[Project ‘Recreate New York Food’ to commence shortly. This is just shameless filler whilst body clocks return to normal and things like mountains of washing get done].
Forget everything you think you know about the rules of the kitchen. For just a few minutes.
This is just plain wrong. It shouldn’t work. Nearly every bodily fibre was screaming, shouting, balling at me to stop and obey the bloody rules. This method flies in the face of conventional cooking methods and tickles the scrotum of classical cuisine before running away and hanging out with the cool kids.
There are some cuts of meat that are user-friendly. They are fast, boneless and easy. The chicken breast. The fillet steak. The pork loin. A sprinkling of seasoning and a quick searing over a high heat and you have a tasty morsel ready for consumption.
Then there are those that need a little more care and attention. And time. Lots and lots of time. In general these are the cuts that I cherish (secretly I think most cooks do, at least those that really love their food).
They are the ones that are left on the bone, that need to be braised in liquid (wine is good. Always) until they are meltingly tender and rich, delicious and unctuous. Or roasted s.l.o.w.l.y.
But they are winter meats.
Now that the sun is here why would you want a hearty stew or daube Provençal?
As such, I thought the short ribs I have would have to remain in the freezer until the clouds roll in, the temperature drops and the desire for rich sauces and mashed potatoes returns once more.
I picked up a copy of Gourmet magazine at JFK airport (‘The Grill Issue').
In it was a wonderful photo essay about a Mexican barbecue supper complete with recipes for a multitude of tasty treats. But one in particular stood out because it made me scratch my noggin and mutter: ‘There’s no way that could work. It goes against everything I know and cheekily tickles the scrotum of classical cuisine.’
Beef short ribs. Unmarinated. Unbraised. Unadorned. Just seasoned with salt and pepper then cooked over hot coals and torn apart by enthusiastic teeth. How could you not want to try that?
One of the best things about barbecue cookery is the purity of it. It’s as close most of us get to recreating the ancestral methods that live on in the collective memory. It’s just you and the fire, the ideal conditions for letting your inner Neanderthal out for an hour or two.
Which is great. And I’m all for delicately spiced fish wrapped in banana leaves or long marinated pork chops or skewers of vegetables drizzled in olive oil. But to really get to the heart of the purity of outdoor cooking all you need is a great hunk of meat.
If you’re going to do this, you might as well go all the way and release the caveman.
Enter the beef. Bones and all.
Seasoned in advance (ignore the hokum about only seasoning meat milliseconds before you are about to cook it), they were left at room temperature until the barbecue was seriously hot (hold your hand the coals about five inches up – if you have to move within 1-2 seconds, you’re at the right heat). Then it was time to cook them.
Where American short ribs tend to be cut across the rib, the English butcher them differently, giving single bones rather than a series of them dotted through the meat, much like the equivalent cut on a pig. It matters not. They need about three or four minutes on each side to really get that tasty browning before they can be moved to a cooler part of the barbecue to cook through.
Leave them for about fifteen minutes, turning occasionally. You have a lot of leeway with these bad boys. A steak can overcook in just a couple of minutes. These butch fellas can take it, begging for more. It’s like watching the cast of High School Musical take on a team of Jack Bauers (oh, I would give a minor appendage to witness that).
Once cooked leave them to rest for 10-15 minutes (absolutely freaking essential) – just the right time to dish up whatever it is you would like to accompany your feast. Salad? Perhaps not the best option. I’d go for beer. And maybe a mound of potatoes. Concessionary veg optional.
Season the meat again – just a little turn of black pepper and some sea salt and dig in. This isn’t dainty food. Use of hands is not just recommended, it is mandatory. The taste is incredible. I’ve never had a steak that tasted as good as these. Honestly. Not a single steak has ever come close. The flavour is intensely meaty, packed full of umami and downright deliciousness.
If you’re used to meat that is so tender it may as well have been pre-chewed then these will come as a shock. They offer up some resistance (hardly surprising considering they are the Jack Bauer of the food world) but in a really satisfying way.
I don’t want my food to fall apart in my mouth. My incisors and molars evolved for a purpose. Precisely this purpose: for tearing off mouthfuls of completely delicious beef, still on the bone and tasting exactly like beef should.
Naturally, I cooked too much. The rest were left over night then sliced thinly, still pink, to go into wraps the following day with some spicy beans, spinach, guacamole and chillis.
Anthony Bourdain has a term for food like this: It’s the sort of food that you would only serve to friends, and people you already know you are going to like. Put your inner sceptic to sleep for just one night, invite over some people you know will appreciate this (vegetarians need not apply) and make a long, long evening of it.
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