Thursday, June 24, 2010

Braised Beef Short Ribs with Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes and Steamed Asparagus

Short ribs are a delicious new discovery for me.  They first caught my attention at a sinfully decadent feast at one of my favorite restaurants, where they were served alongside seared scallops.  Both meat and fish were tasty in-and-of themselves, but didn't make for the best pairing.  The meat was removed from the bone, cut into anonymous little slivers, and served in a tiny mound next to each scallop.  What followed was one of those experiences I seem to have frequently when dining in "fine" restaurants.  Without the help of the menu to refresh our memories, it was difficult for myself and my companions to identify those little piles of meat, and truly appreciate what we were eating.  The dish left me with a nagging itch for more short ribs; prepared in such a way they could be enjoyed for the richly delectable little morsels they are.

So, what's so special about the short rib?  They are like tiny, juicy, little pot roasts, except better.  A small piece of meat, attached to a smaller piece of bone, with layers of marbled fat holding it all together like the wrapping on a present.  When cooked, the meat is so tender, it absolutely melts.  If you like pot roast, you will find the experience of eating short ribs sublime.  If you're not a fan of pot roast, because you think it's dry, boring etc..., try short ribs.  I believe you would be pleasantly surprised by their exceptionally tender texture, and rich flavor.

To compliment the short ribs, and take advantage of the copious amount of gravy produced by this recipe, I served them with Yukon Gold mashed potatoes.  Yukon Golds are my absolute favorite, would eat them on my deathbed, potato.  They are rich, buttery, and are my first choice when making mashed potatoes.  Their flavor is so much richer, and less floury, than russets.  If you've never made mashed potatoes with Yukon Golds before, you are missing out.

Finally, to add some balance to a dinner that was leaning toward the heavy side, the second vegetable I served was steamed asparagus.  This is a favorite of the husband,  he puts up with a lot, so I do what I can.  Steamed asparagus is also a nice, green contrast to the meaty, buttery, richness of the rest of the meal.  Steamed broccoli or green beans would also be great.

For the first step, we brown the short ribs.  Dry ribs thoroughly using paper towels.  Add enough oil to cover the bottom of your pot, and heat until the smoking point.  Brown the ribs 2 minutes per side, on all sides, then set aside.  Do them in batches so that you don't crowd the pot.
Once all the ribs are browned, set them aside to rest.  Then add the onion, carrot and celery to the pot.  Cook for a couple minutes while scraping up the browned bits from the bottom.  
After cooking for a few minutes, add the tomatoes, garlic, red wine or vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, bay leaves and pepper.
Cook for a couple minutes and stir.  Then add the short ribs back to the pot.
Just look at that and make grunting, carnivorous noises with me.  Once that's out of your system, add beef broth to just cover the short ribs.
You can see the bones there, just rising above the surface.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cover for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.  When the meat is falling off the bone, remove the short ribs from the pot.  Strain the cooking liquid, reserving 1 cup of it for the cornstarch, and return the rest to the pot.  Bring the pot to a boil.  Mix 2 T of cornstarch with the reserved liquid and stir until there are no lumps.  Add the cornstarch mixture to the pot, and whisk together until smooth and thick.  Season gravy with salt and pepper to taste.

Yukon Gold mashed potatoes are a snap.  Peel potatoes and cut into large chunks.  Put in a pot, and add enough water to cover by an inch or so.  I like to add about a teaspoon of chicken base to the water, it enhances the flavor of the potatoes.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.  Drain potatoes and let sit in the pot for a couple minutes to evaporate extra water.   Add 1 stick of butter cut into chunks, and about 1/2 cup of heavy cream.  Blend with hand mixer until smooth.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
Steam the asparagus until tender.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Put it all on a plate, and drizzle some gravy over the meat and potatoes.
And there you have it; substance over style, identifiable and delicious.  Meltingly tender short ribs, buttery mashed potatoes and gravy, slow-cooked vegetables, and bright, green steamed asparagus.  It was a perfect dinner last week when it was cold and rainy, and is the very definition of "stick to your ribs" food.  Enjoy!

Braised Beef Short Ribs with Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes and Steamed Asparagus by Bonzo Bean
3-4 T of vegetable oil, enough to coat the pot
3 lbs short ribs
Salt and pepper to cover ribs
1 lg. white onion, roughly chopped
3 carrots, roughly chopped
3 ribs celery, roughly chopped 
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
6 cloves minced garlic
1/2 cup red wine vinegar, or red wine
2 T Worcestershire sauce
3 bay leaves
2 t black pepper
1 32 oz container beef broth
2-3 T cornstarch for gravy

Heat oil in dutch oven or large pot until smoking.  Brown short ribs 2 minutes per side, on all sides, until brown and crusty.  Brown the ribs in batches so you don't crowd the pot, and set aside on a plate when done.  Add onions, celery and carrot to pot and cook for a couple minutes, while scraping up browned bits from the bottom.  Add tomatoes, garlic, vinegar or wine, Worcestershire, bay leaves and pepper.    Cook for a couple minutes more, then return ribs to pot and add beef broth to just cover them.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer covered for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.  When meat is very tender, remove from pot to a plate, and cover with foil to keep warm.  Strain liquid from pot,  set cooking vegetables aside to keep warm, reserve 1 c of liquid.  Return strained liquid to pot and bring to a boil.  Add cornstarch to reserved liquid and whisk with fork until smooth.  Add cornstarch slurry to pot, and whisk constantly until gravy is smooth and thick. Season gravy with salt and pepper to taste.

6-7 medium to large Yukon Gold potatoes
1 t chicken base
1 stick butter, cut into 1" pats
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Peel potatoes and cut into 1-2 inch chunks.  Put in pot and add enough water to cover by about 2 inches.  Add 1 t of chicken base and stir.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer about 20 minutes, or until tender.  Drain water and then let potatoes rest in the pot on low heat for a couple minutes to evaporate extra moisture.  Add the butter and cream, and blend with hand-mixer on medium-high until very smooth.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

1 lb asparagus spears

Snap ends off asparagus and place in steamer pot or basket
Steam over high heat for 5-7 minutes, depending on your tastes, and the thickness of your asparagus.  Dress with salt and pepper.

This meal serves 2 with leftovers, or 4 for a sit-down meal. 

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Chicken Tikka Masala

Chicken Tikka Masala is one of my favorite "comfort foods."  When I think about it, most of my favorite foods fall into that category.  I grew up in the Midwest, I really can't help it.  Does it have gravy on it?  Gimme some!  This dish has chicken, rice, and a delicious tomato cream sauce, that for all intents and purposes, is gravy.  Delicious, spicy, delectable gravy.  It's perfect for a rainy day, a rotten day, or any day that a thick, warm blanket of cream sauce might seem like one of the few reliable things on this earth.  No, gravy won't solve all your problems.  But like good whiskey, or a spoonful of sugar, sometimes it makes the medicine go down.

Chicken Tikka is also my first attempt at making Indian food.  I love to eat it in restaurants, but was intimidated by the idea of recreating it at home.  Turns out my fear was unfounded.  Two things make this recipe relatively fool-proof.  First, it's from Cooks Illustrated, known for their extremely thorough testing.  I won't say every single recipe of theirs I have tried has been a winner, but the vast majority have been good.  Second, I take a reliable shortcut on the spices.  There's a store downtown that has a perfect Tikka Masala blend, so I swap their blend for the individual spices listed in the recipe.  I'm all for adventure in the kitchen, but when something works, it works.  This recipe tastes just like I expect Chicken Tikka to taste.  And don't despair if you're not in Seattle.  If you can't find this spice blend in your area, the store ships, and the prices are reasonable.
If you have never tried Indian food before, because you're afraid it will be too spicy (Helloooo Midwestern Family!), this might be the recipe for you.  The sauce is not "hot hot." It's a tomato-based sauce flavored by garlic, ginger, spices and finished with cream.  How spicy it is depends entirely on you.  The recipe only calls for one chile.  You can add more chile, less chile, or remove the seeds and ribs before mincing, to reduce the chile's heat.  Myself, I like it hot, so I keep the seeds and ribs.  Next time I think I'd even up it to two chiles.
One of the brilliant things about this recipe is the preparation for the chicken. First, you press the tikka masala spices into the chicken and let the breasts rest in the fridge for 30-60 minutes.  Then you dunk the chicken in a rich, thick Greek yogurt marinade.  The yogurt protects the meat from drying out while it cooks, and results in the most tender, juicy chicken you can imagine.  The chicken also develops a beautiful charred exterior that lends both flavor and visual appeal. 

While the chicken rests in the fridge, whip up the yogurt marinade and set aside.
Now it's time to build the sauce.  Begin by sauteing onions in oil until they're a light golden color.
Then add the chile, tikka masala, garlic, ginger and tomato paste.
And stir to combine.  Let it cook for a few minutes to blend all the flavors.  This stage of the recipe will have you drooling from the smell of the spices warming, and releasing their essential oils.
Then you add the canned tomatoes and let the sauce simmer.  At this point you could use an immersion blender to achieve a smoother sauce, eliminating chunks of pepper and onion.  That is the one difference I find with this recipe vs a restaurant.  However, I have to say I like the texture the vegetables bring. So, if you don't want to bother, or like myself don't own an immersion blender, don't worry about it.
While the sauce is simmering, dunk the chicken in the yogurt mixture.  Make sure the chicken is thoroughly coated, and transfer to a broiler pan. 
As you can see, the spice mixture will rub off a bit during this process and color the yogurt, but don't worry.  You can't tell the difference when it's cooked.
While the chicken is broiling, chop the cilantro you will add to the sauce at the end. You could also set some aside to garnish the plate, which I forgot to do.
After about 11 minutes per side, the chicken is done when it looks like this.
Let the chicken rest for at least five minutes before chopping into one-inch chunks.
Add the cream and cilantro to the sauce at the end, about five minutes before you're ready to serve. 

And here is the final product.  I ate every single bite, and you want to know the truth?  Gravy makes you feel better.  I dare you to be unhappy after eating this, it's just not possible.  Tender broiled chicken; spicy and slightly tangy from the yogurt marinade. Basmati rice.  A thick, tomatoey, creamy sauce; with just the right blend of spices to warm you straight through.  If that doesn't sound like the cure to a bad day, well, I don't know what does.

If all else fails, pour yourself another glass of whiskey.  

Chicken Tikka Masala by Bonzo Bean
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated, published September 1, 2007 
Serves 4 to 6

This dish is best when prepared with whole-milk yogurt, but low-fat yogurt can be substituted. For a spicier dish, do not remove the ribs and seeds from the chile. The sauce can be made ahead, refrigerated for up to 4 days in an airtight container, and gently reheated before adding the hot chicken. Serve with basmati rice. 


1 tablespoon Tikka Masala spice blend 
(or 1/2 t ground cumin, 1/2 t ground coriander, 1/4 t cayenne pepper)
1 teaspoon table salt
2-3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger root

Masala Sauce
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion , diced fine (about 1 1/4 cups)
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger root
1 fresh serrano chile, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon Tikka Masala spice blend, or more to taste 
(or 2 t coriander, 1/4 t cardamom, 1/4 t cinnamon, 1/2 t black pepper)
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves


1. FOR THE CHICKEN: Combine Tikka Masala spice blend and salt in small bowl. Sprinkle both sides of chicken with spice mixture, pressing gently so mixture adheres. Place chicken on plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 to 60 minutes. In large bowl, whisk together yogurt, oil, garlic, and ginger; set aside.

2. FOR THE SAUCE: Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until light golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, chile, tomato paste, and tikka masala blend; cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, sugar, and salt; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in cream and return to simmer. Remove pan from heat and cover to keep warm.

3. While sauce simmers, adjust oven rack to upper-middle position (about 6 inches from heating element) and heat broiler on high. Using tongs, dip chicken into yogurt mixture and arrange on wire rack set in foil-lined rimmed baking sheet, or broiler pan. Discard excess yogurt mixture. Broil chicken until thickest parts register 160 degrees on instant-read thermometer and exterior is lightly charred in spots, about 11 minutes per side.

4. Let chicken rest 5 minutes, then cut into 1-inch chunks and stir into warm sauce (do not simmer chicken in sauce.)   Stir in cilantro, adjust seasoning with salt, and serve.  Note: I skipped this step and simply topped the chicken and rice with the sauce, in order to keep the chicken's nicely charred coating intact.