Thursday, October 15, 2015
At some point it became October and I’m not really sure how that happened. Oh wait, no I know how. We spent September in a dreamy, chaotic, wonderful haze of family time. Our house was packed to the hilt with people. My sister, her husband and their two boys came to stay for a visit that spanned almost three weeks. The house was loud, the surfaces were sticky, the laundry was endless and the time together was So. Much. Fun.
I think it’s a natural reaction from a lot of people that having house guests is a hassle but I don’t know...there’s something fundamentally right about it to me. Why do we have this house if not to open it up to the people we love? When I would mention that a family of four was bunking with us for a few weeks people would be like “yikes!” or “are you guys over it?” and I’ve got to say, maybe I just like them so much I don’t notice (totally possible) but these visits are a joy. And I’m not even speaking just for me but for Paul too! He may have missed them more than I did when they left. When half of your family lives several thousand miles away and the only time you get to see them in the flesh is but once or twice a year you tend to be pretty stoked about it. And it’s just really fun to have a bunch more people to goof around with. Every meal feels like an event, even breakfast. One evening while I was cooking my sister and I had a long conversation about true hospitality and we agreed: we’d rather have a messy house full of people than a clean one that’s empty.
I guess this partially explains why my idea of a good time is having, like, 30 people over for dinner; which is exactly what we did to celebrate my sister’s 40th birthday while they were in town. I could not wait to make a dank dinner for a crowd to show her just how much I love her and if I do say so myself, I think I did just that. The key to staying sane while hosting, while also having houseguests? Well, first, make the boys clean the house. The adult boys, not the little ones. And then when it comes to the menu: plan ahead, prep ahead and make a killer main dish that is mostly hands off. In this scenario a braise is a total no-brainer. People love meat- buy an inexpensive cut that responds well to cooking slow and low, set it up two nights or one night before and then day-of, just let it simmer while you pour everyone wine. We were so prepped for this party that two hours before anyone got there we laid down on the couch and chilled for like a half hour! This particular dish is one of my favorites whether I’m hosting three or 30. Though I am partial to the larger crowd, because obviously, we’re people people. We like havin’ em around.
TWO DAY “SHORT RIBS” FOR A CROWD
3-4 lbs. good quality chuck cut into 1-2” pieces
2-3 carrots, peeled and diced
1 Spanish onion, peeled and diced
1 shallot, peeled and minced
2-3 stalks celery, diced
½ tube (about 3-4 tbs.) tomato paste
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 head garlic, cut in half
1 32 oz. container chicken or beef stock
1 bottle dry red wine*
Salt and pepper
*I used a bottle of California Zinfandel, because that’s what I had, but in recipes like these I almost always use a Chilean Cabernet (Viu Manet or Cono Sur are both decent, inexpensive brands) or an inexpensive dry French red (La Vielle Ferme Rouge).
**If you want to use flour in this recipe, you use it in the beginning, dredging the meat in a light coating before browning. Because my guest of honor does not do gluten, I kicked around the idea of using tapioca flour, which I have heard works well as a substitute. No other random flour will fit—coconut flour for example sucks up a lot of liquid and could screw things up royally. What I ended up doing was omitting flour and browning the meat straight up—I don’t think we missed out on anything and since it’s the least complicated option, this is what I will do in the future as well.
Heat a few tablespoons oil in a Dutch oven over medium high heat. Generously salt and pepper your “short ribs” on all sides and add to pot. Brown in batches, getting a nice sear on at least two sides and pull meat out and set aside. Remove pan from heat and let cool for a few minutes before proceeding, or you will scorch your vegetables. Return pot to heat and lower flame to medium. Add a few drizzles of oil to pan and sauté carrot, onion, shallot and celery. Season with a big pinch of salt and pepper and cook, stirring often, until fragrant and slightly translucent. Add tomato paste and stir to coat, then increase heat to high and add wine, scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to loosen up any flavorful bits left from searing the meat.
Return the meat and any accumulated juices to the pan and pour in stock to cover, nestle in halved garlic, thyme and rosemary. Bring to a boil then reduce to low and let simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove from heat, cover and set in fridge overnight. (If you want to do this all in one day simply eliminate the refrigeration step and continue to braise on low until meat is falling apart, about an additional 1 ½ hours.)
Remove pot from fridge and let the temperature come up a bit. Scoop any hardened fat off the surface and toss. One optional step I added here was to pull the meat out and remove any huge hunks of garlic and the stems from the thyme and rosemary; then I poured the liquid, along with the softened veggies into my vitamix in batches and pureed until silky. This is completely optional and not necessary but did result in a really luxurious sauce. If you have a high power blender and you don’t mind a few super messy extra steps try it. If not, don’t sweat it; simply pull out the herb stems and halves of garlic before continuing to reheat.
Set the pot back on the stove, bring up to a boil, and then reduce to low. Let simmer about 2 hours (perhaps less), stirring often. A great test of whether or not your meat is done is to pull a piece up and hold it by its corner- if it starts to fall apart with just the help of gravity- it’s ready. Or you can try shredding apart a piece with a fork. It should be completely fork tender. Serve with a super simple green salad, mashed potatoes or polenta and plenty of crusty bread for dat sauce.