Monday, 30 November 2015

Bbq-finished short ribs with wild mushrooms, wet polenta and chard

I don’t often find myself in Chelsea. Especially at 8.30am on a Monday morning, having spent an hour lodged in horrid commuter-carriage across the capital, watching beards turn to briefcases turn to fur, stretched skin and vacant expressions. Sleep is normally far preferable on days off, but on that day I was on a very special vegetable hunt. The fresh porcini season comes and goes with the blink of an eye, and in East London largely stays invisible. Although the standard of greengrocer in Hackney is largely very good, wild mushrooms are still an elusive find. And so the ridiculous ingredient journey commenced. Mum thought I was bonkers when I told her, but I was sure happy walking back to Sloane Square clutching a paper bag of pungent, charming porcini. 

The joy of such travels meant that my return journey spanned the pick of London’s other food retailers, and by the time I had reached the safer ground of Dalston Kingsland station, I had gathered some wonderful, thick short ribs and a clobbering wedge of parmesan. The only thing remaining was time, and plenty of it. There’s nothing speedy about cooking short ribs, and the reason for the early start was to allow as much gently stewing as possible. Think big chunks of tender, moist meat falling off the bone at the merest thought of a shake. Frankly, an optimistic prospect for lunch.
When the (late) lunch was finally ready for the plate, all that faffing about was forgotten. I find at this time of year, an amalgamation of soft, rich food is just the ticket. This isn’t clean eating, and it is damn tastier for all of the cheese and butter, for the layers of fat that have melted between the fibrous meat.
Always make more polenta. Spread the leftovers into a deep tray and set in the fridge, then slice into wedges and grill to crisp perfection. Top with more cheese and roasted beetroot or more mushrooms for a quick midweek treat.
Serves 4
For the short ribs:
4 beef short ribs 
2 onions, chopped 
1 carrot, chopped 
3 cloves of garlic, crushed 
1 bay leaf 
80g dried porcini mushrooms 
10 sprigs of thyme 
1 large glass of red wine 
1-1.5 litres of good beef stock 
1 large knob of butter
For the polenta:
1 mug of coarse polenta 
5 mugs of water 
1 handful of parmesan, grated 
150g butter, cut into cubes
For the mushrooms:
4 large fresh porcini mushrooms, brushed clean and thickly sliced 
2 handfuls of girolle mushrooms, brushed clean and trimmed 
5 sprigs of fresh thyme
For the chard:
1 bunch of fresh chard, tough stalks removed and leaves roughly torn
To finish:
Finely grated parmesan 
2 tbsp of thyme leaves

Start by getting the short ribs on. Bring a large saucepan to a medium-high heat and add a good splash of olive oil. Season the short ribs. When the pan is hot, patiently brown the meat on all sides, allowing about 15 minutes in total to really develop and good crust. Tip in the onions, carrots, garlic and bay in and stir well. Cook for a further few minutes, until starting to soften and caramelise. Pour in the red wine. Allow the liquid to sizzle and reduce by half, and use a wooden spoon to scrape up the caramelisation from the bottom of the pan. Add the thyme and porcini mushrooms, then cover with the beef stock. Bring to the boil, then turn the temperature down to a gentle simmer. Cover slightly and cook for 4-5 hours, or until the meat is extremely tender. 

When the meat is cooked, allow to cool slightly in the pan, then carefully remove with some tongs to a plate or board. Strain the liquid into a smaller saucepan and set it back on a high heat. Reduce right down, until only about 300ml of thickened sauce remains. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter.
Pour the water for the polenta into a large saucepan. Sprinkle in some salt and bring to the boil. Stir the water with a wooden spoon, and whilst doing so, pour in the polenta in one slow steady stream. Continue to stir for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture has started to thicken and any lumps have been beaten out. Turn the heat down to low, partly cover with a lid and cook for 30-40 minutes, stirring often, until the grains have cooked and is of a thick pouring consistency. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter, parmesan and salt if required.
Bring a bbq or hot-smoker to a medium-low temperature. Gently re-heat the short ribs for 10-15 minutes, keeping the lid covered to maximise the smokiness.
Whilst the meat is being heated, cook the mushrooms. Heat a large frying pan to a high temperature and pour in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. When the pan is hot, add the porcini mushrooms and fry for 2-3 minutes, until golden brown and caramelised. Turn over for another couple of minutes, and add the girolles and thyme leaves. Toss the girolles every now and then the cook evenly on each side. 

Pour some boiling water into a saucepan and add a little salt. Blanche the chard leaves for a couple of minutes, until just tender, then drain and squeeze out as much excess water as possible.
To serve, dollop a good amount of cheesy polenta onto each plate and top with a short rib. Scatter around the mushrooms and chard and spoon on a little sauce. Finish with more grated parmesan and thyme leaves.