Short ribs

24 January 2019

Deep in the month of marmalade (also here) and technicolor salads, when food, like a peacock, flashes its most vivid plumage, sometimes what the stomach craves is discreet, familiar, tender, and brown. Hopefully on that day (or rather a few days prior), I’ve stumbled into the butcher’s and summoned up the courage — and mental timetable — for short ribs. I’m making it sound like a burden, which is a bit how I saw it until I finally, over a few years of vastly interspersed attempts, refined and streamlined this recipe.

These short ribs are based on a recipe by the chef (now head of a restaurant and small food media empire) David Chang in his 2009 cookbook Momofuku. It needed some adaptation as I have no interest in sous-vide cooking, and even the book acknowledges that the 48-hour recipe is not one of those designed to be recreated at home. What caught my eye is the marinade, allegedly based on Chang’s mother’s kalbi recipe. It needed some tweaking — less sugar, a bit more depth to compensate for the more assertive braising method. And so, after a few attempts over many years and two continents, I believe I’ve got it.

Momofuku-inspired short ribs recipe

Like most slow cooked dishes, the ribs need to relax in the refrigerator for a night (or two) for optimum tenderness. This isn’t more work, but requires a little foresight.

6 meaty short ribs
Coarse sea salt
1 onion
1 carrot
3-4 scallions (spring onions)
3 garlic cloves
1 inch (2.5 cm) piece of fresh ginger
3 cups water
1/4 cup light soy sauce
3 Tbsps apple juice
3 Tbsps pear juice (or all apple juice)
3 Tbsps mirin (or 1 1/2 Tbsp japanese brown rice vinegar)
1 Tbsp sesame oil
4 Tbsps coconut palm sugar

Preheat the oven to 125°C (250°F).

Salt the ribs on all sides with coarse sea salt and allow them to come to room temperature.

Prepare the vegetables: Peel and coarsely chop the onion, carrot, and scallions. Peel and smash the garlic cloves. Peel and cut the ginger into matchsticks.

In a small saucepan, combine all the ingredients for the marinade: the vegetables, water, soy sauce, juice, mirin, sesame oil, and coconut palm sugar. Bring to a boil and simmer gently for about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool completely, so the flavors continue to infuse.

Meanwhile, in a heavy frying pan, sear the pieces of meat on all sides until nicely brown. Work in batches — the meat should not be crowded in the pan (the pieces shouldn’t touch) otherwise the meat will stew rather than brown.

Transfer the browned ribs to a heavy oven-proof dish with a lid (alternatively, use aluminum foil to create a tight seal). The meat should fit very snugly, in this manner the marinade will cover the ribs. Pour the marinade to cover the ribs completely. (In case the liquid doesn’t cover all the meat, adjust the pieces of meat a few times during the cooking process, moving them around so each bit spends some time submerged in the liquid).

Put the sealed dish in the oven for 3 to 4 hours. After about half an hour, check to adjust the temperature if necessary: the liquid should be bubbling very gently. If it is boiling heavily, reduce the heat, if it is placid, increase it a little.

Remove the ribs from the oven, let cool completely, and place in the refrigerator overnight (or two). When ready to eat, take the ribs out of the refrigerator and let the meat come to room temperature for half an hour to an hour (If there is a layer of congealed fat on top, it can easily be removed.

Preheat the oven to 175°C (375°F), slide the ribs inside, and reheat for 30 to 45 minutes (it’s worth checking that the meat is heated through and completely tender).

The ribs are delicious as is, but one could also do the following:

Take the ribs out of the liquid and brown them again in a heavy frying pan. Meanwhile, reduce the liquid until it thickens a little before serving.

‘Pain perdu’ is ‘lost bread’ is French toast

16 January 2019

A sign of the times, my grand old age, or a big sister’s indefatigable propaganda, I’ve become much better at not throwing food away. No doubt the most common victim of under-consumption (or, rather, over-acquisition) in our house is bread. Pain perdu is my favorite recycling method.

‘Pain perdu‘ is French toast, though it isn’t specifically French. Its French name means ‘lost bread,’ though it may not always have been about saving stale bread.

Historical references date back to a Roman cookbook, Apicius de re Coquinariawhose exact date and origins are imprecise though probably from the third century: white bread soaked in milk and beaten egg, fried, and drizzled with honey. One of many aliter dulcia (‘other sweet dish’).

Later references to bread soaked, spiced, and cooked span countries and centuries, and has assumed many names. ‘Eggy toast’ and ‘German bread,’ ‘poor knights of Windsor’ in English, Arme Ritter in German. English references from the 17th century describe a bread soaked in wine rather than milk — the origin of its now most common epithet?

Pointing to the use of brioche and spices, both the Oxford Food Dictionary and Larousse Gastronomique suggest a dish too precious, historically, to be a recipe about stale bread. But is there necessarily a contradiction — even a royal kitchen will have had ways to reuse old bread.

My method is to cut the pieces of bread into small chunks, creating a Kaiserschmarrnstyle French toast.

‘Pain perdu’ recipe
Quantities for about 3 cups of cubed bread

About 3 cups of cubed stale bread
Whole milk (at least 2 cups)
3 eggs
2 Tbsps sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
Small handful of raisins
Apple or pear
Unsalted butter or clarified butter, which is less prone to burning
Maple syrup to serve. Also, optionally berries or a fruit compote.

Place the cubed bread in a large bowl and pour just enough milk over the bread for it to be absorbed. Let this sit, tossing occasionally, until the bread is moistened. This can take anywhere from about 5 to 20 minutes, depending on the type of bread and how hard it is (beware not to let the bread soak for too long, the pieces of bread should be wet through but not become crumbly and disintegrate).

In a smaller bowl, beat the eggs with a fork and add another 250 ml (1 cup) of milk, the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and raisins. Beat well to combine and pour the egg/milk mixture over the bread. The bread should absorb the liquid with a bit left over. If it is too dry, add some milk. If it’s too ‘liquidy,’ don’t pour all of the liquid into the cooking pan (otherwise it won’t brown, it will become a soggy omelet).

Peel, core, and cut the fruit into quarters and then eights.

Heat a heavy cast-iron or non-stick skillet over medium to high heat. Melt a generous pat of butter in the skillet, and when hot, pour in the wet bread/egg mixture. Let it brown for a good few minutes before stirring. If using apple, add it now. Cook and stir until all the pieces of bread are golden (occasionally, if necessary, I add more butter).

Serve with maple syrup or accompanied with berries or a fruit compote.

Winter technicolor salad

10 January 2019

Winter bares its teeth, there’s suddenly more of a bite, the chill creeps to the bone and settles. Sometimes this calls for soup. Sometimes, citrus.

I go on — we all go on — about locality and seasonality, and it’s true that you’ll never find a fresh strawberry in our house in October (the children have had to learn the hard way). But, as anyone who studies French will also learn (the hard way), no rule exists without exceptions. And so for these foods we do eat: lemons, avocados, oranges, and grapefruits, especially at this time of year.

Yesterday was such a day. A day of craving bits of sun imported from elsewhere. So I bought things and made lunch, which looked something like this.

Winter technicolor salad

The salad
Endive
Radicchio
Fennel
Avocado
Grapefruit
Blood orange
Walnuts (freshly shelled if possible)

The dressing

Walnut oil
Olive oil
Dark, aged balsamic vinegar
Lemon juice
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Optional additions to make it into lunch

Smoked trout or mackerel / grilled chicken / feta

Wash the salads and cut into shards or strips, however strikes your fancy. Slice the fennel as thinly as possible, preferably.

Peel and cut the avocado into cubes or spears. Peel the grapefruit and blood orange and cut into chunks.

To make the salad more of a meal, add some cheese or bits of meat. I used smoked mackerel, which happened to be in the fridge, but I suspect smoked trout would be even better. Grilled strips of chicken would definitely be good, or a crumble of feta.

I make the dressing directly over the salad: a thin drizzle of walnut oil, slightly heavier  ribbon of olive oil, a few drops of thick, aged balsamic vinegar, and a few generous squeezes of lemon juice. Salt and pepper.

Elisenlebkuchen

20 December 2018

For years, we had Lebkuchen shipped from Nuremberg to New York in a big, beautifully decorated silver box. Thomas chose that particular company because they had the best Elisenlebkuchen (the flourless kind), and because he and the owner’s children had been childhood friends. They were neighbors, went to the same school, and — I learn just as I  write this, as I ask Thomas and he reminisces — did some pretty foolish things together in their youth. Fraunholz is a family business in the fourth generation, now run by the younger brother.

Ordering them was, every year, in more ways than one, a time-warp experience. In a bite, the cookies propelled the dark, gnarly, sparkly streets of the medieval German city onto our Christmas plate. And, in an age of codes and passwords and multiple proofs of identity, here was a company that took an online order, shipped their wares halfway around the world, and sent a bill to be paid upon receipt. This in itself seemed reason enough to continue the tradition. That, and the added bonus of the ‘Dominosteine’!

I’d like to say that we still receive those big silver boxes every year — but no. After years of hemming and hawing and meaning to and not doing, I have finally started making my own. I thought it would take decades to find and refine the ideal recipe, with much trial and error, but, magically, all the trying and testing has already been done and an impeccable recipe exists! Luisa Weiss’s fantastic Classic German Baking is worth its weight in Lebkuchen, for that recipe alone (though there are many, many more). They are, as Thomas somewhat reluctantly admits, pretty perfect.

The one thing I have changed is the shape. There are, in my opinion, a few reasons to bake Lebkuchen as sheets rather than individual cookies: It is how I discovered them to be sold on the Christmas market in Nuremberg; it makes them so much easier and less fiddly to prepare for baking, and then to glaze; and the absence of individual edges during baking leaves more softness and moistness throughout.

Happy baking and a very merry Christmas!

Elisenlebkuchen from Classic German Baking by Luisa Weiss
Find the original recipe here

5 eggs
300g (1 1/2 cups) granulated sugar (I reduced the sugar from the original which called for 350g — or 1 3/4 cup)
200g (7 oz) almond paste¹ (see recipe footnote below)
3 Tbsps Lebkuchen spice² (see recipe footnote below)
1/4 tsp salt
Grated peel of 1 untreated lemon
100g (2/3 cup) candied citron peel, finely chopped
100g (2/3 cup) candied orange peel, finely chopped
200g (2 cups) hazelnuts, toasted, skinned, and ground
200g (2 cups) ground almonds
100g (2/3 cup) blanched almonds, finely chopped
Wafer sheets

For decoration (optional)
Blanched almonds, split lengthwise
100g (13 Tbsps) confectioner’s sugar
60ml (1/4 cup) water

Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F) and line one 30cm x 36cm (12″ x 14″) roasting tray with parchment paper.

Place the eggs and sugar in a large bowl. Using the large holes of a box grater, grate the almond paste into the eggs and sugar. Whisk briskly for several minutes until the mixture becomes light and frothy. Add the Lebkuchen spice, salt, grated lemon peel, candied citron and orange peels, and all the ground and chopped nuts. Mix well until combined.

Place the wafer sheets onto the baking tray covered with parchment paper, making sure to cover all the way to the edges (if necessary cut the wafers into a patchwork to reach the sides). Scrape out the Lebkuchen dough onto the wafer sheets and spread out with a spatula until smooth and even. If using, place the blanched split almonds, smooth side up, in a pattern at regular intervals onto the dough — they should be spaced withe the view of cutting a lozenge-shaped Lebkuchen around each almond later.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the Lebkuchen tray is puffed and golden.

Meanwhile, to make the glaze, place the confectioner’s sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat and boil down for a few minutes, until the glaze has thickened (stir or swirl the pan occasionally as it will bubble furiously).

As soon as the lebkuchen are out of the oven, glaze generously with a brush, making sure to reach every nook and cranny. Let cool completely before cutting the tray into individual Lebkuchen lozenges. Store in a tin box lined with parchment paper between each layer for up to 4 months.

¹ Almond paste [Marzipanrohmasse]

220g (1 1/2 cups) raw (or blanched) almonds
225g (1 cup and 2 Tbsps) granulated sugar
2 tsps almond extract
1 tsp rum
2 to 4 tsps water
Equipment: food processor

To blanch the almonds (unless using ones that are already blanched), soak them for a few minutes in bowl of boiling water until the peels can easily be squeezed off. Push the skin off each almond and lay them on a clean kitchen towel to dry.

In a food processor, blitz the sugar until powdery. Add the blanched almonds and process until a paste starts to form. This will take a while. Stop the motor occasionally and stir, and take care not to let your food processor overheat (mine did and shut off completely, which thankfully was just a failsafe, and I was able to resume grinding nuts the next morning after the machine had cooled completely).

Add the almond extract and the rum and continue to process, stopping and stirring every so often. Add a teaspoon of water at a time (probably somewhere between 2 and 4 tsps) and continue to process until the paste becomes completely smooth. Scrape the finished paste out of the machine and shape it into a brick, then store it in the refrigetator. The paste will keep for several weeks.

² Lebkuchen spice mix

For a most fragrant mix, the spices (except the ginger) can be freshly ground
30g (5 Tbsps) ground cinnamon
1 1/2 Tbsps ground cloves
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground mace
3/4 tsp ground aniseed

Stir all the spices together and store in an airtight glass container away from the light. The spice mix will keep for a few months.

The Nettle & Quince Christmas baking page

2 December 2018

It’s the first Sunday of Advent, the time to pause, light a candle, and start baking!

I have created a Nettle & Quince Christmas baking page, where all the Stollen, cookies, and confections can be found.

You can access it by clicking HERE.

A direct link is also always available on the homepage on the right just below ‘Pages.’


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