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November 17, 2010

Beef, elements of root beer

Let's begin with a toast to Alinea, on receiving THREE Michelin stars!

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A big ole cheers! >clink< to the entire team at Alinea not just for their very well deserved three Michelin stars, but also for doing what they do every single day to inspire and energize home cooks like me to want to do more, and do better.  So, a big congratulations and thank you from me, Holly, Ron, Maggie, Linda, Sean, Grant, and Carter -- all who eat my Alinea At Home cooking, and all who raised a glass of prosecco Tuesday night in gratitude and celebration.

But before we drank, we ate.  Boy, did we eat.  And before we ate, I cooked.  And boy, did I cook.

Let's get to it.

Monday night, I made the root beer cure so I could cure the boneless beef shortribs overnight: 

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Ground sassafras, star anise, juniper berries, black peppercorns, fennel seed, and the seeds of a vanilla bean, some kosher salt, and some sugar.

I trimmed and reserved the fat from about a pound of boneless shortribs:

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And then coated them in the root beer cure:

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I covered the meat with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator overnight.

In the morning, I rinsed off the cure under cold running water:

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Then, I put the meat, along with some veal stock, into a sous vide bag and cooked them at 88C/190F for five hours.

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In the afternoon, I got started on the rest of the dish.  To make the root beer sauce, I cooked some fennel and the beef shortrib fat and trimmings in a little canola oil:

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I cooked that for about five minutes, and then added some molasses, sherry vinegar, juniper berries, and peppercorns to the pot and cooked all that until the molasses and sherry vinegar had reduced by two-thirds and was sryupy (took about 20 minutes).  While that was cooking, I boiled and then steeped sassafras root in 75g of water, which made a lovely sort of tea.  I strained the sassafras root out, and added the liquid to the pan of other ingredients.  Lastly, I added some veal stock, and just simmered the sauce for about a half hour, 40 minutes.

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I poured it through a fine-mesh strainer into a smaller pan and continued to slowly reduce the liquid until it coated the back of a spoon.

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While all the simmering and reducing of the sauce was going on, I prepped the salsify.

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Salsify is a root vegetable, sometimes referred to as the "oyster plant" -- because it's supposed to have a faint oyster-like taste.  Which, I'll be honest, I didn't taste or recognize.  Salsify is available from mid-fall through early spring, and here in the DC area, you can find it at Wegmans (a special shout-out to Liz and Jamar at the Wegmans in Landover, MD for special ordering and setting aside what now seems like a metric ton of salsify for me to work with).  This was my first time buying and working with salsify, and I had no idea that when you peeled it, it left a sap-like residue on your hands:

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Mere washing with soap and water didn't remove it, so I had to coat my hands in Goo-Gone and hope that the Consumer Product Safety Commission wasn't watching.

I put the peeled salsifies into a sous vide bag with some butter and the seeds from a vanilla bean and cooked them alongside the meat at 88C/190F for about an hour:

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Also in my sous vide pleasure chamber was 250g of Yukon Gold potatoes (90 minutes at 88C/190F), which I then peeled and pressed through a tamis before adding to the blender already filled with a hot milk, sugar, salt, vanilla bean, water, and butter mixture:

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Poured that through a fine-mesh strainer into a small mixing bowl before putting it into my siphon canister and discharging an NO2 cartridge.

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When the meat had finished cooking, I cut it into small cubes -- okay, so they're technically not cubes; I was on a conference call during this part of the process and let my knife skills deteriorate ever-so-slighty (read: A LOT).

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I also glazed some 1/4"-thin slices of fennel in water, butter, sugar, and salt:

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And I sautéed the salsify spears in some oil and butter to caramelize them a bit:

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I kept the beef warm (along with some prunes) in a small saucepan filled with its braising liquid.

I plated the dish, sadly, not as beautifully as it's done in the book.  I need to work on my siphon canister skills, because there was some weird air pocket thing going on, and the vanilla-potato foam splorped out in these explosive bursts that, when it hit the plate, splattered sauce and foam all over the plate, the counter, my shirt, my hair, the wall, the floors.  This was the nicest looking plate of all of them:

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Presentation (which we can all agree is probably not my strong point) aside, can we talk about how freakin' GOOD THIS WAS? 

Holy mother of Smoove B, this was really, really good.  The root beeriness of it all didn't really hit until the third or fourth bite.  As I usually do with a dish like this, I tasted different components and combinations thereof for my first few bites, and then just ended up swirling everything together and tasted it that way.  Man, these flavors were perfect for the kind of weather we're having ... where it's cold, grey, lifeforce-sucking, and rainy one minute, and sunny, bright, cold, and windy the next.  The beef was so tender, and the prunes and fennel were really outstanding.  The potato-vanilla foam was a lovely cozy blanket around it all, and I really loved the salsify.  It had the texture of a cooked parsnip, but wasn't as radishy in the nose as a parsnip can sometimes be.  It was delicate, but with some heft, and everything altogether made for a very nice meal.

After we finished eating (and I smiled inside about all the plates practically licked clean), we popped the cork on some prosecco and toasted a certain Chicago Michelin three-star restaurant.  A great day and a great night, indeed.

Up Next: Something with salsify

Resources: Veal stock from my freezer; sassafrass from Monterey Bay Spice Company; star anise, fennel seed, black pepper, vanilla bean, prunes, and juniper berries from the TPSS Co-op; David's kosher salt; Domino sugar; boneless beef shortribs and canola oil from Snider's; Wholesome Sweeteners unsulfured molasses; salsify, potatoes, and fennel from Wegmans; 365 brand butter; Natural By Nature milk;

Music to Cook By: The Police; Synchronicity.  It's the strangest thing.  I was joking around with a friend of mine, where we were trying to out-insult each other, and out of nowhere, I just said, "Okay, FINE Miss Gradenko."  Which, what?  And then all I could think about on my drive home was the "Wrapped Around Your Finger" video.  And then, as I was falling asleep that night, the drum line from "Murder By Numbers" kept going through my head.  So, I needed to listen to the entire Synchronicity album to get it all out of my head.  I mean, it's not a bad thing that The Police were in my head, but I felt like Stewart Copeland was stalking me (which would also not be a bad thing because rrrraaaaoooowwwrrr, Stewart Copeland).

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All of it sounds yummy. I look forward to hearing all about your next Salsify recipe. And now I have The Police in my head too and I'm with you (naturally) on the Stewart Copeland thing.

Finally, something I could actually make (if I had a sous vide machine)! This dish made my mouth water and I am insanely jealous of the folks who got to taste it. Plus you (and your readers) learned an important life lesson about wearing gloves when peeling salsify.

Mmmm... I've been really wanting to make this dish for a while, but I could never find a source for sassafras. Monterey Bay Spice Company had never come up on my searches, so thanks for that.

One question: does the dish come across as too sweet? One of my only worries from reading the recipe...

[Not sweet at all! It's a really nice balance of sweet, savory, salt... I loved it. Let me know if you try it, and how it turns out! -----CB]

I'm glad salsify tastes better than it looks, because it looks like an old broom handle that you could find in the basement.

And, you can't really go wrong with root beer, no matter the form.

I am excited to hear about the rest of your salsify adventures, too! My mom is a child of the depression, so they had a huge garden, and she's told me about salsify for years. They grew it and made faux oyster stew with it, and I've always wanted to try it, but have never seen it in the store. Now that I know what it looks like I'll have to pay attention, or perhaps I can find a source out here in CA.
And, yes, agreed about Stewart Copeland!!

Okay, so I now know exactly what I am doing with the veal stock and short ribs in my freezer. The root beer cure looks so insanely good. Tomorrow the search for salsify beings.

Love the Police. Synchronicity is probably one of the best albums from the 80's, and I love the way it still stands up today. The dish looks fantastic! Yay Alinea!

SMOOVE B! from the onion? haven't heard that name in forever. is he still there? i must check now.

oh, and yum!

I'm waiting for someone to comment with a magic salsify removal cure. That's crazy stuff. I wonder if cooking oil would get it off? That's what I use to get oil-based paint off my hands.

oh Copeland was one of my great lusts in high school, but he was behind Roger Daltry, Neil Young and of course Mick.

Hey Carol, huge fan of your blog.

A friend and I decided on a whim we might try adding this dish to our Thanksgiving menu, but I'm having difficulty finding the two most obscure and coolest-sounding ingredients in the list, namely the salsify and the sassafras. Any tips on how I'd be able to procure them in the Silver Spring area before Turkey day?

Mmmmmm!

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