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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Where's The Beef?

The fifth week of Lent has come and gone. Five meatless Fridays have also come and gone. Check.  Although it's tough working in a restaurant on meatless Fridays,  I've managed to navigate the slippery slope of avoiding meat while still enjoying our meals at home. Last Friday, I made a lovely vegetable soup using  roasted vegetable stock  garnished with sauteed brunoise vegetables.  The deep velvety stock gave the soup heft and body.  I didn't miss meat.

Saturday morning, Michael and I foraged the farmers' market before traipsing through torrential rain to a restaurant for lunch.  I had a sublime, seared rare, ahi tuna nicoise salad dotted with tiny nicoise olives, roasted grape tomatoes, fingerling potatoes, and anchovies.  The tuna was served over grilled halved romaine lettuce and bathed in a fennel vinaigrette. Luscious.  Sporting a bit of food envy, I had a bite of Michael's sauteed country ham swiped through his  decadent hollandaise sauce.  I started missing meat.

Saturday night, we went  to a local steakhouse for a friend's birthday celebration. I ordered a dozen fresh gulf oysters on the half shell served with cocktail sauce and lemon.  I asked for red wine vinegar to make a riff on mignonette sauce.  I shared a few of the oysters and gulped the rest. They were plump and briny, brightened by the peppery vinegar splash.  Heaven.  Where was the meat?  Not on my plate.  Michael had enjoyed perfectly cooked prime rib, so I snacked on his trimmed fat remnants.  I thoroughly enjoyed the meat flavored fat, but it wasn't meat.

What was I thinking? There was meat everywhere and I wasn't eating it.

Once home, I devoured a 3 day-old slice of cold pepperoni pizza. It was fabulous.

By the time Sunday rolled around, I knew I had to get my meat on. Thankfully, I hadn't frozen the short ribs we purchased at the farmers' market the previous day. Of course, I knew the short ribs had to braise long and slow.  I've cooked them hundreds of times.  Knowing I had the time for a long lazy Sunday afternoon braise made my heart feel good.  That being said,  I wanted to coax someting a bit different from the short ribs. I had no desire for  the ubiquitous flavor profile of a red wine braise.  I've made it so often, I could taste it without even cooking it.

I wanted barbecued ribs, tricky business when dealing with thick English cut short ribs. I knew braising them into oblivion with barbecue sauce would have turned the succulent rib meat into shredded barbecued beef, so I chose  two cooking methods to achieve finger licking ribs: braising and grilling.

Meat on.

After liberally seasoning both sides of the ribs with salt and pepper, I cranked a gas flame to medium high heat, placed a heavy dutch over the flames, and  drizzled in a few tablespoons of peanut oil.  When the oil started to ripple and smoke, I carefully placed the ribs into the hot oil to brown. 

When they were well bowned on both sides, about 15 minutes per side, I removed them to a plate and tossed 2 cups of thinly sliced vidalia onions into the oil.  I let the onions sweat for a couple minutes before adding 5 smashed garlic cloves.  When the onions were deeply carmelized, I deglazed the bottom of the pan with a bottle of Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale and a cup of chicken stock. After the braising liquids came to a boil, I placed the short ribs into the bath, covered the the pot, and slid it into a 325 degree oven to cook for 2 1/2 hours, occasionally adding extra beer and stock as needed.

While the ribs braised away, Michael and I enjoyed a few glasses of  wine on our back deck. As usual, I lost track of time. Thankfully, braises forgive forgetfulness.  After 3 hours, I carefully lifted the ribs out of their highly aromatic bath.  The bones slid out of the meat like a hot knife through butter.  They were tender, still intact, and had shrunk into small beef bundles.  I tented them and set them aside.

While Michael started the charcoal fire, I skimmed the fat from the brasing juice, brought it to a boil, and reduced it by half before adding 1/2 cup of barbecue sauce.

When the coals were ready, I tossed a couple of soaked husk-wrapped fresh ears of corn onto the grill, flipping  them several times to cook evenly.  I gently basted the boneless short ribs with barbecue sauce and placed them over the hot part of the grill to char and caramelize, searing the sauce onto the meat. I basted and turned them several times until their edges crisped.  They were gorgeous.

We gathered our things and stumbled back into the house to eat.

I brushed the ribs with the simmering barbecue infused braising sauce and nestled them onto beautiful leaves of  fresh Boyle County harvested green leaf lettuce. After pulling the dried husks from the grilled corn, we slathered our out-of-season cobs with fresh snipped chive butter, salt, and cracked pepper. 
The ribs were ridiculous.  They were moist, tender, and sticky.  We used the delicate lettuce leaves as wraps for the candied meat, creating a soft burst of wet crunch with each bite.  Perfect.

I was supposed to pack leftovers for a dear friend.
It didn't happen.

We ate it all.

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