I knew that I wanted the main course for this dinner to be short rib, which I haven’t served since the first annual dinner’s “pot au feu” from the French Laundry Cookbook, but I hadn’t expected to tackle a recipe from Modernist Cuisine quite so soon after receiving it. I kept looking for other recipes, but this one just looked like it would taste amazing, so after a careful review of the steps and techniques involved I figured it was within the realm of possibility. It would take planning – a whole week’s worth of work – but no one day would be too overwhelming. Which was a good thing, since I had five other courses to make during that same week.
If you can publish a six-volume state-of-the-art genre-defining cookbook, you probably have access to ingredients unavailable to us mere mortals. In this case, the platonic ideal ingredient was a four-bone plate of short ribs of uniform thickness, with a minimal fat cap and perfect marbling throughout. My butcher had three-bone plates that tapered significantly at one end, so I doubled up and bought eight ribs worth, knowing that I’d be able to get at least one meaty chunk from each bone.
I vacuum sealed the ribs along with some very gelatinous beef stock and let them soak in my sous vide cooker for 72 hours at 60°C, checking on them twice a day to make sure nothing was leaking and that the water level remained constant.
Crispy Beef Strands
This was the most labor-intensive component of the dish, requiring me to make beef jerky before shredding and frying it. I started with a pound of well-trimmed flank steak, which I cut into long strips along the grain, some salt, sugar, soy sauce, and fish sauce.
I combined the sauces, salt, and sugar to make a marinade, added the beef, then vacuum sealed the container, which marinated in the fridge for 48 hours.
After two days, I drained off the marinade, patted the beef dry, laid out strips on a plate, and microwaved them until they were dry and jerky-like. I had to do this in small batches, otherwise the steam released wound up boiling the meat. After a bit of messing around with times and power settings, I ended up with beef jerky. Once it was cooled, I shredded it by tearing off thin strips along the grain.
To completely dry out the beef and make it crispy, I fried the strands in 350°F oil until the water had boiled off and the bubbling stopped.
When I was done I had a plate full of crispy beef strands, which I had to force myself not to snack into oblivion. I stored them in a vacuum-sealed container with some dessicant to keep them dry.
Dehydrated Garlic Chip
This garnish began with two massive cloves of elephant garlic which I sliced on a mandoline:
I warmed them up in a pot of skim milk, then let them cool.
I drained off the milk, rinsed the blanched garlic in cold water, then dried them overnight at 122°F in a dehydrator. (Had I been thinking more clearly about the prep, I would have borrowed the dehydrator a day earlier and used it to dry the beef as well.)
I stored the chips in a container with desiccant (packets are cheap on Amazon) until they were needed.
I started the ribs on a Monday, so by Thursday they were ready. I removed the bags from the water bath, chilled them quickly in ice water, then cut open the bags and slipped the bones out of the meat.
I trimmed the pieces into thick squares, sealed the squares in a new vacuum bag, and stored them in the fridge until final assembly. (I put the rest of the beef scraps to good use a few days ago by making 72-hour sous vide short rib hash.)
While the ribs chilled out, I reduced three liters of homemade beef stock down to a little more than a cup of thick glaze that coated the back of a spoon (about ten hours of cooking). I infused the glaze with cilantro, Thai basil, and star anise.
After straining out the aromatics, I added palm sugar (sweet) and tamarind concentrate (sour) to the savory glaze, adjusted the seasoning with salt, and kept it warm on the stove.
About two hours before dinner, I thinly sliced two large shallots and fried them until crispy. I also prepared the greens for the salad garnish, which was made up of Thai basil, cilantro (leaves and stems), mint, julienned lime zest, julienned scallion, and thin-sliced bird’s eye chili. Right before plating I tossed the salad with salt, lime juice, and half of the crispy beef strands.
I also tossed the fried shallots with the rest of the beef strands and dressed them with some of the glaze.
At the start of the dinner I placed the bag of ribs back in the water bath to heat up. At plating time I cut the bag open, dried off the ribs, then crisped the tops with a blowtorch until the meat had a good sear. (In addition to seeing me torch meat, you get to see me in the obligatory chef’s jacket She Who Must Be Obeyed makes me wear during birthday dinner service.)
I lacquered the beef with the glaze before plating.
I centered each rib on a plate, dressed with the beef and crispy shallots, topped with the salad, and leaned a garlic chip against the stack.
I served the beef with a 2008 Occhipinti il Frappato di Siciliana, a wine I first tasted during my second dinner at Journeyman.
I was concerned that this dish would be a lot of work that would fail to deliver on the plate. I was wrong, it was a knockout. Some of our guests thought it was the best single dish they’ve been served at a birthday dinner, and I’ve served more than 30 dishes to date.
The beef was so tender it fell apart when you poked it with a fork. It had the perfect balance of fat and lean, and just enough texture to prevent it from being too soft. The rest of the garnishes were a classic study in balanced Thai flavors: you could taste sweet, sour, salty, savory, and a bit of heat. There was crunch from the beef strands and shallots, acid from the lime, and refreshing coolness from the greens. These plates came back to the kitchen absolutely bare.
In retrospect the most difficult part of this dish was finding perfect short ribs. If I can locate a good source of thick, meaty ribs, I will definitely make this dish again. After all, what’s an entire week in the kitchen when the results are so stunning?