With days like last Wednesday - 37 degrees with lots of sun and a bright blue sky,
when all you need to keep toasty and warm outside is a down coat, hat, gloves and leather boots - even winter is perfect. And when the temperature drops down to single digits and turns bitterly cold, as it did two weeks ago, there are compensations, such as, being the perfect weather for
Zuni's Short Ribs Braised in Chimay Ale.
I was going upstate for the weekend and thinking of making something comforting like beef brisket
because the temperature there had dropped below zero, when I got the following chat from Christopher.
Run, don't walk, to your bookshelf and then kitchen and make the Zuni Short Ribs Braised in Chimay Ale. Unbelievable! A wonderful winter weekend meal...
That's advice I wasn't about to ignore.
On my way out of town, I stopped at the Harlem Fairway where I was faced with three different types of Chimay Ale and didn't know which one to get so I called my office and asked someone to check it out in the copy of The Zuni Cafe Cookbook that I keep there. The picture of the dish in the book shows Chimay Rouge, described in Wikipedia as a dark brown ale with a sweet, fruity aroma and a nutty character, so that's what I got.
Since my freezer is always stocked with the elixir that is Zuni chicken stock,
I left the Fairway parking lot all set.
Apparently, there are three ways short ribs are cut,
and Zuni shows a picture of the ones the grocery store down the street calls flanken.
But I didn't know that until I got home with my groceries from Fairway and realized I had the wrong ones (Two instead of Three). Since they were meat from the same part of the animal - just cut across the bones a different way - I went ahead with the recipe.
The first thing I did was to cut the fat off the short ribs, following Judy Rodgers' admonition to leave the silverskin behind because it helps keep the meat succulent, and rendered it according to Carol's instructions at Alinea at Home.
Why would I do such a thing?
My grandfather in New York was a butcher, and the beef cuts he preferred to roast were eye round and rump, not rib. Consequently, I don't have much of a taste for prime rib so I never have sizzling fat drippings from my roasts. Now I have a little jar of perfectly rendered beef fat stashed in the freezer
to make a proper Yorkshire pudding the next time I make a roast beef dinner!
Then because I didn't have two days to salt the meat in advance, which Judy Rodgers recommends, I salted the short ribs and left them at room temperature for about an hour so they wouldn't be cold when I started to cook them.
Other than that, I followed the recipe to the letter.
I browned the short ribs in a mild French olive oil, then added sliced onions, bay leaf, whole white peppercorns, reconstituted dried porcini mushrooms, Zuni chicken stock, and the Chimay Ale. The short ribs simmered in a covered pot for about 2 hours.
I uncovered the pan and, in accordance with Judy Rodgers' clever instruction, let it rest tilted at a slight angle for a few minutes so the fat would collect on one side and be easy to skim off.
I tasted the gravy and added a little salt and simmered it uncovered for a few minutes to reduce it a slightly.
Then I smeared the tops of the short ribs with Dijon mustard
Edmond Fallot Dijon Mustard - the Mustard Recommended by Thomas Keller
and placed the pan under a preheated broiler for about 5 minutes. As Judy Rodgers said would happen, the mustard browned, and the surface of the stew glazed.
When it came out of the oven, the braise smelled better than the best French onion soup I ever ate. It was the perfect recipe to make on a cold winter's day.
The dish was delicious and surprisingly rich. I served it with buttered, not browned, spaetzle, green beans, and a tart escarole salad, which was a good foil for the braised meat and sweet onions.
After tasting the Chimay Rouge, I agreed with Judy Rodgers' description of it as having "a delicate sweetness, a touch of clove flavor, and only the faintest note of bitterness." It was obviously a good choice of what to drink with the meal in the middle of winter, and I had enough of it left in the bottle for two small glasses.
By the way, when I started to cook, I took the wire cage - apparently called a muselet - off the top of the Chimay bottle and turned around for a minute. Boom. It popped right off so be careful not to leave it unattended and be sure not to aim the bottle in anyone's direction when you remove the cage.
After dinner, I took the leftovers and stripped the meat from the bones, shredded it, and saved it in its gravy. The next night I heated it up, and we ate it
with the leftover spaetzle - browned in butter this time.
It was just as good, if not better, the second time around - but what I was really dreaming about was using the shredded meat to stuff ravioli and serve it with the gravy saucing the pasta pillows. I think it would be so good that I'm going to make the recipe again just to try that!
Now I'm looking forward to trying another Zuni short ribs recipe - the Pot-au-Feu.