Sunday, March 18, 2012

St. Patricks Day Feast

Beautiful fresh greens
Given that it was St. Patrick's Day, what better ingredients to start with than greens? The first course in my feast is called Rathcoursey Emerald soup. This isn't some ancient Irish recipe, but is a relatively modern dish created at the Rathcoursey House in County Cork. The original soup uses wild greens foraged from the Irish country side. Despite this mild Canadian March, I was not going to be doing any foraging.  Some of these wild edibles include nettles and ramps, I had neither (although I do have a top secret seasonal source for wild ramps and stinging nettles  that I'm looking forward to this summer). In any event, I applied less exotic greens from my grocery store including leeks, spring onions, lambs lettuce, baby spinach and fresh parsley. Here's what I did: 

I took three large leeks, two onions and two smallish russet tomatoes, chopped them all up chunkily and then started sweating them with a large knob of butter. After a few minutes of that, I added in two minced cloves of garlic, then deglazed with a bit of light ale. When the beer burned down a bit, I topped everything up with a little  homemade chicken stock, a few bay leaves and some seasoning. I let this simmer away until the potatoes were tender. Then I added in about five cleaned and chopped spring onions, a large handful of baby spinach, a large handful of lambs lettuce and a large handful of parsley. I didn't want these greens to cook too long or else I'd lose the vivid emerald colour of the soup. No more than about four minutes, and then take off the heat and start blending it in batches (remember to get those bay leaves out!). I didn't puree completely, as I wanted a bit of texture. I served with homemade croutons made from sourdough bread and a drizzle of cold-pressed canola oil. The original recipe called for stirring in cream at the end, but I felt that wasn't necessary, especially given this was a light and fresh starter leading into a rather rich and robust entree. I have to admit, I messed up the colour a bit - it was a bit washed out and not that real bright green I wanted. It's all about timing - heat kills colour - to make this soup in advance like I did is to risk dulling the colour. Next time it will be perfect.

I was going for Kelly Green and I got Military Drab - it still tasted good!
The next course was braised shortribs. These are really gnarly, tough cuts of meat that require long slow cooking. I got these at the butcher and was quite happy with the quality. Before braising, I seasoned the meat aggressively and then started browning them in batches in a large cast iron dutch oven. You need a really high heat to get that caramelization - which is very important - braised meat has a tendency to go grey, so that browning is definitely required. Once all the ribs have been browned put them aside.

Some fine short ribs
Next, get a bit more oil in your pan and thrown in three onions (sliced), three ribs of celery (chopped in quarters) and one or two carrots (throw 'em in whole). Frizzle the veg around for a while until the onions are starting to go translucent. Then pour in two 500ml cans of Guinness stout. Scrape all the brown bits off the bottom with a wooden spoon, then put all the ribs back in the dutch oven. Pour in enough beef stock to just cover everything (I had some homemade stuff, but store bought will work here). Then throw in three or four fresh bay leaves, a handful of dried mushrooms (I had my usual Black Trumpets on hand) and some very generous cranks on the pepper mill. Bring everything up to a simmer on the stove top, and once bubbles are forming, cover, and put in a 300 F oven for about two hours, then remove the cover for another 45 minutes to an hour. During that time, you can prep your veg, I took a bunch of dried morel mushrooms and re hydrated them with some boiling water, then set aside. I cleaned some carrots, blanched them till 75% cooked, then set aside. I got the mashed spuds sorted out somewhere in there too.

When you're happy with the tenderness of the meat, very gently pull out the ribs (they will be on the brink of falling apart at this point), and set them aside for a few moments. Then strain the cooking liquor into a clean vessel and chuck the braising veg (they've done their job). Then strain the sauce again through your finest strainer into any vessel you have that is large and transparent, preferably cylindrical. I used my blender carafe. This bit of fiddly juggling is actually a good way to remove all the impurities (this isn't a stock, so you haven't had a chance to skim), moreover, in the tall glass container the fat will all settle at the top and be visible, making it very easy to remove once slightly cooled. When you've strained and de-fatted your braising liquid, get into a sauce pan on a high heat and start reducing it. While this is happening, get your ribs onto a cookie sheet with a rack on it and get them under a broiler. Although the meat has been browned before braising, all those hours in the liquid has given then a slightly pallid countenance, so a few minutes under the broiler will give the meat a dark and beautiful mahogany colour. The braising liquid should reduce by at least a third - test regularly though to make sure it doesn't get too salty as it reduces. Once it's slightly thickened, mix in a slurry of flour and water to thicken it a bit more (but not too much, you don't want 'stodgy') followed by a spirited knob of butter to give it some shine. While that was all happening, I took those pre-blanched carrots and warmed them up in a bit of butter, honey and caraway seeds (and of course plenty of seasoning). I took the re-hydrated morel mushrooms and tossed those in a pan with some butter and salt. Then the assembly: mash spuds (which I had made somewhere in all that cooking), then I found some peas lying around and got them on the plate (you need some green), then a couple of slender, sweet carrots, next to them put your buttery morels,  then atop all that the brown and glistening short rib. Spoon over the gravy to your satisfaction.

The result of a day's cooking

This turned out to be a very involved meal. I posted a rough menu before hand, and only now realized that I forgot to make the creamed leeks. In retrospect and looking at the finished product, that might have been over kill. I also made a berry crumble which was delicious, but I neglected to photograph. It's a crumble - there's not much to it, so the lack of mention is not terribly criminal in my book.

Of course it was all finished with a small glass of Jamesons to 'aid the digestion'.

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