Tuesday, December 11, 2007

"Pot Au Feu": Braised Prime Beef Short Ribs with Root Vegetables and Sautéed Bone Marrow

With winter finally here and our first snowfall (!!) behind us, what better to cook and serve than a hearty bowl of Pot Au Feu, right? Pot Au Feu is literally translated from French to mean "pot on the flame/fire"; the loose translation is that it's a French boiled/simmered meat stew. However, leave it to me to have to translate it yet again to accurately reflect my experience with it -- Pot Au Duh -- because, well, you'll see. Read on, you rascals, read on...

Let's start where all good dishes should start: bone marrow. I went to my usual guys at Union Meat Company at DC's Eastern Market, but we had a bit of miscommunication over the phone and they didn't have what I needed and weren't able to get it for a few days. So, I got on the phone and called a few other places and was able to get some marrow bone pieces from a funky little grocery store in Silver Spring called Snider's. I also picked up my ribs there, but that's a story for later on in today's program. Back to the bone marrow... I soaked the bones in ice water for about 20 minutes:

I drained them and went about removing the marrow from each bone. I had a tough time doing this, and had to soak them briefly in warm water to loosen the marrow. That didn't work. So, I got out a small paring knife and gently went around the edges to try and nudge it out. Also, not successful. I ended up having to use a combination of skewer and paring knife to get those suckers out, so they looked as hacked up as Joan Van Ark's face when I finally got it done:

I soaked the marrow in ice water overnight, changing the water after the first 8 hours to remove the bloody water and avoid spoilage.

Next, I prepped the red wine marinade for the ribs, since they, too, needed to sit in the fridge overnight. To make the marinade, I poured a bottle of Tyrus Evans Claret into a pot, along with some carrots, leeks, onions, garlic, parsley, thyme and a bay leaf:

I brought it to a boil, then removed it from the burner, and lit a match on the surface of the marinade to burn off the alcohol. After three matches, I was good to go and let the marinade come to room temperature while I prepped the ribs. Here's where I discover why it's important NOT to talk on your cellphone while at the grocery store.

I opened the refrigerator to take out what I thought were three-and-a-half pounds of boneless prime beef shortribs. That's what I asked the butcher at Snider's to have ready for me. And, I know it's what he handed me. However, I had to take a call from a client while I was completing my meat transaction, and I placed the package of ribs in the meat cooler area while they were cutting my marrow bones. When I was done with the call, I strolled back over to the meat section and picked up what I thought were my beef shortribs. Alas, I didn't realize until 1 a.m., when I was prepping the marinade and reaching this step in the dish that I had picked up someone else's order -- 5 pounds of pork baby back ribs. Knowing my only options were to wait until morning to go buy more ribs, or just say "F it" and move on, I decided that I'd wing it and see if I could make the dish work in a more pork-tastic manner. So, I weighed out 3.5 pounds of the ribs and put them in a giant ziploc along with the marinade:

I went to bed, cursing all the way upstairs, and thinking, "well, maybe I can pull this off." The next day, I preheated the oven to 275 and stuck my head in it. KIDDING. I did preheat the oven, and removed the ribs from the marinade. They were an interesting shade of purple I shan't soon forget:

They actually look sort of beef-ish, don't they? I poured the marinade from the ziploc into a saucepan, straining it to hold back the vegetables. I simmered the liquid and removed all the gunky crap, I'm sorry, impurities:

I was left with a beautiful, fragrant liquid that would be used in the braising process later on. Or would it?

I heated some canola oil in a large skillet and seasoned the ribs with salt and pepper, dusted them lightly with flour, then cooked them for 2-3 minutes on each side until they were browned. I put the ribs in a heavy pot to prep them for braising. I poured the oil out of the skillet and sautéed the reserved vegetables from the marinade. I caramelized them, then put them in the pot with the ribs:

Time to put these ribs in the oven to braise for a few hours. All I have to do at this point is add 3 cups of homemade chicken stock (check) and 3 cups of homemade veal stock (che... oh shit). Yeah. I thawed the WRONG STOCK. I organize and label my stocks pretty clearly, but after a thorough freezer cleaning by my awesome cleaning lady, I did some rearranging and accidentally put some mushroom stock on the same shelf as the veal stock. Yes, ladies and germs, I had 3 cups of mushroom stock waiting to go in my Pot Au Duh. I figured since I already screwed up the beef purchase and was using pork instead that WHY NOT just move forward with mushroom stock and see what happens. I knew the combination wasn't lethal (unlike my charming good looks), so once again, I said "F it" and rolled with the punches.

If you're playing along with the cookbook in hand, you'll notice that in addition to all these creative substitutions, I'm also forgetting a key ingredient in the braising pot. We'll reveal that at the end and keep the trauma coming.

Okay -- the meat is in the pot with the veggies and the stock, so I covered it with a parchment lid and put it in a 275-degree oven for about 4 hours.

Over the course of the braising, it smelled better and better, so I knew it wouldn't completely suck... but I was still grumbling at myself, because you know, that's really helpful.

Time to make the donuts. Kidding. That's in a few weeks, actually.

Time to prep the root vegetables: carrots, parsnips, turnips, scallions, and white and red pearl onions. I peeled the onions and cut the other vegetables into somewhat equal sizes:

I blanched and ice-bathed (separately) the carrots, parsnips, turnips, scallions and white onions. When it came time to blanch the red onions, I added a bit of red wine vinegar to the boiling water so they'd hold their color. I let them cool in the ice bath, drained and dried them on paper towels, then put them all in a bowl (minus the scallions) until I was ready to finish the dish:

After the ribs were done braising, I removed them from the braising liquid and rested them on a plate:

Wow, they look pitiful, don't they. Jeesh. I skimmed the fat from and then strained the braising liquid into a taller, skinnier pot and threw away the vegetables. I strained the liquid three times to make sure it was clean. This is one dish where I'm glad I have multiple strainers, chinois, and pots, because I used a ton of them and had my dishwasher running all day. I reserved some of the braising liquid in which I would later cook the vegetables, and more of the liquid for reheating the ribs. The rest, I reduced to a sauce consistency, which took about an hour.

To finish the dish, I reheated the ribs in a skillet with some canola oil, then added some of the braising liquid to keep them warm while I finished the vegetables:

I put the vegetables along with some tomato diamonds in a medium saucepan, and covered them with the rest of the braising liquid.

It's at this point that I see there's a saucepan of room temperature liquid sitting on a hotpad on my countertop. I think, "Huh, that must be for the sauce that goes on the bottom of the dish, right?" So I read and re-read the dish's instructions from start to finish, trying to figure out what this mystery liquid is. It smells great, and as soon as I take a second whiff, I let out my third string of expletives in a 24-hour period because I realize that this is the remainder of the red wine marinade -- the stuff I'd skimmed all that gunk out of -- and was supposed to add to the ribs as part of the braising liquid FOUR HOURS AGO WHEN THE BRAISING PROCESS BEGAN. I went back and forth in my head about what I could do with it -- could I add it to the sauce, should I put some on the vegetables, and decided that I'd already screwed up enough with this dish that I was just going to have to ditch it and not worry about it. Bye-bye red wine marinade sauce. Nice knowin' ya.

It's at this point that I'm ready for this dish to be o-v-e-r because I feel like such a doofus for not being able to handle such simple ingredients. The pig head I'm going to do in the spring? I expect that to be difficult. Butchering a lamb? Challenging beyond anything I've done before. But, buying pork instead of beef, and forgetting to include a really important component in a braise? The self-esteem is taking a hit, my friends.

So, now what do I have to do? Oh yes, remove the bone marrow from its ice bath in the fridge and look at those amateur hack jobs and feel EVEN BETTER about myself. Remember what they looked like? You don't? Here, let me remind you:

I bet you thought I was gonna ka-pow you with the Joan Van Ark photo again, didn't you. You're welcome.

I drained and dried the marrow pieces, seasoned them quite liberally with kosher salt, then coated them in flour and cooked them for a few minutes in some canola oil in a non-stick pan. I fully expected them to a) explode, b) melt, or c) shoot across the room. Fortunately, the planets were in alignment and they turned out perfectly. You'll see them in the plating photos... speak of the devil... first in the dish, the vegetables:

Next on the plate went the ribs:

Next? The marrow:

And finally, the scallion, along with a few chopped chives and some grey salt:

Doesn't look too bad, does it? I've had really good Pot Au Feu before, so knowing all the behind the scenes nonsense that went on in making this dish, I fully expected to not enjoy this. But you know what? It was good. It was better than good. I really enjoyed it, and my friends did as well. When they opened the front door to come into the house, it was raining and cold outside, so my warm, meat-smelling house was a welcome place to be.

We sat down at the table and I explained the dish, and we tucked in. Every bit of it was delicious and enjoyable -- especially the marrow. When I was younger, I didn't like marrow -- I couldn't stand the texture, and my grandfather used to eat it all the time. My mom had some recently when we went out for dinner and it smelled good. The marrow I had at Per Se was the best I'd ever eaten, and honestly? Mine was a close second. To me, eating sautéed bone marrow now as an adult is a little bit like when in A Time To Kill, Ashley Judd and Matthew McConaughey are covered in a thin film of summer-in-Mississippi, silky, sexy sweat. If you think about it too much, it's gross. But if you just leap before you look, you'll love it.

The pork was tender, and the bones just slid right out. The vegetables were really clean yet hearty and cooked just right. Not mushy at all, but they didn't give any resistance when you bit into them. I can't imagine if doing this so wrong made it taste this right, how excellent doing it the right way is going to be.

I will probably do this dish again: with beef shortribs, veal stock, and remembering to include the red wine sauce when braising. I'll be sure to let you know how it turns out. But really, this Pot Au Duh wasn't bad and turned out WAY better than I ever could've hoped.

To add insult to injury, had I used the boneless beef shortribs intended for this dish, I would not have had to walk up and down my street in my pajamas the next morning with my hair all over the place, collecting the pork rib bones that the raccoons dug out of the outside garbage can and spread throughout the neighborhood. Good times.... gooooood tiiiimmmesss....

Up Next: Roquefort Trifle with French Butter Pear Relish (my last cheese dish in the book, :::sniff, sniff:::)

Marrow bones and ribs from Snider's
365 canola oil
Tyrus Evans 2003 Claret for red wine marinade
Produce and aromatics from Whole Foods

Music to Cook By: The Spice Girls, assorted. Don't be a hater. I just saw the Girls in concert in LA with Catherine and Heather, and had a wonderful night of overly camp people-watching. It was fantastic!


Kevin said...

I feel your pain, I've horribly butchered several of the recipes in my attempt to cook the Gourmet Cookbook. I've been thinking about trying the pot-au-feu recipe this winter, I'll have to bone up on my marrow extraction technique. I'm glad your unexpected substitutions didn't ruin your dinner, and hope mine comes out half as well.

N.B. The title reads "Braised Prime Beef Shirt Ribs" I imagine this is a typo.

Congratulations on all your Best Food Blog nominations, I voted for you.

Nic Heckett said...

Beef bad, pork, goooood. But then I am biased.

Tara the Foodie said...

I've never tasted bone marrow before, but I love how you described eating it - to not think about it too much. I guess that's what you'd have to do. I'm sure it's great - there's not much in the food world that I won't eat. The plating at the end was great - funny as hell post!

Anonymous said...

I mentioned to a friend that these eff-ups somehow humanized you and made you more likable. He took offense to the concept that you in any way could be MORE likable. I had to agree.

Kevin Kossowan said...

As always, super-fun to read.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what I'm more jealous about -- the fact that you got to see the Spice Girls (also a guilty pleasure of mine) or that you have the balls to write so honestly and funnily about this dish.

Pot Au Duh. Wish I'd thought of that.

Unknown said...

I'd love to see a comparison of the outcome of the two dishes.

and poor Joan...who knew the latest thing was to use the same color eyebrow pencil on your brow and as eyeliner on your lower lids.

Anonymous said...

I've gotten marrow bones from my local farmer's market (U St., can't remember the vendor) but Whole Foods has them as well for much cheaper.

Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on your Pot Au Duh! It sounds like you very successfully created a new dish all your own. Who knows....maybe Chef Keller will steal it from you!

(BTW, myy vote for you is in, of course. Good luck!)

Sarah said...

Good post and way to keep going even when you realized you had purchased the wrong meat on accident. I have done that a few times and have my usual temper tantrum about ruining the dish after about an hour I am usually ready to work on it again.
Sounds delish and will have to try it.

Anonymous said...

I laughed about the funny shade of purple comment. I made coq au vin once and it came out purple after the marinade. I thought after cooking it would turn brownish, but it remained purple throughout the process. Afterwards it sat in the frig as leftovers appearing like I had killed and cooked some lesser known sesame street character.

Congrats on your nominations, they are well deserved. If there were a separate category for most addictive blog, you would win hands down.

Anonymous said...

Carol--Who cares that you used the wrong meat? It looked wonderful. I'd gladly eat anything that you'd make.

Thanks for a hysterical post!

Anonymous said...

The point of a parchment lid is to allow some evaporation and browning but not too much, and most importantly, to prevent a skin from forming on top of the braising liquid.

Cut your parchment lid slightly smaller than the diameter of your pot, so that it can rest on and make complete contact with the surface of the liquid.

Anonymous said...

Wow, when life hands you lemonade concentrate, you make lemons! The final dish sounded absolutely wonderful. Can't wait to see it on the menu at Ad Hoc!

BTW, voted for you early and often. Good luck!

michael, claudia and sierra said...

ok - so that was totally fun.


what kind of animal are you planning on slaughtering? a lamb? no.... nah.... itsa joke, right? hey everyone - carol is being sooooo funny.


Anonymous said...

Wow, you use TE Claret for a braise? What do you serve to drink!?!?

Kitt said...

Well, YUM. You do roll with the punches well.

I happen to have beef short ribs handy. And just bought 60 pounds of small-cut marrow bones today.

Time to see what the dog's been raving about, eh?

Simply...Gluten-free said...

I stumbled on to your blog from somewhere and boy am I glad I did!

I went to The French Laundry once, it was a friend's birthday so 4 of us gals went to Napa to celebrate. We had reservations for 9:30 and wanted a little balance in our trip so of course we decided to patronize a local dive bar. Pool, country music, red necks and tequila poppers. Great fun! Problem was that by the time we got to The French Laundry we had already been drunk and now were hung over. All the birthday girl wanted was coffe!


I admire your ambition, my copy of this book look lovely on my shelf.

I will be back!

iamchanelle said...

hi carol!
i just wanted to let you know i just discovered your blog WHO knows how, from one trail to another, but I LOVE IT. i have some archive catching-up to do, so you know who will be lurking around in there.
best of luck on your next endeavor -can't wait to read all about it.

Anonymous said...

Don't eat meat, can't imagine spending this much time to prepare any meal, but sure do love to read your stories.


Hillary said...

Oh, no! But what you're describing has happened to all cooks at one point or another. Too bad I couldn't have donated my beef short ribs which have been languishing away in my freezer for a couple of months...

Anyway, the real story is you still made something very tasty. A happy mistake (less the racoons, oh yes, I've been there).

Wasn't it Steingarten who wrote about his beef marrow troubles? Maybe it was Laurie Colwin. Anyway, I hear it's really hard to extract that stuff without a hacksaw!

BTW, I voted for you as well. :)

Unknown said...

First, congratulations on the awards!

I made this recipe (minus the marrow) for Mother's Day and it was a HUGE success. It's always nice to be able to "wow" your family with something like this. I'll definitely make it again in the future.

Mary Coleman said...

What started out as traditional turned out to be a whole new life for Pot au Feu! Sounds totally delicious and I'm sure the raccoons appreciated your efforts as well!

Anonymous said...

Imagine how confused the people that got your short ribs must have been! Too funny. Thanks for that awesome visual at the end too, that's the mark of a truly talented writer ;-)

Anonymous said...

This is really helpful, your plating looks quite different than the picture on page 187, but makes more since given the direction in the recipe. I think this might be an error...I'm thankful that you posted your pictures, otherwise, I would have been very confused.

La Cuisine d'Helene said...

I really have to try this recipe. I guess I'll need some patience.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to cook up your bone marrow.