and pepper if necessary.

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