09 December 2010

Dry-roasted short ribs in a pepper'd spice crust

pepper spiced short ribs 1

Our kind friends Wanda and James came to our rescue one evening, when we had spent many a long day immersed in cleaning and scrubbing and polishing the boat for the trade show. Like benevolent genii from a fairytale, they whisked us away to their beautiful hilltop aerie, then fed us and watered us and returned us to the boat before we even knew quite how it all came about.

We sat on their patio with the blue evening sky above us, admiring the long golden oblongs of light cast by their open French doors, sipping at glasses of wine while their cat twined itself around our ankles in a furry sinuous welcome. Later, plates of richly savoury food appeared in front of us. Their company and thoughtfulness fed more in us than simply hunger, and we returned to our work the next day with stout hearts and good cheer.

One of the dishes from that night was a sublimely tender pile of ribs, which James had coated in a dry spice rub and slow-roasted for hours.

I usually braise my ribs in some kind or other of spiced and seasoned wine before finishing them off to char them, and that's what I plated out for my charter guests' main course; but I wanted to try out this dry-roasted method too, so I amused myself with a little experimental starter for them.

I crushed a generous handful of colourful mixed peppercorns—black and pink, green and mild white—in the mortar and pestle, along with some coriander seeds and cumin seeds for savour. A couple of fine fat cloves of garlic pounded to a creamy paste with plenty of sea salt, and a little chopped thyme, to bind it all together. Pungent and floral and spicy, this paste was rubbed generously into the flesh of a couple of pounds of beef short ribs, which I slid into the top shelf of the oven while a pan of my braised ribs simmered away below.

Two and a half hours later, I took out the tray. The fat had rendered off, and the spice-crusted meat lay in tender fragments on the bones.

I chose to serve this small 'taste' on cucumber slices for their cool juicy contrast, layered some translucent shavings of our house-made pickled cucumber, and finally topped the stack with fine-sliced red radish to play on the mélange of pepper flavour. This is also my nod to the Roman gourmand Apicius, for whom the piquant duo of pepper (a beloved spice of the ancient world) and vinegar-tart pickle would have been comfortingly familiar.

This pleased me enough to make me think about quantifying the proportions into a proper recipe to post at a later date. I may even have the cheek to try serving this one night to Wanda and James the next time we are off-charter, by way of return of hospitality...

pepper spiced short ribs 2

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about this blog

Occasional vignettes from the life of a charter chef who loves simply messing about on boats.

"I still think that one of the pleasantest of all emotions is to know that I, I with my brains and my hands, have nourished my beloved few, have concocted a stew or a story, a rarity or a plain dish, to sustain them truly against the hungers of the world."
MFK Fisher

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