Friday, November 25, 2011

Budget Cuts: The Long and the Short

I have lots of pet theories (no pun intended). One is that my cat can read my mind, because whenever it's time to go to the vet she makes herself scarce. Even before I get out the carrier, she wriggles her little self into a crack or crevice, remaining completely undetectable until it's well past our appointment time.

Another theory has to do with cheap cuts of meat. Usually they're the most flavorful, but sometimes not the most attractive. Think chuck roast or shanks versus steaks or loin roasts. Flank steaks and hanger steaks used to fit in that category, but then they got "discovered" as new items for the home grill and prices haven't come down since.

The cuts that require hours of braising to achieve fall-apart tenderness, as opposed to those that can be quickly grilled and served, seem to be the ones that stay in the budget category. Again, chuck roast, shoulder roast and shanks come to mind. As do beef short ribs, those squarish chunks of layered fat and meat, which are at their best when cooked low and slow. So when I saw them on sale recently in the meat case at my local market, I had to grab a few pounds.

The recipe below would be terrific simmered all day in a slow cooker, but works perfectly well started early in the evening and braised for a couple of hours. Even better, buying, as I did, a little more than you need makes a fabulous fit-for-company dinner with enough left over to shred and mix with pasta later in the week.

I love these served alongside polenta, and the gremolata is definitely optional. A shower of fresh horseradish grated over the top just before serving is really all you need.

Brasato Al Barolo (Braised Short Ribs)
Adapted from Mario Batali's The Babbo Cookbook

For the brasato:
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
4 lbs. beef short ribs (or 6 medium-sized bone-in ribs)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 c. full-bodied red wine
1 16-oz. can of peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand with their juices (2 c.)
1 c. beef stock (or chicken stock)
1 1/2 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves or 2 tsp. dried
1 1/2 Tbsp. fresh rosemary leaves, chopped fine, or 2 tsp. dried
2 Tbsp. fresh oregano leaves, chopped, or 2 tsp. dried

For the gremolata:
Leaves from 1 bunch of flat leaf parsley
Zest of two lemons, cut into julienne strip
1/4 lb. fresh horseradish, grated

Preheat oven to 375°.

In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over high heat until smoking. Season the ribs with salt and pepper and cook them over high heat until deep brown all on sides, about 15 minutes total.
 Remove the short ribs to a plate and set aside. Add the carrots, onion, celery and garlic to the pan and cook over high heat until browned and softened, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and stir in the red wine, tomatoes and juices, stock and herbs, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to dislodge the brown bits. Bring the mixture to a boil and return the short ribs to the pan. Cover and place in the oven. Cook for 2 hours, or until the meat is very tender and literally falling off the bones.

To make the gremolata: 
In a small bowl, combine the parsley, lemon zest and horseradish and toss loosely by hand. Place one short rib in each bowl, top with a little of the pan juices and a handful of the gremolata and serve immediately.

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