Cleanin’ out my Cabinets: The Reverse Steak Oscar

As usual with these posts, people were coming over, I had too much stuff in my fridge and freezer, so I made something with that stuff.  This time around, I had a pound tub of lump crab meat from Costco that was nearing its expiration, and a bunch of different meat options to pair it with.

Despite the warm weather, I went with short ribs since I had some nice looking ones in the freezer and just received an additional payload of them from Uncle Billy.  When deciding how to incorporate the crab, I looked to my love of any steak with an Oscar topping and figured I would attempt my own spin on it.

First step was to heavily season the short ribs with salt and pepper.

The return of the good camera!  Aside from at least 3 hours of braising, the other keys to awesome short ribs are tons of salt and pepper and searing all sides before braising.  Took a lot of botched short ribs before I figured this out

My largest cast iron pan went over high heat with a little bit of safflower oil until it got very hot, just about the point of smoking.  Then the short ribs went in.

Using tongs to brown all sides is tedious but makes a huge difference.  Also, searing/browning on my stovetop brings out the worst of my OCD.  I end up acting like Phil Hartman in the Anal Retentive Chef sketch, constantly cleaning up the grease splatters around the pan only to have fresh grease immediately take its place

While those sizzled and sprayed me with occasional “f*cksh*t!” and furious arm rub inducing splatters of hot oil, I did initial prep on some carrots, onions, garlic, and celery.  I was trying to make a braising liquid that would be sauce-like, so I used the processor to chop the aromatics down like I would with an osso bucco.

Once it was all well chopped, I dumped it into Lil’ Blue which had been heating up a little olive oil over medium heat on the stovetop.

After going through this process multiple times, I’m not really sure this does anything.  Nothing really browns because there is so much liquid from the processor, and the smell doesn’t really change much.  Yet, if you asked me whether this was necessary I’d likely insist it is and pretend I know what I’m talking about

After a few minutes of the aromatics cooking, I poured in a half bottle of white wine, a 4 ounce can of V-8 and a 4 ounce can of tomato sauce plus a couple bay leaves.  Again, I wasn’t looking for a marinara, just a sauce that would reduce well and taste equally good with shellfish as beef.  Also, both of those items had been in the cupboard for far too long and needed to get used for something.

More liquid than it looked like I would need, but it always cooks down a ton during braising and if you don’t have this much you need to add cups of water during cooking.  Which seems soooo wrong, who wants beef braised in water?

With the braising liquid simmering, I preheated the oven to 325F and finished browning the final side of each short rib.

I wish I could brown stuff this well inside Lil Blue/Big Yellow, but I’ve never successfully done it without scorching the bottom of the pot.  Better to do it in a separate pan and scrape in any of the good (read: fattening) stuff

The short ribs were nicely nestled into Lil Blue and covered with a couple decorative spoonfuls of liquid over the top of each short rib, like fedoras in the douchey Dutch Oven neighborhood.

That piece to the front bugged me then and it bugs me now.  It just wouldn’t fully submerge

The braising process takes a total of 3-4 hours, so I needed to feed my guests in the interim. Because of the abundance of shrimp in my freezer, my first instinct was shrimp cakes.  The idea was just small shrimp, ground up with spices, tossed in breadcrumbs and fried in a pan; just like any other fish “cake” I’ve made.  Lets start with the food processor in mid action.

Same shot as the Grayling potstickers post, just the egg yolks for binding

For the spices I resisted the urge to go the easy route with Asian spices and a soy-based dipping sauce, only because it wouldn’t match well with the wine and tomato flavors of the main course.  Instead, I went with the simplest approach I could think of and just added crushed red pepper, garlic, and salt.

Once fully ground, the contents of the processor went into a glass bowl to let the flavors come together a bit in the fridge.

Mostly this experience made me want to make dumplings again.  That bowl looked like a delicious blank canvas

With the shrimp resting peacefully, I started working on the crab cake that would be replacing the steak as the base of this Reverse Oscar.

I’ve made crab cakes a bunch of time and usually add a bunch of other ingredients like peppers, onions and breadcrumbs in an attempt to stretch out the crab to as many cakes as possible.  On the other hand, the best crab cakes I have ever had were made almost entirely of lump crab meat and had minimal fillers.  So, I ignored the cheapskate inside me, and only added corn, egg, and a little shake of breadcrumbs to absorb the moisture from the egg.

Yes, I will happily put corn in anything, especially seafood items.  Our friend’s collective love of corn once led to an Iron Chef Corn which in turn led to incredible stomach discomfort for all who participated.  Delicious stuff, in moderation

The crab mixture joined the shrimp in the fridge for an hour or so to set up.  While all them flavors came together, Janet crawled around in the living room between Nate, Emyo, and me, occasionally pausing to attempt to eat whatever she found on the ground.  I obviously applaud her interest in trying new foods, but I draw the line when it’s Kristi’s hair or the foil from my burrito.

Once people were substantially hungry and annoyed that I hadn’t started serving food, I heated up a quarter inch of olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat.  The ground shrimp came out by the handful, was formed into patties and dropped into a pile of breadcrumbs, making sure they were completely covered.  Once the oil was hot, the shrimp cakes went in for some fryin’.

The better camera can’t avoid the lighting issues on my stovetop.  And I can’t avoid frying things to make them taste better

After 5-7 minutes on each side, the cakes were fully cooked and ready to eat.  Thankfully, Nate reminded me I hadn’t made a sauce for dipping so I threw together a caper aioli (fancy named tartar sauce) for dipping while the shrimp cakes drained on some paper towels.  Then we ate them.

At this point I was really slacking on the fotos and consistently taking awful ones where my massive head cast a shadow on the food.  My excuse: Kristi was out of town watching Auntie Kate win the NCAA D3 Women’s Lacrosse chip and the quality of imagery suffered from her absence

As Nate said, the shrimp cakes were like fried shrimp without the hassle of pulling the tail out.  I agree, but I also enjoy the texture of ground shrimp, despite the slightly more metallic taste that comes with cooked ground shrimp vs. whole shrimp.  Pretty nice little appetizer though.

After about three and a half hours, the short ribs were ready to come out.

The moment when the braising lid comes off is always incredibly joyous right up until the moment you realize you melted your contacts into your eyeballs by sticking your face over the pot when you opened it

The meat had cooked to a perfect tenderness and separated from the bone easily in one piece when picked up with a pair of tongs.  Once the meat was out of the pot, I removed the bay leaves and put the braising liquid over low-medium heat to reduce it a bit for use as a sauce.

While the oil was still hot, I made some patties from the crab mixture, then tried to gingerly place them in the pan without burning myself or having the cake fall apart entirely.  I learned I had to accept one of those two outcomes, and after making scrambled crab cake with the first one, I decided to take the burns and make some nice looking cakes.

After a longer stretch than the shrimp cakes on each side, I had my crab cakes.

I know, the lighting is awful and looks like I am back in Philly.  I would have sworn cameras had become idiot proof at this point, but I keep finding new ways to disprove that with every picture I take

With all the components cooked, I assembled the Reverse Oscar.  Crab cake first, then a little dollop of the reduced braising liquid, then the short rib, and another dollop on top.  A dense little pile of flavor and deliciousness.

I knew this would be so rich and filling.  I love compact piles of food that are best consumed in giant bites combining every item.  My guess is most of the people who would make a statement like that have to take a deep breath before they tie their shoes and occasionally sweat from chewing gum

I had bites of the short rib and crab cake separately before combining them with every forkful.  The short rib was tender and had tons of good flavor from the braising liquid, though it didn’t hurt that it was smothered in it.  The crab cake was what I look for in a crab cake, big chunks of tasty lump crab meat with minimal other stuff muddling up the works.  The braising liquid went surprisingly well with the crab due to the white wine and the acidity of the tomatoes.

But when you put them together in one bite, wowza.  It was tough to tell what you were chewing at any given time but it all tasted so good together.  Very, very rich, to the level that all of us were filled up on those little plates, but well worth the effort.

Not sure what will be up next.  Got some stuff curing in the fridge and I’m anxiously awaiting the arrival of my new grill, but none of that will make for a post next week.  Will try not to disappoint.

Shin Steak Osso Bucco

I love osso bucco and generally order it whenever I see it on a menu.  Actually, let’s say a reputable restaurant menu.  I learned that lesson a few years ago at a subpar Italian restaurant that clearly didn’t understand the importance of slow cooking the veal shanks leaving me with fat and chewiness.

Despite my love of the dish and braised meats in general, I’ve never cooked osso bucco myself.  This is likely due to my love of using cheap cuts and not being willing to spend the cash to purchase veal shanks.  When I noticed something labeled “shin steaks” at Stop and Shop, I recognized an opportunity.

I didn’t need to go to the butcher’s window to get an explanation on this; I figured it was basically an osso bucco cut from a full sized cow.  And, hey, the price is right for this cheap DB bastid!

According to Wikipedia (I was going to pretend I knew this before a crisis of conscience), osso bucco means “bone with a hole”.  While a shin steak from a full-sized cow qualifies as osso bucco, it still isn’t the traditional veal variety.  It’s basically a cross section slice of a beef shank.  So, lets call this version of the dish Awso Bucco (copyright Conor Russel inc, 2011) moving forward.

I started out by trimming the fat and outer connective tissue from the shin steaks then tying them up with kitchen twine to prevent them from falling apart.

That one on the far left was a total rip off at $2.86 due to the large bone. I’m not the Monopoly man over here!

The shin steaks were seasoned heavily with salt and pepper then went into Big Yellow with a little olive oil to brown for a bit.

To continue with the Monopoly references, the shin steak on the far left was like Baltic Ave.  You knew it would be fun and better than expected, but you’d be pissed if it was your only option

While the steaks browned, I threw an onion, a couple ribs of celery, a few peeled carrots, and 4 cloves of garlic in the food processor and gave them a good choppin’.

Saw this in one of the recipes I referenced. It made complete sense to me instead of chopping the vegetables small by hand.  You could see how much it would break down and make for a nice texture after braising

After about 7 or 8 minutes, I flipped the steaks and started browning the other side.

I was going to pretend the kitchen twine wasn’t noticeably missing from this picture but figured someone would point it out.  The steaks were too thin and I am horrible at tying knots, so the string had to go

After a few more minutes I pulled the shin steaks from the pot and dumped the contents of the food processor in to cook for a bit.

This type of heavily food processor-ed vegetables never looks right, but previous attempts include the delicious mushroom paste I made for venison tacos and my traditional ginger, garlic and onion base for fried rice

Since the food processor basically makes a garlic/onion/carrot/celery juice with pulp, the vegetables don’t really brown or caramelize, they just cook.  Not sure how to expound on that eloquently, but there are no visual signs that things are cooking once you put them in the pot.  After a few minutes you just shrug your shoulders and add some tomatoes.

Went with a 14oz can of diced tomatoes and a few spoonfuls of tomato paste. Deprived you of a self-taken pour shot here, but I think you’ll survive

Then a bottle of white wine once the tomatoes have cooked with the vegetables for five minutes.

Now that’s a pour shot!  Charles Shaw Sauvignon Blanc, ‘course

Once the braising liquid reduced a bit over high heat, I threw in a couple bay leaves and strategically placed the shin steaks back in the pot.

By strategically placed, I just mean that I made sure they weren’t pressed against each other. I was the middle school chaperone to this Awso Bucco dance

Lid went on and Big Yellow headed into the oven for three hours at 300F, checking occasionally to make sure that too much liquid hadn’t cooked off.  After the full three hours, you should have something that looks like this:

Looked good, but wanted to reduce that liquid a little bit

Since there was a little excess liquid, I took the lid off and cooked uncovered for another 30 minutes.  Which was a perfect cue to start the mushroom and corn risotto I chose to pair with the Awso instead of polenta.

I like polenta when it’s crispy fried in cake form, but I wouldn’t do that well so I decided to go with risotto for bringing in the sweet corn flavor

After 30 minutes uncovered, the liquid had mostly cooked off, and we had a decent looking pot of braised loveliness.

Kristi was game for eating this, but I was already looking at the marrow in her portion knowing she wouldn’t touch it

Very simple meal to plate; pile of risotto, then the Awso and a big spoonful of the sauce from the pot over everything.

That is a perfect plate of 20-degree-day dinner. Best enjoyed with a giant glass of red wine and a fireplace

The sauce was rich and tasted strongly of white wine in very a good way.  There’s just something phenomenal about slow cooked sauce with tomatoes, mirepoix, and white wine.  The Awso was the perfect texture; not quite fall-apart stew meat, but insanely tender and delicious.  The sweet risotto was a solid counterpoint to the richness of the Awso, though the corn got a little sticky in the cooking process.

With all of my marrow talkin’, you didn’t think I’d actually forget to mention it?

Big bone, big chunk of marrow. See! That MBA education made me more smarter! Correction: more smarters

The marrow was good, had all the best flavors from the sauce and a melt in your mouth texture.  Wish I had made some bread to smear it on.

Next week we’ll be talking pies.

Weird Crap I Cook: Heart and Bones

As I made clear with the Hogs Head post, I am a big fan of challenging myself to cook foods I have never attempted to cook before. We spent the past two months living in our old Boston neighborhood of Jamaica Plain that has a wealth of grocery stores that carry meats and vegetables you don’t see in many other stores. After wandering the aisles one day earlier this summer, I decided to attempt a meal of ox heart and marrow bones. This post is about that process.

I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to do with the marrow bones. I’d seen an Iron Chef where they popped the marrow out of the bones and then pan fried them leaving soft pieces of marrow with a crispy outside. Sounded awful for me and delicious, a combination I have relied on over the years for excessive weight gain and torn inseams.

First step in the process was done two days before the meal. The bones were soaked briefly in warm water to loosen the marrow up from the inside.

The stoner working the register said, "let me guess, you have dogs." and then stood there in slackjawed terror as I explained my plans for the bones

This process took place while Kristi was sleeping. Probably for the best

After the bones soaked for 10 minutes or so the marrow had softened enough to pop them out of the bones.  I did this by pushing from one end with my thumb.

I've posted pictures of pigs heads and bug eating, but for some reason this picture seems like the most disgusting one on here. The term "red rocket" comes to mind

This wasn’t as easy as I’d hoped it would be but I was able to successfully harvest the marrow from five of the six bones.  The marrow went into a bowl of heavily salted water and then into the fridge.

Bones were reserved for making stock. I know this doesn't look appetizing...

So I made cupcakes to offset it (actually because Kristi requested them for her birthday). Its her Grandmother's lemon icing recipe which surprisingly didn't call for any organs or bones

Back to the bones and marrow.  The idea is that the salt would pull some of the blood and liquid out of the marrow and make the pieces a little more dense.  I replaced the water with freshly salted water 6 times over the two days and the marrow looked noticeably different by the end.

Although the water looks gross, I was just happy that stuff was getting drawn out of the marrow

For the heart I decided to make a dish that would have similar flavors to a traditional osso bucco.  The first step was to use the leftover bones to make a stock that would be the base for the liquid that the heart meat would cook in.  I started by browning the bones in a pot for 30-40 minutes.

Just bones in a pot with olive oil, celery salt and black pepper

About halfway through the browning I rotated the bones and threw in a handful of onions and carrots.

Really enjoying the super zoom's contributions to this blog

Added 6-7 cups of water plus about 4 ounces of V-8, 4 ounces of red wine and brought it to a boil.

Always makes me happy when the color is right

Lowered the heat to a simmer and left it uncovered while I watched Shutter Island with Buschy.  Pretty dece, though I was a little Leo overloaded after seeing Inception the night before.   This is how it looked after three creepy, atmospheric, and well-cast hours:

Pulled the bones out and poured the rest through a strainer which yielded...

This. I skimmed some fat off once the liquid settled and stuck it in the fridge for use the following night.

With all the major prep work done I was ready to make an unseasonably heavy dinner. On an 85 degree night in a house with no AC.

First course was the pan fried marrow.  All it required was a pan of hot oil and a pile of flour mixed with black pepper.

I had been thinking about this dish for some time and was Christmas morning-level excited at this point. The soaked and dried marrow is on the left.

Into the fryer. Notice the metal backsplash that looks like an insane TGIFridays worker's lapel? That's Con and Trish's magnet collection. But I am a dork for having a blog. YeeeeeeOK guys!

Since marrow is so rich that its almost like the beef version of foie gras, it made sense to accompany it with lemon, parsley, and salt.

This was the piece I fried solo as a test batch. Since I hadn't taken a bite yet, its safe to say I was freaking out at this exact moment

It was definitely nerve wracking cooking each piece since the marrow melts if you cook it too long or it doesn’t get crispy if you cook it too little.

Like churros, but with marrow inside

Crispy outside, soft and buttery inside. I didn't get an in-focus shot because I was rushing so I could eat more

Conman's Lord of the Rings hobbit-style knuckles make their first appearance on the blog

Not sure I would do it again due to the effort required, but it was a pretty solid payoff.  Its tough to describe it, but despite the strong flavors of the parsley and lemon, the most powerful flavor was beef.  But very different than meat.  Rich and decadent.  Again, tough to describe.

I look like a hand model compared to Conor

Now, onto the main course: heart.

Pretty much how you expected it to look

The butcher did some light trimming, removing the gristle-heavy top and adding a few cuts so it could be laid out flat.

Also pretty expected, but I didn't let Buschy see this view so that he wouldn't rule out tasting it

Underneath a lot of membrane, external fat, and gristley areas (venticles is an awful term but that’s what they were), it’s just a giant muscle.  So I butchered the heart down to the best of my (subpar) abilities and then carved it into 1/8th inch thick slices.

When it's broken down, its not that different from raw sliced flank steak. Completely devoid of intramuscular fat, though

We ended up with about a pound and a half of beef from the two+ pound heart.  I used my mom’s veal marsala method for cooking these; lightly flour each slice, quickly sear in a pan with butter and olive oil, then create a sauce in the pan to finish the cooking in.

See, it's just beef

Once the beef was out, carrots, onions and garlic were thrown into the pan to cook for a bit.

The base of pretty much everything I cook

To start the osso bucco-style sauce, I stirred in most of a small can of tomato paste.

It doesn't matter what I ended up mixing in to this, you knew it was going to be edible at this point

At this point, things just started flying into the pot.  First it was the pot of stock I made the day before and a half bottle of red wine.  Once it bubbled, I added some uncooked portabellas, the seared heart meat, and seasoning.  The flour from the strips of meat helped thicken the sauce.

Again, it was over 80 degrees inside the house. This is stick to your ribs, snow day food. Not sure what I was thinking

As it simmered for ~30 minutes, we all seized the opportunity to dip some baguette in the sauce.  The familiar flavors went a long way towards making everyone comfortable with what they’d be eating.

Good god this was delicious. I just wish it was 50 degrees colder outside, not too much to ask I don't think

In the final fifteen minutes of cooking I added a final piece of bone marrow that I had reserved.

Almost forgot about this and would have been very bummed if I had

There was a noticeable difference in the richness of the sauce once the marrow was added

The heart and mushrooms were served over fresh cooked spinach.

Not the prettiest plate of food, but tasty

Some pieces of the meat were a little chewier than I had hoped, should have simmered it lower and slower.  But the flavor was solid, the meat definitely had more flavor than regular beef.

See, its just beef

And once we’d finished all the meat, there was still sauce to dip in.

I made Con and Trish save the leftover sauce in their freezer. I am a jerk.

I wouldn’t change anything about how I did the marrow, but I would have made some changes on the heart dish.  Less flour (to make the sauce thinner for simmering), more time for the meat to simmer, and serve it over something heartier than spinach like lightly mashed skin-on potatoes.  The flavor was right but it wasn’t everything I had hoped.

And that was wayyyyy too long a post.  Off to Italy for 10 nights, will have a cluster-eff of posts when I return hopefully.