4 July 2009

"Pot-au-feu"/Braised Short Ribs With Polenta

Lesson learnt: Don't simultaneously move house and cook 3 star michelin food.

We tried to make "pot-au-feu" from Thomas Keller's French Laundry Cookbook in the last few days before moving out of our house, and soon realised that the meticulous preparation of the vegetable elements of the dish was going to beat us. However I ordered in the requisite short ribs a week earlier, and having committed to the purchase, I had no escape. So in the end we abandoned going for the complete pot-au-feu and just did the beef elements of the recipe and served it up with polenta and bone marrow.

Anyway, despite bastardizing his recipe, here's Thomas Keller playing with pig's heads:

We started by leaving the beef in a red wine marinade (red wine boiled with aromatic vegetables till the alcohol had burned off, then cooled) for 24 hours, then strained it, reserving the vegetables:

The marinated meat was seared in a hot skillet:

Then all the beef was put in a casserole with the vegetables (browned), veal stock, chicken stock, and the reserved red wine marinade. Then put in the oven to braise for 6 hours:

Meanwhile, I pushed out the marrow from some veal bones and left it to soak in icy water for 24 hours or so (changing the water frequently).

Out came the delicious braised beef:

I can hardly believe even now that my butcher had it, but I managed to get hold of some caul fat (along with marrow and short ribs!), which even Thomas Keller with all his connections, warned of the difficulty of obtaining. W.H. Frost in Chorlton, Manchester, are a hell of a butchers, and you should make use of them if you're from round those parts and having moved back down south I'm gonna miss them big time. Anyway, I used my miraculously acquired caul fat to wrap small rectangular shaped pieces of braised beef into neat little parcels:

Next I seared each parcel in hot oil till the caul fat went translucent and put all of them in some of the reserved braising liquor to keep warm in the oven (the rest was strained and reduced to a sauce). Unfortunately the photography took a turn for the worse from here , mostly due to the fact a my hand took a huge splattering of hot oil, and my mood a turn for the worse. I just completely forgot I was taking photos at all until the final assembly.

Nevertheless, just before the final dish I seasoned and floured bone marrow pieces and crisped them up in hot oil. Keller warned that if you had it too hot the flour would burn before the middle went soft, and if not hot enough, the whole thing would break apart. To be honest it surprisingly didn't really trouble me too much, especially considering I'd never worked with bone marrow before. A moderate to high heat seemed to crisp them up perfectly, but I probably just got lucky:

Then arranging the little parcels (they look like sausages, but are so so much more) with polenta, the sauce and bone marrow, out came the final dish:

It's really disappointing I couldn't put together the proper thing with perfect little root vegetables, as polenta was a fairly poor substitute (though nice in itself). It makes the dish look like a weird sausage and mash. Actually the little beef parcels were incredible - falling apart, and the sauce was delicious (as anything I've ever cooked with veal stock is!) I should say, the bone marrow wasn't universally appreciated, 2 of the 4 of us couldn't stand it. I found that on its own it was a little intense, but joined up with the beef it was like an explosion of fatty deliciousness oozing out of a crispy outside.

I think I may have done myself an injustice with the negativity of my post, it was unreal beef, and a great great use of the last stocks of my beautiful veal stock reserves. I should really have taken a photo showing how the inside of the beef parcels just melted apart but it was probably best summed up by my cooking partner in crime when he said "it's like beef butter".

Anyway this post marks a landmark in that I've now moved away from Manchester and lost my butcher (WH Frost), fishmonger (Out of the Blue), and housemate with all his cooking expertise and equipment. On the plus side I now have access to my brother's photographic abilities, so it could be that the food lowers in quality but the presentation and quality of the blog goes the other way. We shall see.

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