Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Sunday Dinner - Balsamic Braised Beef

Our family dinner at Jeffrey's recently was remarkable for several reasons, not the least of which was the amazing Balsamic Braised Short Ribs that our son's girlfriend ordered.  We all traded tastes of our entreés, and hers won general acclaim.  That extra layer of balsamic flavor onto the already deliciously concentrated braised beef, was really, truly, satisfying.

I was coming off a series of new recipes that had not quite won any hearts or palates around here, so I was ready for a dish that I knew ahead of time would be well received. Balsamic braised short ribs to the rescue! I set about finding a recipe to get us a "close enough" home version of Jeffrey's BBB and came up with two likely candidates. I asked my son's advice about which one would find us closer to the wonder of a dish we'd tasted at Jeffrey's, and  this is the recipe he pointed me towards. I found this on Chowhound, and my husband and daughter and I thoroughly enjoyed the results last night for Sunday Dinner.  My notes to follow....
Ana Sortun's Braised Short Ribs
"Oleana", Cambridge, MA - taken from "The Way We Cook" 
by Sheryl Julian and Julie Riven.

Cook these shortribs at least 1 day before serving.

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
4 large Spanish onions, halved and thinly sliced (may use 8 yellow onions)
1/2 tsp coarse salt, or to taste
1/2 tsp black pepper, or to taste
2 cups balsamic vinegar
1 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
8 shortribs (or 4 Lb of some other tough cut of beef that's good for braising, like chuck roast)
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 whole star anise (optional)
1 bay leaf

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Cook onions with salt and pepper in a large oven-safe casserole in oil and butter on med-high heat, stirring occasionally until softened, about 5 minutes. Turn down the heat to med-low and cook another 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove onions from the casserole and set aside.

Pour vinegar, soy sauce, wine, water, sugar, garlic, anise, and bay leaf into the casserole and bring to a boil. Add short ribs and cover them with onions and return the liquid to boil. Cover casserole and transfer it to the oven. Cook for 3 hours or until fork tender. (It's even better to cook it longer at a lower temperature- 6 hours at 275F.)

Refrigerate meat and liquid separately overnight. The fat on top of the liquid will solidify. Carefully lift it off and discard. Combine as many shortribs as you are serving that day with some of the balsamic soy liquid and simmer on the stove top until reheated.

These shortribs freeze beautifully. Just freeze the meat and liquid separately.
My Notes: I found the 4 large onions rendered too much liquid to move from softened to "golden" in the pan en masse. We took 3/4 of the onions out of the pan and cooked them a batch at a time to get a golden finish. There are no real directions about removing the onions from the liquid prior to serving so I left them in to reheat and just drizzled a few over the meat at plating. They were pretty much liquified, but still had so much flavor I decided not to pitch them out. I plan to pureé and freeze whatever is left at the end into cubes to use as a flavor boost for future sauces. (More on sauces in a post soon to come.)This was not a particularly labor intense recipe. It takes a long time to cook - we opted for the 6 hours at 275 degrees version - and then you have the overnight wait to take the fat off and reheat to serve the next day. The beef was fall off the bone tender, and the flavor was rich, intense, and extremely satisfying. This is the kind of dish that mashed potatoes or celery or parsnip pureé or egg noodles were created to accompany. I might not trot this out again now that the weather has snapped back into the 90s for afternoon highs, but I envision chilly days to come with a kitchen nicely warmed and filled with tantalizing aromas of braising beef.

This recipe would particularly lend itself to having folks over for dinner. You do the lion's share of the work the day ahead and then have a rested and relaxed cook the night of, assured of a delicious dish already prepared and only sides to wrangle for the meal itself.

We had this with a simple salad, good crusty bread, and cheesy mashed potatoes. The short ribs have a wonderfully deep and complex flavor so you don't need much else going on to compete. We all ate our fill with 1 1/2 to 2 ribs each. I will have braising liquid left over after the meat is gone, so might try preparing more than the 8 ribs called for in the recipe next go-round, especially with their comment at the end about it freezing well. You could concentrate the labor into one day's effort and have 3-4 delicious meals in the bag to show for it. Nothing wrong with that!

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