Braising. Braising can do no wrong in my book. As such, I suppose I am a self aware braising apologist. Braising transforms the mediocre into the magnificent. I started braising cheap cuts of meat (pork shoulder, beef chuck roasts) on a regular basis about 8 years ago, and that is really what kicked my fascination with cooking into high gear. Paying a couple of bucks a pound for a very pedestrian cut of meat and transforming it into succulent goodness was, and still is, extremely rewarding. And cost effective. And crowd pleasing. And a million other things. But until this past New Year’s Eve, I’d never made a decent beef short rib. You know why? Two reasons:
1). Inferior short ribs.
2). The damn periosteum.
Don't you hate when the periosteum screws up your short ribs?!?? I know, right??! So frustrating! Geez!! We'll address that later. But as we have discussed here before, step #1 in making good food is to BUY QUALITY INGREDIENTS. This is not a difficult concept I understand, but it is so, so important. The $10/lb Mad-Cow-infused-inhumanely-raised-filth-laiden filet mignon you get at Cub or Costco or Sams Club or the like are absolutely NOT as good as the locally raised grass fed beef you can find at Whole Foods, Kowalski's, and the like. I'm sorry, but they just aren't. It's the difference between a Matchbox and a Mercedes. Between a Top Flite and a Titleist. So let's get this post rolling by diving into...
Two main components to this dish; Agnolotti.... and Short Ribs. First, the Agnolotti. We'll need to have a separate post on The French Laundry Cookbook, otherwise this post would be 10,000+ words, and I respect you too much to make you sit through that. Suffice to say - the recipe for the pasta dough that was used to make the agnolotti was from TFL cookbook. Agnolotti are basically ravioli, except that they are sealed via a fold on one of the four sides, where as ravioli are sealed on all four sides by pressing the top and bottom layers of pasta together to form a pocket. The filling is totally up to you. Just keep it relatively water free... when you freeze water, it expands, things constraining it (like pasta) burst, and bad times ensue. Agnolotti are positively some of the most freezer friendly food there is, so keep the water in the filling to a minimum and your diligence will be rewarded.
The pasta dough, the filling, the assembly of the agnolotti... all that can be done ahead, and the individual agnolotti frozen. That way you are ready to unleash culinary madness on your unsuspecting guests as a moments notice. They'll never know what hit them. Just look how at home the agnolotti are in the freezer....
* Yes, that is a thing of (gasp) store bought ice cream on the top left, and NO I did not buy it (not that there is anything wrong with that). It served it's purpose here balancing the agnolotti.
I featured carrots in the agnolotti filling this time, roasting them, combining them with sinfully delicious mascarpone cheese in the Food Processor, along with a little pork stock to get things moving, thyme, and crispy bacon bits (no, not these*... ACTUAL bits of bacon crisped up in a pan... shame on you).
* Just look at the ingredient list on that page... I dare you. "Defatted Soy Flour". What?! "Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil". Of course, because fully hydrogenated stuff is bad for you. And the every popular "Artificial and Natural Flavor". Funny, I just picked up a can of Natural Flavor at the store yesterday. I'm quite sure no Food Night readers are using imposter bacon, but if there are, call me... I can get you help. I know people. People who can teach you how to put a strip of bacon in a pan and turn on the heat. It's not as difficult as it sounds.
Have another glance at that the filling and a few of the finished product...
After piping the mixture onto a sheet of silky fresh pasta and forming the individual agnolotti, it was time to consider... the short rib.
Here is all you need to know about making short ribs... Alton Brown. Whatever your opinion of him, he is a freaking culinary genius. But again, you have to start with GOOD SHORT RIBS. This was the root of my prior short rib short comings (pun intended). I would buy fatty, non-meaty, boney, iffy short ribs and think "Oh, I guess short ribs are just bones with mostly fat on them". False. Proper beef short ribs are sucullently marbled hunks of beefy goodness. For Food Night, I went to Whole Foods, got some freshly cut, uber-meaty, sinfully delicious looking short ribs, and Alton Browned the hell out of them. As in, I got a cast iron pan screamin' hot, seared the heck out of them, then braised them in a tin foil packet with mixture of tomato paste, good quality vinegar, lemon juice and thyme. They come out of the oven a few hours later looking like this...
* Awful picture quality, I know. Walter Iooss I am not.
And here, is where the periosteum amputation comes into play. The periosteum is essentailly a membrane that surrounds the bone.* But when you braise short ribs gently for hours, the periosteum becomes soft, gelatenous, yet still unyielding to extensive chewing, which I find incredibly unpleasant. Its unchewable texture is just plain unpleasant to attempt to eat. But if you CHILL the short ribs overnight after braising, the periosteum siezes up, and you can EASILY remove it** to the delight of your diners. And hooray!!!... you now have periousteum-free short ribs! If you like eating grizzley oddly textured grossness, by all means skip this step. Otherwise, it is well worth your time to perform this amputation. The damn periosteum - don't like it ruin your short rib experience.
* If you know your anatomy, feel free to comment any corrections or further explanations.
** I like to remove the bone while the short ribs are still hot and then use a kitchen shears to carve out the easily distinguishable periosteum once they are thoroughly chilled.
The final, leisurely step is to have the chilled, periosteum-free short ribs hang out in a low 225ish degree oven just prior to serving for... however long, hour, two hours whatever... in a sauce constructed from the juices from the braising process and some extra red wine (which, wasn't exactly in short supply... )
Plating consisted of boiling the frozen agnolotti, then tossing them with some of the sauce from the sort ribs, and topping that with parmesan, maldon salt, and a couple of pickled tomatoes that were lying around. The verdict? Well, since a new atomic element called Deliciousonium was created in a big-bang sort of way, with a "HOLY COW how can food stuffs taste this good?!?!" sort of proclamation, yes, the dish was a success. Just look at it...
So what did we learn? Make fresh pasta, and make it often, as it is other-worldly. Buy good short ribs, braise them and remove the periosteum. And if all else fails... open a bottle of Monte Bello... your concerns will be immediately destroyed by a wave of vinicultural deeceness.