marc's braised short ribs with celery root crema and garnish

dr bob is a sort of half-hearted vegetarian wannabe, but some red meat still gets his attention on the menu. Steaks are basically off the list since they have little taste appeal for him and his digestive system has forgotten how to digest them anyway, but overcooked beef falling off the bone in some kind of liquid environment (the "gravy" of Italian American cooking) is a treat that cuts through any politically motivated or socially responsible choices of food restrictions. Unfortunately skepticism about red meat has confused dr bob: traditional ribs were thrown by the wayside decades ago, but short ribs are actually something else, a fact that a recent cooking demo at bloomies clarified.

Marc Vetri is not a first name celebrity chef, but somehow he stumbled into a career in the kitchen and came out on top in the philly Italian cuisine scene. Mario has said very flattering things about Marc, and as the younger generation of authentic Italian cuisine notables led by Lidia, Mario's words count. But why take anyone's word for it? We didn't. We tried his small very upscale restaurant for a bob birthday many years ago, and soon after his larger slightly more economical place Osteria opened (another bob birthday, they never seem to stop), we were there to enjoy that too. So when we spotted the announcement of his impending All Clad sponsored food demo at our local King of Prussia bloomies, we marked the calendar (mentally that is, since we are not terribly organized) in anticipation of the event.

There were only about 20 folding chairs set up so it was an intimate gathering of mostly senior citizens, a category we are still safely not mistaken for yet. By chance Marc's proud mom sat down in the last empty chair right next to us, so we had an opportunity to chat a little about her boy (now in his late forties it appeared). Her parent's were in the food business so she tried to steer her Marc clear of that hard life, but since by her own admission, she was not the best of cooks, marc had had to learn something about food prep just to survive at home, and then when he did the marketing/business major at UPenn, he continued cooking on the side to help finance the student life, inadvertently picking up valuable experience from some of the cooks around him. We didn't get the whole story but unlike Mario who only worked a few places, marc did the Italian work experience thing in at least 5 different regions of the old boot, and somehow picked up the true spirit of Italian cooking. Which is available to anyone who wants to patronize his two establishments in philly.

So this is very simple stuff, like the best Italian recipes, a few quality ingredients complementing each other. Celery root is one of those ugly produce items we never realized was not just in the supermarket for decoration. Marc's very simple celery root puree was terrific under the braised short ribs, and some nicely spiced raw julienned celery root contrasted with the warm parts of the dish just right. We got a generous sample, and bought the Good Grips mandoline finally that seemed really useful in this particular food prep, which is the point of the cooking demos. We'd already grabbed up the All Clad braising pan together with two other pans bundled together for a steal in a closeout sale at Williams-Sonoma, still unused, so we were ready to proceed with the replication of the recipes at home.

Quantities are restaurant sized, cut in half or more for home use. marc said this is just a rough game plan, not a rigid recipe. Adjust accordingly.

So we waited for the right moment to do the follow through, and a few weeks later foisted this upon a few unsuspecting friends who came to dinner, including one serious carnivore who we knew would appreciate the big hunks of dead meat. It turns out that celery root is big in Turkey, but somehow these Turkish friends never prepared it for us and ani's parents never encountered this root tuber in their part of the Middle East so we had merely passed the ugly product by in the supermarket the few times we noticed it over the years. But better late than never, we'll be paying attention in the future. We finished the meat off in the oven as marc recommended, leaving it a full 2.5 hours to make sure it flaked apart with a fork. It was a success.

We had looked around for short ribs unsuccessfully in two supermarkets, so when we finally found it in a third relatively cheap, we grabbed 4 roughly 1 pound packages of boneless ribs for 6 adults. Later we discovered the organic higher priced product at Whole Foods, maybe we'll try that route next time. This left us only a few extra pieces at the end of the dinner, so the fourth package was actually the right choice (we debated about this at the purchase time). Ani had only grabbed 2 medium celery roots, so bob went back out for a third. We used two and a half for the puree, which turned out to be enough (we served Armenian rice as well) and reserved a half for the Mandoline we had bought at marc's demo after seeing how nicely it made the little matchstick-like pieces out of the celery root, with a little insistence since the celery root does not cooperate. You have to jam it forcefully across the blade, and give up when the thickness of the remnant approaches about 1/2 inch.

Since Muge was leaning more towards vegetarianism to balance Kivanc's meat mania perhaps, we decided to supplement our Trader Joe's frozen succotash sautéed in onion and butter with salt and pepper by preparing some white asparagus that had been snatched up at an incredibly low sale price when we got the ribs. And ani decided this would be the perfect time to use the outrageously expensive truffled salt bob had bought at Williams-Sonoma after reading an enthusiastic email from Gourmet editor Ruth Reichel. Ani browned some bread crumbs and added some butter and the asparagus and the truffled salt with some pepper and a bit of fresh chopped parsley. And we served our habitual arugula salad of course.

ingredients

braised beef short ribs
5 lbs short ribs
[light olive oil/ combo for browning]
1 small carrot
1 celery stalk
half a small onion
1 clove garlic
1 bottle red wine (750ml)
1 qt chicken stock or water (we use veggie stock)
1 bay leaf
1 herb bouquet (4-5 sprigs parsley, 1 sprig thyme, 1 sprig dill)
 
celeriac puree (crema in italian)
2 medium heads celery root
1 T extra virgin olive oil
splash of sherry vinegar
salt and pepper
 
celery root salad (garnish, really)
1 celery root, peeled and julienned
parsley
lemon juice
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

instructions

  1. Season the ribs with salt and pepper, freshly ground of course, eh? Brown them well on medium heat in an All Clad 4 quart braiser pan (they were paying the bills) if you've got one, or whatever braiser pan you can come up with if not. Not in his recipe was the squirting from his personal squeeze bottle of a olive oil/grapeseed oil blend that preceded the meat hitting the hot pan.
  2. Then remove the meat temporarily and the spent oil (heat kills the stuff), and a new squeeze to repeat with the browning of the vegetables in the same pan, cut however you wish, since they are going to be pulverized later anyway.
  3. When the veggies are well browned, return the meat to the pan and deglaze with red wine (that's a technical term). Namely pour in some of the red wine and scrape the bottom of the pan a bit, then dump in the rest of the wine and reduce to half its volume.
  4. Add the stock or water (he used water in the demo) and the herb bouquet and cook covered over very low heat on the stove or better yet, at 325° F in the oven for more even slow heating, for about 2 hours, so that the liquid barely bubbles, until the meat is tender.
  5. Pass the "gravy" through a food mill and return to the pan with the meat, bones removed.

    celeriac puree
  6. Peel and dice the pretty hard  celery root. Bring water to a boil in a 3.5 quart saucepan. Add some salt and the celery root and cook like potatoes. Simmer on low, cooking until tender, about 5-6 minutes? Seems a bit short, but we'll have to try it. When we did, we forgot to boil the water first and did not clock the process, but this is like boiling potatoes, it is hard to go wrong.
  7. Drain and puree in a blender with some reserved water, olive oil and vinegar to taste.
  8. Season with salt and pepper. Add a bit of the celery root water to thin out if necessary.

    celery root garnish
  9. Peel a celery root and slice into a thin julienne.
  10. Toss with parsley, lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.

    assembly
  11. Spread some celery crema on each individual serving plate.
  12. Place about a 3-4oz portion of the beef, or whatever your right size is, on the crema, and spoon some of the "gravy" on the meat. Arrange some of the garnish, maybe more than just a garnish portion, on the top of the pile.
  13. Enjoy.

notes

  1. Marc Vetri Ristorante. Small, advance reservations required. Expensive for us little people. But worth the treat once a decade or so. Okay, maybe a bit more frequently. But somehow we don't manage it.
  2. Osteria. More accessible, free and freely available street parking just north of City Hall on Broad Street. Used to be a bank space. We were introduced to the fine wine Palazzo della Torre Allegrini there and have bought it quite a few times since here in-state.
  3. il viaggio di Vetri, a culinary journey, by Marc Vetri, Ten Speed Press, 2008. Buy his cook book and story telling collection, he deserves more attention.
  4. Celery root = celeriac, not the root of the more familiar celery plant. Give it a try. Healthy carbs.
  5. All Clad promotional demo recipe by Marc Vetri: Braised Beef Short Ribs with Celery Root Crema and Salad.
  6. bloomies king of prussia, April 12, 2008. Rich rung up our sale (the mandoline). After decades of patronizing the mall, Rich in the kitchen dept (second job) is the only person we know there (for at least a decade), and feels like an old friend. We are relatively nice people to chat with and maybe even get to know, but let's face it, mall employee turn over is a serious problem.
  7. Illustrations available.

postscript

We made this several times exactly following the recipe, but after tasting this amazing small plated short rib at the current restaurant next to the Bryn Mawr Film Institute of which we are Producer Couple members (after an early screening of the romantic film 500 Days of Summer, we fell off the wagon and went for dinner), we decided to try to add something extra to the routine. We consulted the web and then a hardcover Lidia book in our library with her short rib recipe (beef short ribs braised in wine) and decided to replace one of the cups of stock (we use veggie stock) with dried porcini mushrooms allowed to sit 15 minutes or so in a cup of boiling water (Lidia's approach). We then strained this to reserve the stock and rinsed the porcini and added it in at the veggie and stock addition point of the recipe, with what little squeeze tomato paste we had left in the fridge (again, Lidia). We also increased the amount of carrots and celery. We also did not discard the solid veggies after the 2.5 to 3 hour braising phase, but saved them with the left over mashed potatoes to incorporate into a very tasty shepherd's pie format.

Oh yeah, the celery root thing already had morphed into celery root mashed potatoes. While the mandoline processed celery root makes a nice presentation, it is a lot easier to just inject the celery root into a garlic mashed potato recipe. We found two smaller celery roots and added about 5 or 6 medium to large Yukon Gold potatoes, boiled them separately till done (the potatoes whole, then skinned after boiling, the celery root skinned and cut into large pieces before boiling), then used a potato ricer to pass them all through the squeezebox so to speak (I never did understand that Who lyric about Mamma's gotta squeezebox—apart from the fact that sex is involved). Then a few tablespoons of butter are mixed into the potato-celery root mash first for some reason ani read on the web (to make it smoother?), and then some salt and white pepper to taste and  a few cloves of pressed garlic and some plain nonfat yogurt are mixed in till it has the right consistency, not too stiff. Then we packed it all into a baking dish with some freshly grated parmigiano and tabs of butter on top to warm just before dinner time.

By making plenty of both short ribs and mashed potatoes, we were guaranteed leftovers, and ani had the idea of creating a shepherd's pie from these and the "discarded veggies" that helped flavor the short ribs. The ribs and rib liquids and rib veggies on the bottom, mashed potatoes on top, warmed up in the oven. This was really tasty and will be repeated.

marcshortribs.htm: 21oct-2008 [what, ME cook? © 1984 dr bob enterprises]