Fearless

My boss is afraid of meat.  She is so repulsed by the idea of raw meat, and the idea of having to touch it, that she just can’t bring herself to eat it anymore and has become a vegetarian.  She never had any problem with the taste, and even admitted to enjoying a passing bite of her sister’s steak on occasion.  It was just the visceral idea of raw meat, which soon became associated with cooked meat–beef, pork, and sometimes even chicken–that disgusted her.

I used to be afraid of meat, too, but in a completely different way.  I was afraid of wrecking it: afraid of cooking it too long and drying it out, or otherwise mistreating it to the point of rack and ruin.  When I was growing up, my family ate plenty of beef, but I only recall three cuts that I had any experience cooking myself–round roasts for pot roast, chuck arm steak for beef stroganov, and ground beef (which is, I suppose, not really a cut, per se) for burgers and picadillo.  I was never afraid of those, because I’d already cooked them.  I was, however, absolutely petrified at the idea of cooking a steak, even a flank steak, simply because I never had.

In my unending perusal of cookbooks I’d come across so many interesting sounding recipes for beef-based dishes using cuts I’d never laid a hand on before.  Beef shanks, short ribs, flank steak, tenderloin.  I formed the idea that cooking beef was extremely hard, and, since steaks were so expensive anyway, not worth messing up, so not worth trying.

I was well on my way to an entire life of this, eating chicken, fish and pork most of the time, and eating hamburgers whenever I felt a beef craving.  “What do you want for dinner on your first night home for vacation?” my mother would ask.  “Something with BEEF in it!” would be my inevitable reply. 

Teacherman, on the other hand, couldn’t be less afraid of meat.  He has a massive grill and, though he doesn’t do so to the exclusion of all else, he loves to grill a steak.  He was mystified, though accepting, when he discovered my weirdness, and would have happily cooked all the beef to cross our threshold.   Having been shown, though, that beef cookery was possible, I refused to allow myself the luxury.  Through his tutelage I’ve become much more comfortable with cooking beef myself, working my way through previously dismissed cuts.  Flank steak is now a menu staple, brisket has made an appearance and indeed, last night I made short ribs for the first time, for company, even.

In spite of my newfound beefy courage, I’m still more comfortable with braising than with any other cooking method.  Provided that one uses the right cut, braising is extremely forgiving and almost always turns out a good result.  The short ribs–arresting, near-magenta, 3-D rectangles of the exact dimensions as the building blocks I had as a child–were browned along with cubes of bacon, then both were removed from the pan.  Into the (somewhat depleted) fat went lazily chopped onions, garlic, carrots and red bell peppers.  They softened a bit, then I added chicken stock, red wine and what seemed like over-exuberant quantities of peppercorns, bay leaves, fresh parsley and dried whole ancho chiles.  The (by now enormously heavy) Dutch oven went into the oven and stayed there for nearly 4 hours.  I took a nap. 

When I finally roused myself, I skimmed off all the fat (I really, REALLY need a fat separator–why do I keep doing this with a spoon?), removed the short ribs, added a bit of sweet smoked paprika to the pot, and blended the vegetables and broth into a thick maroon sauce.  It was spicy (the anchos and paprika), sweet (the onions, carrots and bell peppers), perfectly salted (in spite of not adding any) and velvety in the mouth.  The short ribs were melting, delectable, and as good a result as could be wished for, but it was the sauce I kept snitching dips of.  I slipped the conquered beef back into the pot, covered it, and waited for my guests.

“The sauce is made of vegetables?  Actual vegetables?” asked one of the party.  “Well then, I’d better make sure to clean my plate.”  And how could anyone be afraid of the instigator of that?

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Published in: on April 3, 2007 at 7:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

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