Friday, October 16, 2009

Slow Supper Sundays - Mexican Short Rib Tacos with Cilantro and Rosemary

Can I tell you what a comfort it is to have dinner all squared away it's before dinner time? Even as someone who likes to cook - I so often find myself running out of energy at the end of the day, especially on the weekends. I mean is it just me or how many times have you run to the grocery store at the end of the day all fired up to make something fantastic, but by the time you get home and unload bag after bag after bag, you begin to question your sanity at having thought you could attempt such an Olympian feat so late in the day? Making dinner suddenly seems comparable to volunteering for drugless childbirth or racing Lance Armstrong on a beach cruiser.

Well I've done this countless times, resigning my fate to the simplicity of takeout (and to being a complete sloth) after putting those evil little bags of produce and meat safely in the confines of the fridge where their presence can no longer upset me.

Then I discovered my awesomely 70's hand me down crock pot and in turn, the idea of making things early in the day that simmer and bubble away while I get on with my life. I know what you're thinking - what if you prepare something in the morning that you're not in the mood for anymore by the eve? Well, that's the beauty of food potpouri - it does a mean seduction number on your appetite. I could probably eat a hog's head if it bubbled away with the lovely scent of garlic and rosemary all day... The truth is - the salivary glands of a human aren't any smarter than those of a dog.

This is a lovely recipe for short ribs. You could probably up the cumin if you wanted, but I like these to have a medley of mellow Mexican flavors versus punching you in the palette. You'll also notice I commit a horrendous foodie crime in that I snip away the tough, fatty membranes that cling to the ribs after they've separated from the bone. I am no fat free fanatic, believe me, but I find that short ribs are an indulgence enough without adding bits of mystery meat to the equation. It's up to you wether you want to do this or not, but if not, you'll need to add the step of skimming away the pooled grease from the top of the pot before stirring in your final cilantro and rosemary and serving. And to be fair - if you aim to eat at 7:30/8:00 pm - you'll need to start this at 2:30 in the afternoon. I find it a nice recipe to do if I have tinkering to do around the house in the meantime, as it's not one you'd want to lock your doors and leave to its own devices. The thing about short ribs is, you need to stir them once in a while not only to make sure the bottom of the pan isn't burning but also so that every part of the ribs has contact with the cooking liquid. This will ensure tender short ribs versus flavorful but tough ribs.

Here's to filling your house with plenty of saliva inducing scents!

* PS - the best part of making short ribs is waiting for them to fall off the bone so you can pluck those little puppies from the pot. There is NOTHING more satisfying than seeing those little remains floating in the pan, knowing you've conquered the short rib. I'm not a sportsman by any stretch, but I imagine this being as rewarding as crossing the goal line with football in hand. TOUCHDOWN!!!!

Mexican Short Rib Tacos with Cilantro and Rosemary
Serves 6.

1 teaspoon olive oil or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons diced pancetta (Italian bacon) or regular bacon
4 pounds bone-in short ribs, cut into about 5-inch ribs so that you can pan fry them easily
salt and pepper for ribs
2 heaping cups chopped onions (preferably Vidalia or Spanish)
3/4 cup finely chopped celery
heaping 1/2 cup finely chopped peeled carrots
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, or 1 small cinnamon stick
1 small dried ancho chili
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 3/4 cups dry red wine (preferably rioja, merlot, or zinfandel)
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 (14.5 oz can) diced tomatoes, drained
1 tablespoon double concentrated tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
l large handful of cilantro, rinsed (no need to chop just throw them in whole)

1 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary, or more if desired

12 flour or corn tortillas, wrapped in foil and put in a low oven for 10 minutes to heat through
2 1/2 cups shredded cheese, for tacos (optional)

Heat heavy large pot over medium heat and add oil. Without waiting for the oil to get hot, add the pancetta and sauté until crisp - about 5 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer pancetta to paper a large aluminum-lined baking sheet (this will also hold your ribs after you've browned them.)

Speaking of ribs, sprinkle all sides of the ribs with salt and pepper. Working in batches, brown ribs in drippings (you'll likely need another small slug of oil) in pot over medium-high heat until brown on all sides, about 8 minutes per batch. DO NOT overcrowd them or they'll steam versus brown - they shouldn't touch one another in the pan.

Transfer to your baking sheet alongside the pancetta. Add the onions, celery, carrots and 1 teaspoon kosher salt to the pan and saute, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, make a small clearing for your seasonings, then add the cumin, cinnamon, and ancho chili to this spot and allow to 'toast' for 1 minute before stirring in to incorporate with the veggies. Cook another 10 minutes, allowing to get nice and cooked down. Add the garlic, stirring in and cook another 5 minutes or until the veggies look pretty defeated.

Carefully pour in the wine, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan and bring to a boil, uncovered, until the liquid is reduced by half (about 8 minutes.)

Carefully add the broth, tomatoes, tomato paste, oregano, bay leaf, and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, stirring in well. Return the pancetta and ribs to pot, immerse in the handful of fresh cilantro stalks, and cover partially, simmering on low/medium heat for 2 hours - stirring halfway through to check the bottom for sticking. Be CAREFUL not to allow to boil - you want a gentle hissing sound from your pot versus a bubbling witches' caldron.

After two hours, you should see that some, if not all of the ribs have separated from the bones. Fish out any bones that have and discard, then test any that haven't by pushing the tips of your cooking tongs against them to see if they'll separate. If they give somewhat easily, help them along to separate and discard. If any are still clinging for dear life - don't force them. They should be more giving in 20 minutes or so when you can try again. Be sure and stir the ribs around so that every side of them has been moistened by the cooking liquid.

After the bones are all removed, you can perform 'surgery' using your tongues and a pair of cooking shears or sharp, clean scissors to remove the fatty/tough muscular membranes clinging to the ribs from where the bones were attached.

At this stage, simmer about 1 1/2 hours longer on low with the lid off, stirring occasionally until rib meat is tender and easily flaked with a fork. Once you've gently separated the meat out with two forks into a quasi shredded meat stew, stir in your final chopped fresh cilantro and rosemary.

Serve in warm flour tortillas with cheese sprinkled over, if desire.