Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Praise the braise

As a recent northern transplant, I probably appreciate the warm and sunny winter days of the south more than your average Atlantan. Just two days ago, I gleefully enjoyed a leisurely cup of creamy butter pecan ice cream sitting on a park bench across from the zoo. As if to make sure that we don’t forget there are indeed four seasons, winter returned today for a brief appearance.

While little pellets of frozen rain charged against our loft windows with a vengeance, the inside of the window panes were frosted from the warm heat radiating out of our open kitchen. Not about to pass up a rare opportunity to appreciate a hearty winter meal, I had braved the rain to gather the ingredients for a braise, which bubbled away in the oven for hours.

The chosen recipe was for short ribs provencale from my newly acquired The Carefree Cook by Rick Rodgers. Picking out the book from my small collection was rather easy this time because of my new process. During the New Year, I had made myself a promise that I would cook a recipe from every new cookbook before it makes onto my bookshelf and this book, a present to myself for Christmas, has been sitting on our bar waiting to be shelved for some time now.

The recipe definitely delivered on the carefree portion of the title. All that was required on my part was to throw the ingredients into my beloved Dutch oven. The hardest part involved in making this braise is probably find something to occupy yourself during the few hours that the braise is transformed into a delicious and sticky consistency while the whole house is permeated with the most intoxicating smell that only slow cooked red meat could produce. To that, all I can say is, be patient and you will be amply rewarded.

Short Ribs Provencale (make 6 servings)
The Carefree Cook
by Rick Rodgers

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

6 pounds individual short ribs
3/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1 celery rib, finely chopped
12 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablespoon herbes de Provence
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups hearty red wine, such as Zinfandel or Shiraz
1 3/4 cups beef stock, preferably homemade, or reduced-sodium chicken broth
One 14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice, drained
1 bay leaf
8 ounces baby-cut carrots
1/2 cup Mediterranean black olives, such as Ni├žoise, pitted
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley for garnish (I had forgotten this)

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 300°F.

2. Heat the oil in a large (at least 6-quart) Dutch oven or flameproof casserole over medium-high heat. Season the short ribs with the salt and pepper. In batches, without crowding, add the short ribs to the pot and cook, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides, about 8 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the ribs to a platter.

3. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from the pot. Add the onion, chopped carrot, and celery to the pot and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, herbes de Provence, and flour and stir until the garlic gives off its aroma, about 1 minute. Stir in the wine and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Add the broth, tomatoes, and bay leaf. Return the short ribs, and any juices, to the pot. Add cold water as needed to barely reach the top of the ribs and bring to a boil over high heat.

4. Cover tightly, transfer to the oven, and bake, stirring occasionally to change the position of the ribs, until the meat is falling-off-the-bone tender, about 2 1/2 hours. During the last 15 minutes, add the baby carrots.

5. Transfer the short ribs to a deep serving platter and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm. Skim off the fat from the surface of the cooking liquid, and discard the bay leaf. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook until the liquid is reduced to a sauce consistency, about 10 minutes (the exact time depends on the size of the pot). Add the olives and cook to heat them through, about 3 minutes. Season the sauce with salt and pepper.

6. Spoon the sauce with the carrots over the ribs, sprinkle with the parsley, which I forgot to buy, and serve hot.

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