Not going to beat around the bush here, I'm a huge fan of the beef short rib. Yes, I have proclaimed undying love for many other cuts of meat like brisket, flank, shank, shoulder, on and on. However, I feel at this point in time in my life, beef short rib does it for me. It's popular for sure and there is a reason. It's just an awesome flavour bomb and to see it at a major brand supermarket, cut the right way, well I had to just grab me some.
One of the benefits of this supermarket British-celebrity-chef-off, that being Jamie Oliver and Heston Blumenthal, is that in the charge to have the most interesting foods, they have been pushed way off centre and you can get not only pretty decent meat but also interesting cuts as in the short rib. Which was on my mind anyway.
As you know I've been on the road lately and my last point of call was Maitland. The best thing about Maitland is that it's just a short drive to Cooks Hill in Newcastle and as everyone knows Newcastle is hipster central. And say what you want about them, they sure know how to eat. You'll not see a larger concentration of top-knots-per-square-metre in the world. There are just so many cool places to eat in the area. The elegantly sophisticated Reserve wine bar with its excellent wine list and neat grazing menu. The Albion hotel andits exhaustive list of craft beers, more than 400 served this year alone. Which seems a lot but who am I to challenge a guy with a beard and scarf.
The real find this time is The Edwards. As cool a place as you'd find anywhere; a reworked industrial laundry now has polished concrete floors, old tumbler drier baskets as lighting and ironing presses as temprites for their concise range micro-beer, which includes the brilliant Young Henry's brew. The menu is concise and good value. We share a most giving braised lamb shoulder with roast kipflers, and I was pleasantly surprised to not have this pointed out like most places that do "shared plates" - thinking they are the first. We get it, you put the food in the middle and we share it like at home.
They are quite easy to prepare. Each rib will feed a normal person and long braising is the best way to cook them, with a little salting beforehand. The braising liquor is key to your success as you can cook any beef bits in this medium. Temperature and time are of the essence, you'll need 80C to 90C for 10 hours to produce a great result. The timing works out like this: salt it overnight, then put into the oven in the morning. The meat rests really well and is easy to warm up to optimal chomping temperature.
First, you need to make the wine reduction. This is the heart and soul of a good braise, giving body, flavour and acid that is needed to break down the collagen to help make the syrupy gravy. You'll need a full-bodied, manly wine here. This is not the time to pull out the cool climate pinot (cough, wimp), you'll need shiraz and something with balls. And the biggest of them all is Penfolds. Pure, concentrated shiraz; it's not for the meek and will have hipsters running a mile, screaming "What is that? I asked for a gamay!" But for old school wine drinkers it represents flavour, intensity and manliness.
I've got a case of them, on account of an offer of a wine fridge if you bought a six-pack. I've been wanting a wine fridge for a while. Not necessarily to store and mature these blood curdling wines at optimal temperature and humidity, more a place where I can ferment bread, butter and maybe cheese. Not what they are designed to do, but I reckon it'll do the job.
So I've got plenty of full blooded Aussie shiraz to use in my reduction. The salting is worth the effort with the cuts of meat that are to be braised. The salt creates something of a vacuum in the cells that the braising liquid, with all its flavour, fills. Ask your butcher if you can't find ribs in the supermarket. The vegies here work on the same braising principles, cooked in a liquid that is absorbed into the tissue so you have no dilution of flavour.
Braised short rib, beetroot and sprouts
4 thick beef short ribs, bone in, about 200g each
Salt brine (see below)
Beef braising liquor (see below)
4 large beetroots
3 sprigs thyme
300g baby brussels sprouts, halved
Salt and pepper
Submerge ribs in brine solution for 10-12 hours, rinse off and pat dry. Heat a frypan, add oil and seal the beef ribs on all sides. Place in a pot suited to braising, heat braising liquor and add enough to cover ribs. Cover with greaseproof paper and put the lid on. Place in an oven set at 80C for 10 hours. Remove and keep warm, strain liquor and cook down to a thick syrupy liquid, adding the ribs and glazing them with this thick liquid. Serve with braised beetroot and sprouts.
Using two of the bulbs, cut these into bite sized cubes or cylinders, enough for 4 each. Juice the rest, heat juice in a pot with thyme and add beetroot pieces, cook over a moderate heat until the liquid is absorbed.
Braised brussels sprouts
Heat a pot with a little oil, sear sprouts and pour over a cup of water plus a knob of butter, salt and pepper. Cook until liquid is absorbed.
1 litre water
2 tbspn peppercorns
3 star anise
6 juniper berries
3 sprigs thyme
2 cloves garlic
Bring to the boil, steep until cool. Strain and use.
2 onions, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots , chopped
4 cloves garlic, smashed
1 bottle red wine
4 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
1 beef stock
Saute onion, celery, carrot and garlic until just turning, deglaze with wine. Add herbs and cook down to a thickish liquid, add stock and simmer for 10 minutes. Do not use salt in this liquor, there's plenty in the ribs.