Recipe Lab: Thomas Keller’s French Laundry ‘Prime Beef Short Ribs’

100224-demian-keller-short-ribs-5Working through Thomas Keller’s recipes in his French Laundry cook book can be hard work.  Not to mention time consuming.  And I haven’t even gotten to the tough ones yet.  But I know that through it all my cooking only improves.  To follow the directions and then at the very end, after the dish is complete – maybe even long since eaten -, to understand the underlying principles, is magic.  Those principles then get applied to the rest of my usual cooking and everything improves.  I love it.

So, with reverence and self-improvement in mind I tackled Keller’s recipe for ‘Braised Prime Beef Short Ribs With Root Vegetables and Sauteed Bone Marrow’ found on page  188 of his French Laundry cook book.  An involved recipe to be sure.  And given the fact that I was also trying to prepare Keller’s Bouchon ‘Sausage and Lentils’, as well as my first from-scratch haggis, all on the same night… I might have bitten off more than I could chew.  Oh… and did I mention that I invited four people over for dinner too?

100224-demian-keller-short-ribs-1-1But I think that I work best under pressure.  Or at least that’s what I tell myself.  So I dove in.  Keller’s recipe, though very meticulous and involved, is broken into relatively manageable pieces.  The first such piece was the ‘Red Wine Marinade’ found on page  190 (and seen above).  Heated to get rid of the alcohol, this was used to soak the ribs in overnight.

100224-demian-keller-short-ribs-3The short ribs themselves went through a number of process steps.  After removing them from the marinade they were first seared on all sides.  Then recovered with the marinade and both veal and chicken stock they were braised for about 4 hours.  After the braising the recipe calls for the short ribs to be refrigerated.  For up to two days.  As the dinner guests were coming in two hours this resting time became a bit abbreviated.  At this point is where I made my first small mistake.  The recipe calls for the braising liquid to be transferred to a saucepan and reduced to a sauce.  In retrospect my braising liquor definitely could have used some more reducing.  This conclusion I came to when reheating the leftover short ribs.  But I will get to that.  Regardless, the next step in the meat process was to wrap each short rib in caul fat and then pan fry them.  This, I think, is one of those steps that set these short ribs apart and make them a French Laundry dish and not just any other braised short ribs you might have somewhere else.  A bit of a fussy process but I was interested to see the outcome.  The caul fat did transform each rib into a membraneously encased juicy package.  But here, the next misstep, I think a little more seasoning of the caul fat before frying would have helped to elevate the porky flavor and add to the taste composition of the ribs.  I will know better next time.  But the visual effect of the caul fat encasement was stunning.  Well worth the effort.

100224-demian-keller-short-ribs-4The root vegetable portion of the recipe posed its own trickery.  The instructions call for cutting the vegetables to roughly the same size.  And it is quite detailed in describing the process for cutting the carrots and parsnips. But within the ingredients list itself, turnips are the only vegetable specified to be cut into 1/4 inch dice.  So were the carrots and parsnips supposed to be kept to the 1/4 inch range?  The instructions really didn’t say.  And the described process for cutting them did not really lend itself to producing pieces of that size.  So I ended up with carrot and parsnip pieces that were a bit bigger than the turnips.  Maybe I should have thought this one through before I did all the cutting as this was another misstep.  The turnips ended up being over cooked while the carrots and parsnips achieved a just-undercooked-ness.  They should have blanched for longer.  I guess I was just worried about the turnips falling apart.  In the end the vegetables tasted great.  I think there is a lot to be said for the sneaky bit of sugar added to the blanching water.  But had I to do it again I probably would cut everything down to the 1/4 inch dice that the turnips were at.  And maybe eliminate the parsnips all together.  Of all the veg they remained the toughest and least tasty.  Maybe it will just take me going through the process again to get it right…

100224-demian-keller-short-ribs-7The sauteed bone marrow was an interesting element of the dish.  The recipe gives a detailed description of how the bone marrow is to be removed from the bones.  I evidently had uncooperative bones.  One of them came out without too much fuss.  But the other two had hard fibrous bone tissue restricting or capping one end so getting at the marrow became a real struggle.  Luckily since the marrow is super fatty, I was able to reform a few of the pieces into little cylinders before I floured and fried them.  The rest of the recipe was right on in describing the finished product as a crispy medallion that is gooey on the inside.  Delicious.

The dishes ended up coming together well and everything tasted very good.  This short rib recipe has a real clarity of flavor that let’s the concentrated meat flavor shine through.  No heavy spices or thick sauce to mask it.  Everyone at the dinner was complimentary (or were they just being nice?) and I was pretty happy to have pulled it off.  But it wasn’t until days later when I reheated the leftover short ribs and let the liquid reduce quite a bit (while also adding a little more salt) that I realized how much better it now tasted.  The sauce reduction really intensified the flavor and coated the meat wonderfully.  Very very delicious.  Too bad there were no more friends around to share it with.  I ended up finishing most of it off by myself.  I say ‘most of it’ because the boss managed to get a couple bites when I wasn’t looking.  Thomas Keller definitely knows short ribs and how to coax the maximum amount of flavor out of them.  A great dish.