How To Braise Short Ribs

November 22, 2010 · Posted in Recipes · Comments Off on How To Braise Short Ribs 

Braise (n) : to cook meat or vegetables by browning in fat, then simmering in a small quantity of liquid in a covered container.

– American Heritage Dictionary

Braising is easily one of the most satisfying and rewarding ways to cook a meal for yourself and guests.  The technique at its core is easy, you use cheaper cuts of meat, and it makes your house smell amazing for hours.  It will also impress everyone, and make them think you’re a much better cook than you actually are.  You don’t have to tell them you were really playing Call of Duty for the three hours these short ribs sat in the oven, slowly soaking in that amazing flavor.

In a sentence, you brown your cut of meat, saute the aromatics (vegetables), create your braising liquid, and then simmer this mixture for a few hours, depending on your cut of meat.  We’re going to go over short ribs so for our purposes it will be about 2 hours in total.

Braising is probably my favorite way to cook, even over grilling.  You can constantly experiment with your recipes, your techniques, and results are almost always spectacular.  This is a fairly straightforward base you can use with short ribs, brisket, or any other tougher, cheaper cut of beef.

Ingredients

Two bottles of a heavier red wine

4 lbs short ribs, bone-in or boneless, whatever you can get.

3 to 4 tablespoons butter or oil. (Really, you should use butter)

One medium onion, chopped
One medium carrot, chopped
Two to three stalks celery, chopped
Two cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup sugar
Two cups chicken broth
One spring each rosemary, thyme, oregano. (ok to substitute dried herbs if you need)

Again, this is a basic blueprint.  We’ll give you some advanced tips at the end.

How To:

Pre: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees, chop everything, maybe throw on the soundtrack to Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

1) Open both bottles of wine.  Immediately pour glasses for yourself and guests.  (This is a how to PROPERLY braise short ribs, not just some recipe.  Also, you aren’t really cooking short ribs for yourself, are you?  Are you???)

2) In a heavy, cast iron pan heat two tablespoons butter over medium high heat.  Take turns browning the short ribs on all sides, 4 to 5 minutes per side.  Do this in multiple batches if need be.  Scrap up any burned bits from the pan when done.

Short ribs loving them some butter

"Fired up, ready to go!"

3) Once the short ribs are all browned, and back outside the pot (like in the picture above) it’s time to create the base for the liquid.  Melt the remaining butter over medium high heat, and saute the onion, celery, and carrot until they start to soften.

4) When the vegetables begin to brown, add the garlic and cook for an additional minute.  Then add the second bottle of wine, stock or broth, sugar, and herbs.  Stir to combine.

5) Add the meat back to the pan, cover, and put into the oven.  Cook for about two hours, until the meat falls apart with a fork.  The great thing about braising is that it’s very difficult to overcook the meat.  Check it maybe twice during cooking, to make sure the sauce isn’t boiling but other than that just let it be.

6) When the meat is ready, remove the pan from the oven and spoon the meat out.  Place the pan over high heat and reduce the sauce down by 2/3 or more.  The more you reduce the sauce, the more concentrated the flavor gets.  Season with salt and pepper if you need to.  You can also add butter or flour as a thickening agent at this point.

Braising liquid reducing.

7) To serve – plate some mashed potatoes, a parsnip and celery root puree, polenta, etc.  (You didn’t make any?  Well maybe if you weren’t playing Call of Duty you would have had time to!  Not my problem.)  Spoon one to two short ribs on the plate, and top with sauce.  It should look like this.

You don't have to go to Jared if you can do this.

How to Take This to the Next Level

Okay, a few tips on really making this thing incredible.

1 – Marinate marinate marinate.  Take the short ribs and place them in the bottle of wine for 24 hours before you start this process.  Well, maybe take the wine out of the bottle and put it into a baking dish first.  Getting short ribs into a bottle of wine would be pretty amazing.  Something the guys at Alinea probably do for fun.  To the wine, add your herbs, whole peppercorns, maybe garlic?  Lots of options here.

2 – Cook this whole thing a day before.  Prepare through step 5, and then let it cool and refrigerate until tomorrow.  Then reheat, reduce, and relax.  If you combine 1 and 2 here, you all of a sudden have short ribs that took three days to get to plate, but trust me it’s worth it.

3 – Purists may insist you strain the sauce before reducing, taking out all meat and veggies.  This is fine, but I don’t have a dishwasher and don’t like making unnecessary work for myself.  So I reduce everything together.  But you can get a thicker sauce if you strain everything.  But keep the veggies – they taste awesome.  Again, to the sauce you can add butter, salt, spices, flour, anything to spice it up.

4 – Replace some of the red wine with port.

5 – Use bacon fat instead of butter.  Add the reserved bacon to the sauce a few minutes before the reduction is done and serve like that.

That’s a pretty solid braising recipe.  Check out Molly Steven’s book “All About Braising” for some great recipes, utilizing every kind of meat around.

Check back soon – we’ll be deep frying turkeys on Thanksgiving!

Happy Braising!

P.S. – Guys, this is a can’t-lose recipe for that special someone in your life.  When you say you’re going to “take meat, add wine, and make it tender over a copule hours of low and slow heat” she doesn’t think you’re just talking about the short ribs.  Trust me on this one.

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Bears Tailgate Part 2

October 25, 2010 · Posted in Recipes · Comments Off on Bears Tailgate Part 2 

What do you get when you piece together a fried duck egg, applewood smoked bacon, Dietzler Farms ground beef, home-grown arugula and River Valley Kitchens five cheese garlic spread?

One of the most amazing tailgate burgers in existence.

Eat your heart out Sarah Spain.

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Bears Tailgate Part 1

October 22, 2010 · Posted in Recipes · 1 Comment 

A few weeks back, ESPN Radio was walking around with a video camera (unclear as to why radio needs video cameras) and these shenanigans ensued.  Wait till the end.

Whenever anyone asks me why I wanted to learn how to cook, this is why.

http://espn.go.com/chicago/video/clip?id=5650224&categoryid=3775716

Go Bears!

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Spaghetti Carbonara, or how to host a proper lunch.

February 14, 2010 · Posted in Recipes, Travel · 4 Comments 

Taking a cue from my sister’s blog here, with a personal note:

Spaghetti Carbonara is my favorite pasta dish and most likely holds the #2 spot in my all-time list of favorite dishes.  Like, ever.  At first I thought I liked it because of it’s inherent simplicity, humble beginnings, and surprising harmony.  In general, I like things to be simple, and rely on the freshness and quality of their ingredients.  And the surprising bit – I like it when dishes and flavors surprise, or the combination turns out much better than you’d expect.  Perhaps the best example of this is the Wasabi Caesar salad at Elevation in Aspen, CO.  When you say it, you’d think that wasabi and Caesar would be a no go.  But then you take note of the fact that a proper Caeser is supposed to have a healthy dose of pepper and be slightly spicy. And if a subtle amount of wasabi helps in that endeavor then it just might work.

As for humble beginnings – spaghetti carbonara was, according to the most popular legend, created for charcoal workers in the area around Rome.  It is a Roman dish, even though a restaurant in Rimini has claimed it.  It doesn’t show up until post-WWII.  Another popular iteration states that the charcoal workers created it themselves, and the original recipe doesn’t have pepper.  Instead flecks of charcoal actually made its way into the pasta, and when the recipe was introduced elsewhere they added pepper to maintain the same look.  And then, for you secret society freaks out there (myself included), there did exist a mostly harmless Italian society called the Carbonari

Come to think of it, I’m going to start calling anyone who likes Carbonara the new Carbonari.

But then it hit me – why I like this recipe so much.  It’s basically bacon and eggs tossed over spaghetti.  It’s a no brainer.

Ingredients:
  • Pancetta – not bacon unless you really have to.  Guanciale is the original I think but pancetta is more accessible to most people.
  • Eggs
  • Spaghetti
  • Parmigiano-reggiano – both finely grated and cut into thin strips
  • Fresh cracked black pepper

Preparation:

Saute up the pancetta until it’s nice and crispy, set the pan aside.

In a small bowl, crack a couple of eggs and finely grate some p-r cheese.

Cook the spaghetti, enough for four people.

Mix it up.  All of it.  It’s good.  Top with fresh cracked pepper, salt, and thin shavings of p-r cheese.

Most recipes will be more precise than this one, but you need to adjust the amount of eggs, bacon, etc to suit your own personal tastes here.

You should probably drink this with a bottle of red wine.  I know it doesn’t totally seem like red’s the obvious choice, but it’s a serious meal, and serious meals deserve to be had with red wine.  Osso bucco?  Red wine.  Chicken cutlets?  White wine.  Need I go on.  Again, serious wines for serious meals.

And please, no onions, peas (seriously America, peas?), broccoli, or anything else ridiculous like that.  Keep it simple here people.  If you’re doing it well, it should look like this:

That’s if you’re doing it well.  If you want to do it right, you’ll go to Mantova.  You may remember this little town as the place Romeo was banished to.  It was also the seat of the Gonzaga family, who ruled large chunks of northern Italy for many years.  And last but not least, it is the home of Andrea Pattarini, a friend of mine who studied at Bocconi last year and did his exchange in Chicago.  He tempted me by telling me his mom made the best Carbonara.  Well….this I had to see.

At the end of the Foodyssey Jenni and I traveled to Mantova to visit Andrea and his welcoming parents.  Carbonara was to be lunch on Sunday so we had some time to kill Saturday night.  Andrea took us around and showed us the town, and we actually went out to a sushi place that had recently opened in town.

Sunday morning started with an aperitivo of prosecco and Crodino and some delicious little snacks at the local bar.  The closest thing to our bloody Mary brunches they’ve got over here.  When we walked into the kitchen at home, this is what awaited us:

Yes, that is a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino on a table covered with fine China and a white tablecloth.  They were not messing around here.  This was going to be the real deal.  You’ve been given instructions above for how to cook – now sit back and watch the magic unfold.

Cooking the pasta…

How about a little more bacon?

Mix it up.  It’s good.

When I die, I won’t see a white light.  I will see this.

I’ve made Carbonara a bunch myself, and it’s different every time.  I think that’s how it is when it’s your favorite dish and you have exacting standards for yourself.  It never quite comes out right.  But her Carbonara was perfect.  Perfectly al dente, just the right amount of saltiness from the pork, slightly creamy consistency from the eggs.  I’m pretty sure I ate close to 8 pounds of pasta that day.  It was the quintessential comfort food experience.  And then it got even better.

Apparently everything you’ve heard about Italian hospitality isn’t quite accurate.  It goes beyond.  After our bottle of Brunello we opened a 2005 Amarone di Valpolicella.  Mrs Pattarini doesn’t enjoy red wine so much so she opens a bottle of champagne.  After the wine is done, Mr Pattarini decides it’s time for Armagnac.  A 1970, unopened bottle of Armagnac to be precise.

And then an unopened bottle of Ron Zacapa XO.

And then a Moscato grappa.

I’m pretty sure those are all my glasses.

This is what we drank for lunch that day – Ron Zacapa, Armagnac, Grappa, Valpolicella, Brunello, and Champagne.

Thankfully, we were taking the train back.  These all went down straight, in gigantic bourbon glasses.

As the warmth engulfed my entire body, I couldn’t tell if it was from the Carbonara, the hospitality, the wine, grappa, armagnac, or rum.

I did know, however, that when people speak of La Dolce Vita, and they speak of good food and great peoplw….

This is exactly what they have in mind.

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Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh….Milano!

January 20, 2010 · Posted in Recipes, Travel · 1 Comment 

My passport is almost a full ten years old, and needs to be renewed in 2011.  About 8 years ago, I also washed it.  Yeah, I know I know.  But that doesn’t change the fact that I washed it.  So it’s a bit frayed and, as I discovered in Istanbul, the part near the picture is actually starting to come apart.  The kindly border patrol agent (Round ’em up, as fast as you can, with one truck, or this country’s gonna be way too big!) at the airport wouldn’t let me pass for about 15 minutes because he didn’t trust it.  Several supervisors were called over, all of whom looked at him like he was an idiot because my passport’s only been stamped about 15 times in the past few weeks.

My favorite part was when he asked me – “Where are you from in the States?”

Me – “Chicago”

Him – “But you’re going to Milan.  Why are you going to Milan?”

You’re right buddy, because everyone leaving Istanbul should be going immediately home.  Ya’ jerk.

Then, on the plane, I get up to use the bathroom, and one of the two lavatories has been marked “occupied” for almost 20 minutes.  There was a very long line to use the facilities so I counted.  I knocked on the door to no answer, so I start thinking there’s a terrorist on board putting together some sort of bomb!  After several attempts to ask the stewardesses what was going on, one finally spoke enough English to tell me the bathroom was out of order.

Needless to say, after being taken for a ride several times, I was so happy to land in Milan.  Almost immediately I started smiling again and felt better.  There’s just something in the air over here…

I found my apartment very easily, got settled in, and met my roommate Abby when she showed up.  Per Facebook, I immediately bought several bottles of wine and started enjoying the fruits of the land.

Despite the dollar being worth about 1 Euro cent, wine is still super cheap over here.  So too are Belgian Ales.  My favorite beer, Chimay Blue, costs about $9 in the US.  It costs 1 Euro 50 cents over here.  Fantastic.

Apertivo

Milan so far has been cold and rainy, so I haven’t gotten too many shots of things outdoors.  Which means I’ve spent my time indoors, usually in bars or restaurants.  And usually at apertivo, one of the greatest things ever invented.

Basically you pay for your drinks and get an unlimited amount of buffet style food from about 6 to about 9.  The more crowded the place, the earlier it tends to end for some reason.  The buffet isn’t going to have the best pastas, but the pizzas and contorni (sides, veggies, etc) are always good.  You won’t find meats either.  But you will get incredibly full for the price of a few beers, which is nice.  Apertivo has been about a four to five times weekly occurrence.

Tall Italians

Quick side note here – there is an unusual species of people here, one I am not used to.  This idea of the “tall Italian.”  We’re talking ladies about 5’11, 6 feet and guys 6’2″, 6’3″.  Very interesting – at Easter mass in Tropea in 2003 I was the tallest person in the building by at least a foot.  Tropea is in the very south of Italy, FYI.  Up here it’s different – I don’t stand out at all.

The Food

I mean come on, that’s what we’re doing here, isn’t it?  This is supposed to be a food blog and I’m in ITALY for Pete’s sake!  We practically invented food!

Speaking of the invention of food, let’s dispel with a little food myth right off the bat.  The Chinese did not teach the Italians how to make pasta.  Please.  Let’s take a look at this from several angles shall we?

1 – The myth says Marco Polo went to China and brought back recipes for making noodles.  However Italian cookbooks predating his visit to China contain recipes that call for pasta.  So chronologically that’s a big fail.

2 – Let’s look at noodle construction.  While certain similarities do exist for the most part Chinese noodles look and taste nothing like Italian pastas.  I like Chinese food and noodles, but they’re not the same.  So on texture, appearance, and taste large differences exist.

3 – Rice noodles.  Both cultures use rice extensively and yet the Chinese make rice noodles and the Italians make…not rice noodles.  Why didn’t this technique transfer over?  I don’t know.   Probably because the Italians already had their system figured out.

Points 2 and 3 are more or less observational but point 1 can be fact-checked, so if you disagree go do that…

Now.  Where were we?

Ah yes, we were making a poor man’s Bolognese sauce and sneaking sips from that big magnum of wine you see in the background.

Instead of taking the full three or so hours I caramelized some onions, browned some ground beef and pork, and simmered with some tomato sauce for about 30-45 minutes.  Then topped with some fresh ground pepper and freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano and served over bucatini pasta.

Here’s my fellow Booth student and newly acquired sous-chef Toshi working some cheese magic over a beautiful spread:

When all was said and done, we laid it down like this:

I mean, picture kinda says it all.  That’s about how we’ll be doing it from here on out.  Much more of that to come.  Spaghetti Carbonara is on deck – Toshi wants to learn how to cook a bunch of different Italian foods so we’ll be working our way through some traditional dishes here.

After my Italy for the gourmet traveler book showed up, I had a list of places to check out in Milan.  By far my favorite so far (and, will probably remain for the time I’m here) is Gastronomia Peck.  It’s a specialty food store selling all different kinds of cheese, meats, steaks, seafoods, chocolate, tea, oils, coffee and on and on.  They won’t let you take pictures, but at the cafe upstairs there are no such rules.  So here you go:

Prosciutto e Mozzarella

Lasagna Bolognese

Due cappuccini.

Peck is an absolute must-go and will be re-featured here.  I will give a much more descriptive run-down of the food after one or two more visits.

In the interest of time I’m going to stop here for now.  In the meantime since these events have taken place, I went snowboarding in the Alps, ran into Giorgio Armani himself, made spaghetti carbonara, gone inside the Duomo, and may have set up an interview with an MD from one of the Italian banks.  So that’s what we’ve got to look forward to.

But now I’m heading off to Modena, Parma, Bologna, and Mantua.  Back in a week!

Ciao tutti!

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