March 21, 2004

Salt, salt, salt!

Winter cranks down here in California, and I'll admit that my last month and a half of cooking has been fairly uninspired overall (lame excuse for no writing, but hey). Lots of baked chickens and the sort. However, the past two weeks or so of unseasonably warm and fully blue-sky weather have jolted me out of these cooking ruts -- sort of.

I'm working on a braised short-rib recipe, which doesn't sound very warm weather at all! But today was 50ish when we woke up, so I made another run at it.

It's a basic braise of boneless beef short ribs (which for some reason are always available at Costco). I've settled on robust wine for 50% of the liquid (today was a fairly inexpensive Zin that upon tasting showed major amounts of cigar notes) and 50% beef stock for the rest. I browned off some bacon first and used the fat that was rendered to brown the beef, which I had cut into 1-1.5 inch chunks. I then tossed out the fat, added in the stock and wine, covered, and braised for about two hours.

I strained out the meat and put the liquid back on the fire to reduced to near syrup like stages -- and boy did it taste salty at this point! And for me to call something salty. Heck, ruined for sure. But, I went forward and made a mental note to not salt anything else.

While the stock was reducing I made a basic risotto of shallots, chicken stock, and saffron, and at the last minute stirred in parmasagn cheese. When the risotto was done (twenty minutes, if you will recall) I tossed the beef chunks back in the stock to re-heat and also added the reserved bacon slices.

Plated in huge bowels with just two or three beef chunks per plate on top of the risotto, and just a tiny smattering of the sauce around. Fresh thyme sprigs from the garden on top. No salt was tasted in the eating -- I guess that intense sauce thing works out in the end.

This is the 2nd run at this, and I think this dish is going to appear at a popular winter dinner later this year as a result. Blarg! It was intensely yummy!

"Blarg!" is my only word for this type of flavor. It is the intense, reduced, heavy, wined, meated, concentrated explosion that you get from this type of cooking. Putting the smallest amount of the sauce or meat in my mouth causes an actual physical reaction. I can feel the saliva drop from the back portion of my mouth. This, yes, this this this, yes, this! Why isn't this what I taste when I go out to eat most days?

The reason this dish works so well is the very clean and classic flavors of the risotto (which is also quite pale in color), matched with the almost overwhelming intensity of the meat (which is contrawise almost black in color). And, of course, a little herb on top so that you figure the $25 per plate was an excellent value. You don't need much of this, but boy is it worth the effort.

Posted by dowdy at March 21, 2004 05:30 PM