Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Slow cooker short rib beef stew

Now that I've got a proper slow cooker, first on the agenda was a pork shoulder. But Millam's was all out. On the plus side, short ribs, the other classic slow-cooker meat, was half price. And it's remarkable just how quick thoughts of local, organic and such evaporate in the face of half price.

The standard recipe would be to do something sweet with a soy sauce and brown sugar glaze, but I've done that so I looked around for alternatives. I found three that looked interesting: a deviled short ribs recipe with a half cup of chili sauce, short ribs with onion gravy with 3 full cups of onions and savory braised short ribs that leaves out the sugar entirely. I'll probably go back and try the other two, but this time I settled on the third as a base.

The first modification I made was to add some vegetables. It seems kind of pointless to cook in a slow cooker and not get a whole meal out of it. I also changed the stock, boosted the flavorings and did a lot of modification after it came out of the cooker. It turned out not to be the big effort saver I was hoping for, but there were other good points to the method.

3 1/2 pounds beef short ribs, cut into serving-sized pieces and trimmed of excess fat
1 Tablespoon cooking oil
1 medium-large turnip, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
several small or 2 large carrots cut into 2-inch lengths
1 cup full-bodied red wine
3/4 cup mushroom broth
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 small handful peppercorns
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 Tablespoon herbs de Provance
1 Tablespoon salt
1/4 pound cremini mushrooms, sliced
3 Tablespoons flour
1 large handful of parsley leaves, chopped
1/4 cup sour cream
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 1/2 Tablespoons prepared horseradish
1/8 teaspoon salt

1. Season ribs with a little salt. Heat oil in dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown ribs in batches, 3-minutes per side, until well browned. Remove to slow-cooker pot.

2. Add vegetables to dutch oven and cooking, stirring frequently, until lightly caramelized and most of the yummy bits stuck to the bottom on the pan have been picked up. Remove to slow-cooker pot. Deglaze dutch oven with some of the wine. Pour into the slow-cooker pot.

3. Add everything else up to the salt to the pot, stir as best you can, set slow-cooker to low and cook all day.

4. When you're good and ready, open the slow cooker and fish out the vegetables to one bowl, the beef to another and strain the broth into a third. Place the first two into the refrigerator and the third into the freezer. Slice the mushrooms and mix the sour cream, mustard, horseradish and salt to make a horseradish sauce. Put that in the refrigerator too.

5. Take the meat out of the refrigerator when it's good and chilled. You'll find that the meat that was falling apart early is now fairly solid. Remove the bones from the ribs without breaking them up too much. Leave the bowl on the counter to warm up. Take out the vegetables too.

6. Take the broth out of the freezer. The fat should have solidified into a disk on top and a lot of the herbs should be trapped in it. Break up the fat and move it to a large cast iron pan. Measure out a half cup of the broth into a small container with a lid.

7. Heat the cast iron pan over medium heat until the fat is melted and sizzling. Add the mushrooms and a pinch more salt. The mushrooms should have lots of room. Cook without browning too much, stirring frequently and probably turning down the heat. Add the flour to the half cup of broth, put on the lid and shake until the flour is fully incorporated and then shake a little more. Let the flour hydrate as the mushrooms cook.

8. When you're happy with the mushrooms, add the broth, heat until warm but not hot then shake the flour mixture one more time and add to the pan. Stir well to incorporate and bring to a boil. Cook three more minutes until thickened. Add the meat, vegetables and parsley. Stir until everything is covered with the sauce and warmed through. Remove from heat.

Served topped with a small dollop of the horseradish sauce and a bit more parsley. Some sort of starch to soak up the sauce is a good idea too.

Like I said, a bit more trouble than I anticipated when I started, but definitely worth it. It's really good. The beef and vegetables retain a suprising amount of individual flavor and structural integrity despite the long cooking time. Chilling the beef before reheating it in the final preparation helped with that. I remember a Good Eats episode that explained just how that worked, but I don't recall any details.

The gravy is full of beef flavor developed during the long cooking time and a surprisingly strong mushroom flavor too considering how little is actually in there; it fragrant with herbs and has a tannin/pepper sting at the end. I was skeptical if the horseradish sauce would work with all the added flavors (although that part of the recipe is what caught my eye in the first place), but it's a great added touch with just enough bite to cut through the creaminess and heartiness of the stew, complimenting, but not drowning the main flavors (if used judiciously) and lightening up and giving a sophisticated touch to the whole.

I suppose this isn't really a very seasonable recipe. Somehow the sweet short rib recipes seem more summery. Why do you suppose that is?

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