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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Think Like A Chef - Braised Short Ribs

This was an interesting lesson in the Think Like A Chef Series.  It took me out of my comfort zone, which is good for me, but I have to say it was a bit time consuming.  And starting and stopping on Saturday and re-starting on Sunday was quite interesting as well.

The first step in braising short ribs is to make two chicken stocks.  The first is a white chicken stock, which would then be used to make a brown chicken stock.  My butcher saved 5 ½ pounds of chicken bones for me.  I supplemented that with some chicken wings.

Now I should say that I have always wanted to make stock because everything I have read, heard, etc. was how much better homemade stock is.  We’ll see…I use a pretty good product called Kitchen Basics, and it is, of course, gluten free.

Now, the first step in making a while chicken stock, according to Tom Colicchio, is to rinse the bones, get as much fat off of them as you can, boil the bones for just a couple of minutes, and then pour out all of the water.  The reason being, no matter how much you skim the top, you will never get rid of all the blood, and coagulated proteins, etc.  Unfortunately, after I did this, I noticed a puddle on the floor.  I thought I had spilled some of it, but as I was cleaning it up, I realized I didn’t spill any of it; my garbage disposal had sprung a leak.  We needed it fixed right away because I was cooking and Cathy was going to be doing a lot of baking over the weekend.

So, $525 later…

I went out and bought 8 pounds of chicken wings.  It was here that I realized that taking the skin off of a chicken wing is near impossible.  Tons of video on You Tube about how to skin a leg…nothing on the wing.  So, I took off as much as I could…which wasn’t a whole lot.

In any case, I boiled four pounds of the wings for two minutes, poured out the water, and simmered the wings for an hour.  I skimmed the top every 10 minutes or so.  Then, after an hour, I added an onion chopped into quarters, a roughly chopped carrot, two roughly chopped celery stalks, a bay leaf, some peppercorns, and the white part of two leeks.

Now, in the past, I have avoided cooking with leaks for fear of giving my wife food with dirt in it.  I know, what’s the big deal?  Just wash it!  I guess it was just something that gave me pause.  However, once I did it, it was really no big deal.  I cut off the green part, and then cut the white part down the middle and submerged it in water, then separated the pieces.  Really, I don’t know what I was so scared of.

Anyway, I cooked that for 15 minutes, and then I add a few sprigs of flat leaf parsley and a few sprigs of thyme, and cooked for 5 minutes.  And there you have white chicken stock.

The next step was to create a brown chicken stock.  Essentially, this is the same technique with a few exceptions.  You must brown the bones being careful not to burn them; otherwise, the stock will be bitter.  Also, instead of covering the bones with water, you cover them with the white chicken stock you just made, and you add some tomato paste.  Also, you add all of the vegetables at once, and you also add rosemary.  Then you strain the stock and put it back on the heat until it is reduced by half.
So it was quite easy to do, but it was time consuming.

Now, finally, on to the short ribs.

First, I preheated my oven to 350 degrees.  Two tablespoons of peanut oil went into my Dutch oven, and when it came to temperature, I added (in two batches) a total of 4 pounds of short ribs, with each rib cut in half. (Eight ½ pound pieces).  The reason this must be done in batches by the way, is because if the pan is too crowded, you end up steaming instead of searing.  The short ribs were, of course, seasoned with salt and pepper. 

After the ribs had been seared, I removed them from the Dutch oven and added a chopped onion, one chopped carrot, one chopped celery stalk, three cloves of garlic, and two sprigs of thyme.  I cooked this for five minutes or so, and then I was supposed to add eight cherry peppers.  I was a bit worried about this making the dish overly hot.  Why?  I had never actually tasted a cherry pepper so I ate one, and it was pretty hot, so I cut the cherry peppers down to six.  Then I cooked all the vegetables together for another ten minutes or so.

I then added the short ribs back into the pot, put in ½ cup of sherry vinegar, and then added the brown chicken stock I made, just high enough to come up over the sides, but not covering the short ribs. 

Next, I brought the braising liquid up to a simmer, added some tarragon and three more sprigs of thyme, and put it in the oven for an hour.  After an hour, I turned all the ribs, and continued to cook them for 1 ½ hours more.

While that was cooking it was time to think about side dishes.  It seems there is an overall consensus on line that there are two really good matches for short ribs.  Polenta and mashed potatoes.  I love mashed potatoes, so I went with a garlic mashed potato recipe from Anne Burrell.  She uses Yukon gold potatoes (which I love) and, rather than roasting the garlic, she just throws raw garlic into the water that the potatoes are boiling in.  The garlic is then pressed through a ricer (which is my tool of choice for mashed potatoes) along with the potatoes.  This produces a very slight garlic flavor, rather than a heavily roasted garlic flavor.  I didn’t know if I would like it like that, but as it turns out, I liked the slight hint of garlic flavor, rather than having it hit me over the head.  Then, of course, add butter and cream.  I opted for evaporated milk instead of the cream…though with the butter and short ribs, I’m not sure why I bothered to think about calories.

Now, as that was finishing, I took the Dutch oven out of the oven, and removed the short ribs and the cherry peppers.  I skimmed the fat off the braising liquid, reduced it a bit, and then added back the ribs to heat through.  The recipe actually called for adding the peppers back in, but I chose not to.  Then I served everything.

There are a few things that I have cooked that I think are really, really good.  Shrimp over pasta with warm remoulade sauce.  Seared scallops with a white bean puree.  This dish goes right to the top of the list.  The short ribs were fall-off-the-bone tender, with a good amount of heat from the cherry peppers, but not overpowering.  The fattiness of the meat was cut by (I think) the acid from the sherry vinegar, and they were full of flavor.  The mashed potatoes were also extremely good.  This was comfort food to the max.  A really good meal on a cold winter day.

Now, a couple of notes. 

First, I think one mistake I made was not having a second side dish that was crunchy to add texture to the overall dish, because, obviously, both the meat and the potatoes have a soft texture.  Perhaps even something as simple as a small side salad would have done the trick.

Second, I’m not sure how much better the dish was by using the homemade stock rather than the Kitchen Basics stock.  That stock is pretty good, in my opinion.  I’d be interested to know what others think.

Third, for better presentation, I should have cleaned the side of the plate.

Last, there was not a lot of liquid left in the pot, so I am thinking I need to buy an oven thermometer to make sure when my oven says 350 degrees, it really is 350 degrees.

Next up:  Braised Pork Belly


  1. What a wonderful story of a meal from start to finish. Very ambitious to make the stock yourself---however, I agree that there are some stock products out there that are just as good, and no hassle. My thought is: you've done the homemade stock and you could certainly do it again...but why bother if you are happy with the Kitchen Basics version? It's definitely an ingredient that chefs use and not like you're "cheating" by using it. If any chef says otherwise, ask them how often they churn their own butter for recipes! :)
    I knew this braising experience was going to work out better than the fish, so I'm happy you did it. Short ribs are definitely more able to take the braise.
    Loving your notes at the end. Clearly you are being very self aware, and I'm sure you will translate that into future plating and side dish decisions. As for the thermometer---it's a good purchase to make. Ovens vary (even top, professional models), so it would behoove you to get one---especially good for baking.
    Would like to read a blog post from you that mentions your "best of" products (such as the Kitchen Basics stock). I'm sure you have some winners given your investigations into gluten free options.
    Good luck with the Pork Belly, chef---and Keep on cooking!

    1. Thanks for your comments. I think I am going to use the Kitchen Basics stock for the Pork Belly. I've used it before and I do like it.

      Great idea for the "best of" blog. I've been thinking about doing somethinglike that for a couple of months now. Great minds!!

  2. Your Twitter Feed mentions that you've been to Batali restaurants and that their gluten free options are great. I would agree...but stopped going when I found out that his places aren't "glutton" free. You would think someone with that much money and fame wouldn't be skimming tips from his minimum wage workers who work FOR the tips. It's likely that when you went to his restaurants that when you were tipping your server, it was going into Batali's fat pockets.

    1. You make an interesting point here, and I feel it needs an answer.

      First, in regards to Twitter, a question was asked and I answered having eaten at his restaurants. (But I'm glad you saw the comment on Twitter! Pretty cool!)

      Second, without getting into the semantics of whether the money was from all the tips or just from alcohol sales to pay the sommelier's saleries, I can't say whether it was wrong or not because I don't know what the normal practice is. If it is a normal practice in the restaurant business, then it is hard for me to say that it is wrong. If he was doing something that is not normal restaurant practice, then yes, I think it is wrong.

      Either way, he paid over $5 million to settle the case. If it was wrong for him to do what he did - and it probably was since he did pay - I suspect he wouldn't be so stupid as to do it again. It seems to have been a pretty expensive lesson. I think most people when they screw up deserve a second chance, so I am willing to give him that chance. If it happened again? Different story.

      Thank you for your comment. You brought up a very interesting subject, and I really appreciate it.