as the weather continues to cool, leaves turn, major league baseball playoffs are well underway, football season is almost midway through, i want to cook rich lusty hearty meat dishes that require long slow simmering. this type of cooking technique is called "braising." braising usually starts with a cut of meat that is comprised of stronger muscular & connective tissue like legs, shanks, shoulders, tails or necks. these particular cuts tend to have more collagen, gelatin & tendons. they require patience and attention to detail, but after 3 or 4 hours if handled correctly, there is a reward that is usually nothing short of sublime.
here is an overview of methodology without giving exacting quantities of ingredients, known as a recipe. first, select the cut of meat that you want to work with, here i will choose beef shortribs, one of my favorites. trim the backside around the bones of any connective tissue. then turn it over and do the same with topside leaving only fat but removing any tendons attached. season liberally with kosher salt and black pepper. i actually like to let the shortribs rest over night in the refrigerator, uncovered. this resting time allows the seasoning to completely penetrate the meat while drawing moisture inward. by leaving uncovered, the beef also air dries and a slight pelicle will form. this will enable you to get a nice even sear, or caramelization on the meat, a very important step. this is done by preheating your braising pan, i love to use a cast iron dutch oven at home, with olive oil or grapeseed oil, just before it begins to smoke, add your ribs, topside down first. after a couple of moments turn. you want to see a nice even browning on the top side, if not, turn again until nice and browned. remove the short ribs from the pan. add chopped mirepoix of celery, carrots, onion & garlic. you want to stir them around to ensure even browning and caramelization. after several minutes, deglaze with a rich red wine like an amador county zinfandel or syrah, scraping loose any fond or residue from the meat and vegetables. i then add some tomato paste and stir to coat the vegetables. i then add some canned san marzano or plum tomatoes, more red wine, add the ribs back to the pan, a couple of bay leaves, some fresh thyme, a little more liquid so that only the tops of the ribs remain exposed. bring this to a boil on top of the stove, remove and cover and i recommend finishing in a 300 degree oven. you can finish on top of the stove if you'd like but be sure that your heat is very low. resist the temptation to lift the lid before 3 1/2 hours.
at Grange Restaurant, zinfandel braised shortribs became one of our signature dishes when we opened last december. we started the season this past weekend by reintroducing this wonderful dish again to our menu. we cook ours slowly for at least 15hours, at 185 degrees in a low temp holding oven. we usually will serve them with some sort of decadent creamy potato or vegetable puree underneath and a generous helping of the braising liquid for the sauce. i had to kick off the season the other evening by opening a delicious rich rhone style blend of grenache, mourvedre, syrah, called "Noir" from the 2000 vintage of Domaine de la Terra Rouge Winery in the nearby sierra foothils. this was a perfect match for a perfect cool fall night dish.