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Friday, November 1, 2013

A Late One

A late One. Ale-8-One. Ale-8. Whatever you call it, the local soft drink owned by the same family and bottled by The Ale 8 Bottling Company down the road in Winchester, Ky since 1926 is a beloved homegrown Kentucky icon. Flavored with citrusy ginger undertones, the Bluegrass favorite contains less fizz, a bit more caffeine, and fewer calories than most other soft drinks. It's great straight out of the bottle or spiked with bourbon over ice. When taken out of its drinkable comfort  zone, Ale-8-One is a fantastic ingredient.

Bourbon & Ale-8-One Braised Short Ribs.
I love short ribs. With a little prep, they practically cook themselves. Season. Sear. Braise. Like a lazy Sunday pot roast, short ribs are very forgiving. For a wine guzzling forgetful cook like myself, short ribs are the ultimate get-out-of-jail-free cards. They're impossible to mess up.

Typically, I braise short ribs with mirepoix in red wine and beef stock.  When braised for hours, the burgundy stained ribs collapse  into sultry shreds of wine-infused meat candy. Perfect. Classic. That being said, I wanted to shake things up a bit, so I used the same method with different ingredients for an unconventional rustic riff on the classic braise.

Mise en Place.
Doubled mirepoix.
Carrots. Onions. Celery. Parsnips.
For the braising mirepoix, I peeled and quartered 1 bunch of rainbow carrots (reserved half), chopped 3 stalks of celery into 2" batons, diced a large candy onion, peeled whole Madison County baby parsnips(reserved 4), and smashed 3 unpeeled cloves of garlic before setting them aside.

For the finishing mirepoix, I combined the reserved carrots and parsnips with a pint of peeled pearl onions. Oh sure, pearl onions are pesky and impossible to peel, but they're also fabulous. While there are fussier methods for peeling them, I simply snipped off the root ends, tossed them into salted boiling water for 4 minutes, rinsed them under cold water, and slipped the tender onions from their tough outer  skins.

I took a little wine break and cranked the oven to 350 degrees.

Braise on.
After liberally seasoning 3 gorgeous slabs of grass fed short ribs with salt and pepper, I seared them on all sides until they were well browned to create a great crust, seal the meat, and render the fat. After 15 minutes, I removed the ribs to a side plate, drained off the fat, added a drizzle of olive oil, and sauteed the uncooked carrots, onions, celery and garlic until they were tender, about 10 minutes. As an homage to my Bourbon Cooking School stint at The Kentucky Bourbon Festival, I cranked the heat to high, deglazed the pot with 1 cup of  Bulleit bourbon and let it reduce to a smoky amber glaze before adding 2 bottles of Ale-8-One.

When the liquid came to a simmer, I added canned  hand-crushed whole San Marzano tomatoes, 2 cups chicken stock, and a gorgeous knob of impossibly fresh Casey County ginger. I brought  the soda-infused stock to a boil, tossed in 3 large fresh bay leaves along with a bundled  bouquet garni (fresh parsley, rosemary, thyme, and lovage), sealed the lid with foil, and slid the pot into a preheated 350 degree oven.

While the ribs braised, I blanched the reserved carrots, onions, and parsnips until they were fork tender before shocking them in an ice bath to stop the cooking process.

The aromas wafting through the house were distracting. Intoxicating. I could taste the air as the invisible flavors dripped down the fogged kitchen windows.

After 3 hour hours, I carefully pulled the lacquered ribs from the intensely reduced sauce, slid them onto a plate, and covered them with foil. After skimming the fat from the sauce, I strained the sauce through a fine mesh strainer, pressing the solids through the strainer for extra texture and flavor. I ladled a cup of sauce into a small cast iron skillet, added the blanched vegetables, seasoned them with  black pepper, and simmered them over a low flame.

I returned the sauce to the dutch oven, added the ribs, and placed them back into the oven to warm through. After basting the ribs until they were sealed with layers of the rich mahogany-hued sauce,  I carefully nestled the jiggly meat onto beds of cooked spaetzle, haphazardly scattered the vegetables to the side, and  finished with a perky  fresh horseradish, parsley, and lemon/lime gremolata.

Whether we drink it
or eat it, cheers to you, Mr. Wainscott.

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