Monday, March 2, 2009

Comfort Food

Do you ever feel like you were born in the wrong decade, or the wrong area of the world? I do. I pull out the pots and pans for at least one meal every single day, whether it be breakfast or dinner, and usually both. As far as I can tell, not everyone does that these days. More evidence? Once a month I like to bring in a baked good to the place I volunteer, and I've actually had a group of (ahem) older gentlemen tell me that they were surprised I had made them, because "young women these days, they don't know how to bake anymore." 
As for occasionally feeling that I was born in the wrong part of the world, it's because the food I crave isn't usually "American". Fried chicken? No. Hamburgers? No. Well, sometimes. But for real comfort, give me Asian! Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, or some sort of pseudo-version of any or all of the above. I love rice! Granted, I love bread too, but sometimes I just CRAVE some rice, the taste of soy sauce, the bite of ginger. 
I know that I'm lucky to have been born when and where I was: An era when women wearing jeans isn't scandalous, access to higher education and any career path, an equal partnership with my spouse, and access to recipes and ingredients from all over the world. Sometimes though, I still wonder why things like this appeal to me so deeply:
Perhaps it's just that I appreciate anything this delicious!
Beef Shortribs braised with Chinese flavors, over (pseudo-Asian) pineapple fried rice. This recipe was adapted from one of my favorite cookbooks, Simple to Spectacular by Vongerichten and Bittman. Each segment of the book gives you one master technique and follows it with four increasingly complex variations. This is the third level (I stopped short of the marrow butter version) but it is still very easy; the real complexity is the flavor. I adapted it based on my extreme dislike of cilantro and I also cut down on the star anise, as I find it can be quite strong. They recommend serving it over plain white rice, but I always use brown for its health benefits, and my pinapple fried version didn't detract from the ribs at all. The sweetness of pineapple and sharpness of scallions played very nicely with the ribs, and I used a light hand with the soy, ginger and garlic. Overall, this was a resounding success, and will absolutely be made again. I hope you try it! 

Short Ribs Braised with Chinese Flavors
adapted from Simple to Spectacular, Vongerichten & Bittman

4 Tb neutral oil, such as canola
4 lbs beef shortribs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large yellow onion, peeled and chopped
4 medium cloves garlic, peeled and smashed with the side of a knife
1/4 C roughly chopped, unpeeled ginger
2 TB sugar
3-5 star anise pods, depending on your preference. (I used 3)
5 dried chiles (Strangely hard to find in my area, I used red chile flakes instead)
2 TB Szechwan peppercorns
20 parsley stems, washed (They called for cilantro, but I wanted mine to be palatable. HA!)
1 C dry sherry (I used 3/4 C Spanish brandy, because that's what I had. It was tasty.)
1/2 C quality soy sauce
3 C water
2 TB peeled and finely minced ginger

Put 2 TB of the oil into a deep, heavy skillet or casserole and turn the heat to high. Season the ribs well with salt and pepper, then brown them well on all sides. This will likely cause some smoke, so turn on the vent hood or open a few windows. When all the ribs are well-browned, take them out and set them aside, then very carefully pour out the fat and wipe the pan. (I crumple up a paper towel and use tongs to run it around the pan.) Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Put the pan back on medium-high heat and add 2 more Tb oil. (If you want to just save 2 TB of the previous oil/beef fat, I won't tell.) Add the onion, 1/4 C chopped ginger, and sugar to the pan and cook, stirring often, until the onion is deeply browned. Add star anise, chiles, and parsley stems and cook for a minute, then add sherry, soy sauce, and water. Add the ribs back to the pot, cover, and place in the oven. Once or twice an hour, turn the ribs in the liquid. Braise for 3-4 hours, until the meat is meltingly tender. Remove the ribs and set aside. Strain the cooking liquid, pressing hard on the vegetables to get all the goodness out, and skim off as much fat as you can. If you have the time, refrigerate the liquid to make it easier to remove the fat. Pour cooking liquid, minus fat, back into the pot and bring it to a boil until it's slightly reduced, then add meat and minced ginger. Heat the ribs through again, check seasonings, then serve with your choice of accompaniments. 


Nate-n-Annie said...

Very nicely done! Do you want to try other braises?

Thanks for adding us as a friend on Foodbuzz. We welcome you to come visit our site!

Ingrid said...

Yes, there are MANY times that I feel the same way.

I cook (& try to bake) the nights my children don't have a sporting event. Most times its only 3 or 4 nights but I also make them special breakfasts on Sat & Sun, again it there isn't a sporting a event. My children love it and their friends always comment on how I cook and always have fresh baked yummies.

Jude said...

Haha, I thought only Asians had uncontrollable rice cravings. I can relate :)