With a long weekend ahead, Tony wanted to do something spectacular and he found a great recipe to try: Food 52’s Short Rib Ragu. The plan was to serve it over the fresh pappardelle, which we made by cutting up the sheets of fresh pasta we had left over from the Lasagna with Meat Sauce. Here’s how Tony made this fantastic dinner:
I’ll start by saying the is one of the most ambitious dishes I’ve ever tried. It’s not especially labor intensive, in the sense there aren’t tons of difficult steps, but it takes a long time to make: I started at about 7:30pm and didn’t get the ragu into the fridge – the ragu should sit in the fridge overnight – unit 1:30 am. In retrospect, it would have made more sense to make this on Saturday and have it on Sunday or make it on Sunday and have it on Monday, but I was determined to have this dish for dinner before the opera Saturday night and I was willing to put in the time to make that happen.
The star of the show is, of course, the short ribs. I had never worked with them before, but I’ve had them in restaurants several times. I’ve always seen them served as cubes, so I was a little surprised to see that they occur “naturally” (at least at our local Whole Foods!) as planks. It was a simple matter to have the butcher cut each one in half, which left me with about 14 cubes of roughly the same size. This not only made them easier to work with but had the added benefit of creating more surfaces to brown and exposing the marrow in the ribs, which added to the flavor of the dish.
The first step in the recipe is to brown the ribs on all sides over medium heat for about 2 to 3 minutes per side. I wanted to avoid making a huge mess, so I worked over slightly lower heat. I browned the ribs, which I seasoned liberally with salt and pepper, about 3 to 4 minute per side in our trusty Dutch oven with our handy-dandy splatter screen to help contain the mess. I managed to do everything in two batches, but with each piece of meat having six sides, the whole process took a little over an hour.
Normally, I like do all my prep work in advance of cooking. This isn’t always the most efficient way to do things, but it usually works out. Tonight, however, I knew it was going to be important to get the ribs started as early as possible, so I chopped all my veggies and herbs (carrot, celery, onion, garlic, rosemary) and measured out the other ingredients (tomato paste, red wine, anchovy paste, red wine, tomatoes, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, thyme, and oregano) while the ribs were browning.
The one exception to all this was prepping the dried porcini mushrooms. Since those had to soak, I did that step before anything else, adding them to two cups of boiling water. The mushrooms were a little expensive (the little 1 ounce packet of mushrooms I used was only about $6.00, but pound for pound, they were about 10x more expensive than the short ribs!), but they really made the dish. I have never smelled anything as delicious as the mushrooms the minute I poured the boiling water over them. The aroma was huge – earthy and nutty and a little funky; it literally (and I literally mean literally, not figuratively) made me take a step back and say “Whoa!” out loud. Their flavor really comes through in the ragu, so do not skip them!
With the ribs browned and the other ingredient ready to go, I was ready to start cooking. After taking the ribs out of the Dutch oven and draining off all but one tablespoon of the fat, I sautéed the carrot, celery, onion for about 10 minutes until they were soft. I then added the garlic and cooked that for about 1 minute more.
Just a note about draining the fat from the Dutch oven – this has the potential to be a phenomenally dangerous, trip-to-the-emergency-room inducing step. Be sure to turn off the flame before you move the pot, use potholders, of course, and work in the sink. It may be a little clumsy, but tip the pan away from yourself when you pour so that any spills or spatters are directed away from you. Make sure you pour the fat into something that you are certain won’t melt or shatter from the heat of the fat; I used the can from the tomatoes, because I didn’t think any of the glass or ceramic containers we had would be strong enough. It should go without saying that you don’t want to pour the fat down the sink (it will splatter, because your sink will probably be wet, and it could clog or damage your pipes) or in the trash (it will melt and potentially set fire to anything it touches.) The can will be too hot to touch at first, so let it sit in the sink until it’s cool enough to handle and then put it in the fridge until it’s solidified. It should be pretty easy to deal with then.
Once the veggies and garlic were cooked, I used a rubber spatula to clear out 3-inch circle at the bottom of the pot and cooked the tomato and anchovy pastes. I’m not sure I got them quite caramelized like the recipe says you should, but after 2 or 3 minutes, they smelled pretty good, so I figured I was good to go. I added the wine and reduced it by about half, which took another 10 minutes. I then added the tomatoes, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and herbs, along with the mushrooms and their soaking liquid. The recipe says to not use the last 1/4 inch of the liquid to keep out sediment, but the liquid looked pretty clear to me (plus, I wasn’t going to lose any of that flavor!) so I used it all. I just about covered the ribs with chicken stock, which I though would give everything more flavor than water. I accidentally skipped the next step of bringing the liquid to a boil, which in retrospect didn’t hurt the dish at all, and put the pot into the oven for 3 hours.
After 3 hours, the ribs were perfect: so falling-apart tender that I had a little trouble getting a few of them out of the pot. With the ribs on plate off to the side, I used an immersion blender to puree the liquid. (If you don’t have an immersion blender, you could ladle the liquid into a blender and puree it that way, but if you don’t have either, I don’t think having a chunkier ragu would be the end of the world.) You want to be careful here; if you’re using a large pot like I was, the liquid in it may not be deep enough to make sure the head of the blender is fully immersed, as its name makes clear it should be. This will turn your immersion blender into a super-high-speed catapult and you run the risk of splattering the liquid all over your kitchen. I tipped the pot a bit so the liquid would pool and saved myself a lot of cleaning up.
The ribs were still pretty hot at this point, so I put them in the fridge for about 15 or 20 minutes to speed things up. When the ribs were cool enough to handle, I pulled out the bones, which was very easy at this point, and shredded the meat, throwing away any large pieces of fat as I worked. I added the meat to the pureed liquid and mixed it all together. I let the ragu come to room temperature and while the recipe says to “skim any large pools of fat from the surface” as it cools, there was surprisingly little fat to skim away. The final step was to put the Dutch oven in the fridge overnight – and to go to bed!
Getting dinner ready the next day was very easy. I took the Dutch oven out of the fridge and skimmed away the additional fat, which was minimal. I don’t want to give the impression that this is fat-free dish; when the pot initially came out of the oven, I was a little shocked at how much oil there was on the surface. The next time, I might skim some fat off at this step, but despite not doing that this time, I wouldn’t say the dish was greasy or oily at all. I put six servings of ragu in the freezer and put the remaining two in a saucepan so they could warm up over very low heat. I used a pizza wheel to slice the sheets of fresh pasta into strips about 1 inch wide. I also made the gremolata, which is a mixture of garlic, lemon zest, parsley, salt, and olive oil. I boiled the pasta for about 2 1/2 minutes, drained it, and plated it into two shallow bowls. I divided the short rib ragu over both servings of pasta and sprinkled about 2 teaspoons of gremolata over each dish.
As I said at the start of this post, this was a pretty ambitious undertaking, but it was stunningly good. We truly savored every bite. The ragu was rich and thick and meaty with tremendous flavor. The gremolata was a perfect counterpoint, as the brightness of the lemon zest and grassiness of the parsley really helped balance out the dish. We paired this up with our last bottle of 2007 Torciano Baldassarre for an amazing pre-opera dinner. We’re planning to serve some of the leftover ragu over polenta on Thursday, so check back in later this week to see how that turned out!