Oh, Paris, I miss you!
It’s been a year, and I’m still in love with your markets and bistros, your style and savoir-faire. It’s gray here. It’s cold. So I’ve decided to tip my beret your bistro way and spend a couple of days (yes, deux jours) tackling a braised short rib recipe from a talented California chef.
I dry-rub organic ribs with salt, pepper and thyme and plop them in the refrigerator for many hours. I bring them to room temperature and sear them in a smoking hot Dutch oven. I deglaze the pot with onions, fennel, carrots, garlic and balsamic vinegar. I add beef broth, diced tomatoes and buckets of red wine (very Français). I bring everything to a boil, cover the Dutch oven and bake the ribs in a 325-degree oven for 4(!) hours.
It smells wonderful. Quel magnifique! Ooh lah lah. I take the ribs out of the oven, bring them to room temperature, then throw the pot in the fridge. Next evening, I remove all the fat, reheat everything ‘til the sauce is boiling, and serve my deux–jours dish with pureed potatoes and roasted fennel and cauliflower.
“Bon appetit,” I cry.
“Meh,” my husband responds. (Or, as my mother-in-law would have said, “I’ve tasted better.”)
There isn’t anything inherently wrong with my ribs (except that they’ve taken two days to make and used up a perfectly good bottle of wine). But they’re heavy. They’re rich. They’re … braised.
That’s when it hits me. No offense to the French and the lovely boeuf bourguignon I ate my last night in Paris, but I’m not a winter braise kind of girl. Even on the coldest nights, I want a little freshness with my meals. What, I wonder, would the braise have tasted like with a cilantro sauce on top? A salad of raw fennel and apples instead of roasted vegetables? A relish of roasted grapes and pine nuts?
I can’t think of any dish that isn’t helped by a shot of acidity. When soups taste dull, the juice of a lemon wakes up the flavors. A simple topping of citrus segments, shallots and olives cuts through the richness of a fatty fish like salmon. Even lean cuts of braised or roasted chicken get a wake-up call when topped with fresh cilantro, garlic and lime.
I’m not sure I’ll tackle these short ribs again. My Paris clock is recalibrating, the weather is warming, and I can’t imagine spending another two days chopping, searing, braising, cooling, skimming, reheating …
I’ll always have my memories. (And these pictures my little boy took of the Rue Cler Market!) And I’ll always have this bright, no-fail topping. It turns any dish from “meh” to “délicieux!”
Cilantro Sauce (Courtesy Bon Appetit)
- 2 cups stemmed cilantro (from 2-3 bunches)
- ½ cup olive oil
- 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1 tablespoon chopped jalapeno
- 1½ teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 garlic clove
Combine all ingredients in a food processor. Whir until pureed. Serve atop any roasted meat; dollop onto any braise; stir into pasta or rice; use as a dressing for blanched or sautéed vegetables.