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If You’re Not Slow-Roasting, Are You Really Living?

Every Wednesday night, Bon Appétit food director Carla Lalli Music takes over our newsletter with a sleeper-hit recipe from the Test Kitchen vault. It gets better: If you sign up for our newsletter, you’ll get this letter before everyone else.

Slow-roasting > braising

I came of age as a fancy restaurant cook in the early 2000s, a food era dominated by seared foie gras, truffle butter, and braised short ribs. At that moment, short ribs were a lowly “butcher’s cut” in the process of being rediscovered by professional chefs, who were happy to simmer, glaze, and lacquer them and then sell them at an enormous profit. These ribs were rich, saucy and sticky, and you could eat them with a spoon. Where I worked, we served them on top of a taro root puree loaded with truffle butter—a real twofer!

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If you had told me then that you could slow-roast a thinly cut short rib in a can of coconut milk, I would have have ratted you out to the sous chefs. For years I had witnessed giant vats of short ribs being submerged in a simmering mixture of red wine and beef stock, and I thought that was the best way—maybe the only way—to cook them. I thought those chefs knew best.

Well, turns out those fancy pants French-trained chefs didn’t know what our own Chris Morocco knows, which is that beef short ribs have so much marbling, collagen, and integrity that they can handle all kinds of long stints in the oven, and they don’t need to be covered in liquid in the process. Mon dieu—but it’s true.

This recipe turns the rules of braising upside down for a hands-off method that is easier, more delicious, and texturally more awesome. And it all happens while you do nothing. Here’s how:

Ditch the lidUnlike a standard braise, this low-heat roasting method happens in an unlidded cast-iron skillet, which exposes the meat and the coconut milk to the open air. In the process, the surface of the meat dries out a bit so that you end up with a chewy, glazed exterior, but the gentle oven temperature ensures the ribs stay moist and tender. At the same time, the liquid reduces down to a concentrated, jammy consistency—not unlike the fancy glazes from days of yore, but with a lot less fussing.

coconut milk lede

Use less liquidAll short ribs benefit from a long cook time to transform their tough muscle fibers to shreddable, juicy meat. When you slow-roast, the heat level stays low and gentle, but you don’t need to submerge the meat like you would for a braise. In fact, the amount of liquid —a single can of coconut milk—amounts to a mere puddle in the bottom of the pan. It throws off enough steam to keep the ribs hydrated and mingles with the meat juices to create a (gobsmackingly good) concentrated pan sauce.

Skip the searingBecause the ribs are mostly exposed to the dry heat of the oven, you don’t need to sear them before cooking. (When you make a braise, you could easily spend 20 minutes browning the meat before adding any other ingredients). These ribs spend between five and six hours in the oven, which is plenty of time to let them gradually take on color as their surface is transformed into a chewy bark.

Load up on aromaticsBeef rendang was Morocco’s inspiration for the flavors in this dish, and instead of hinting at it, he went big. For just 13.5 ounces of coconut milk, there’s two whole lemongrass stalks, shallots, garlic, a couple of chiles, a hunk of ginger, and curry powder. As the liquid reduces, the aromatics slowly brown and their essences get bolder. At the same time, any sharp edges are softened by the natural sweetness of the coconut milk and the fats rendering from the ribs.

Sass up the endingWhen I think about those 4-star short ribs, the demi-glace consistency of the pan sauce is what sticks with me—it was so thick, it stuck to the ribs and the dinner plate, too. At the end of the slow-roast, though, you have fall-apart meat with a little chew to it, and a jammy pan sauce rife with tangy aromatics. The flourishy finish is the coconut gremolata that goes on top—a toss-together mix of toasted coconut flakes, fresh lime juice, and fresh cilantro.

It’s oven season: Time to throw a bunch of ribs in a pan and find out if I’m telling the truth.

Get the recipe:

Short Ribs Slow-Roasted in Coconut Milk

https://www.bonappetit.com/story/slow-roasting-better-than-braising

Cooking with Wine: Can You Use the Really Cheap Stuff, or Nah?

I love cooking with wine. But whenever a recipe calls for wine, I’m confronted with an inevitable internal debate. It happens every single time. This is how it goes:

Me: Oh, we need to add wine to this recipe.

Also Me: Cool, let’s look at what we have.

Me (opening fridge): Well, we have this bottle of really cheap wine that’s been sitting open in this fridge for two weeks. That will work, right? I’m not going to drink it, so we can just use it and be budget conscious and everything will be great, right?

Also Me: Ummm, I don’t know dude. Isn’t that bottle of wine kind of gnarly at this point?

Me: Yeah, probably. Good call. So we can just run out and grab cheap wine, right? Like a three dollar bottle? And use that?

Also Me: But isn’t that also pretty gnarly? Three dollars for a bottle of wine? What’s even in that stuff? What about that decent bottle of wine you have on the counter over there. I’m sure that would be great!

Me: Yeah, but I kinda wanted to drink that…not pour it into my Dutch oven.

Beef and Bacon Stew

That’s how it goes, without fail, and now, I’m writing this article to remind myself that there is a winner in this debate. There is a correct answer. Also Me was right: The cheapest wine available shouldn’t be your first choice when it comes to braising short ribs or adding flavor to scampi.

I obviously get the appeal of that Two Buck Chuck. It’s affordable. It’s there. It might already be open. Why would you open another bottle of perfectly good wine when you could just use what’s around? In short, it’s because bad wine will make good food taste bad.

When you cook with wine, you’re burning off the alcohol to get rid of that sharp flavor (and so your pasta doesn’t get you buzzed). But the rest of the flavors will remain intact, which means that if you’re using an old, oxidized bottle of not-delicious wine, all your food will taste like, well, an old, oxidized bottle of not-delicious wine. The flavors will not be pleasant, and that’s something that I can’t get down with. It’s a sure-fire way to make sure your food falls short of its potential.

Basically Beef Bacon Stew 01

If your sauce is mostly wine, don’t use something you wouldn’t drink a glass of.

Especially if you’re using high-quality meat or seafood or organic vegetables in your dinner. That whole thing about not putting a bumper sticker on a Ferrari? Yeah, same thing here. Spending money on responsibly-farmed meat and produce is something we should all be doing, but pouring cheap-o wine on top of those ingredients is doing them a disservice.

I’m not saying that you have to go and buy an expensive bottle of wine every time you have meat to braise. Or to open the bottle you’ve been saving for your birthday. I certainly can’t afford that. What I’m saying is that you shouldn’t use the swill. When you open a bottle of wine to cook with, just pick one that you’d want to drink a glass of, and feel good about using the rest for whatever you’re making.

And that glass you drink is crucial, because it will give you an idea of what your food is going to taste like. Was the wine acidic? Your food will probably taste more acidic. Was it tannic? That bitterness will show up in your sauce. Sweet? Fruity? Earthy? All those flavors will come through in your dish. That glass you drink while cooking is nice to relax with, but it’s also a barometer, telling you what other flavors and seasonings your food will need.

At the end of the day, you should buy the best wine you can afford to cook with. Maybe it’s organic. Maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s $7.00 a bottle. Maybe it’s $12.00. But you should always keep the quality of the bottle you’re using in mind, so when you get into an internal debate, you can emerge the undisputed winner.

Make some wine-braised beef and see for yourself:

Basically-Beef-Bacon-Stew-04.jpg

https://www.bonappetit.com/story/cooking-with-wine-can-you-use-cheap-stuff

The Simplehuman Dish Rack Makes Your Life Look Less Messy Than It Really Is

It’s Get Organized week! Over the next few days, we’ll be highlighting the products and methods we use in, out, and around the kitchen to get our lives together.

The first question people ask me when they walk into my kitchen is, “Where did you get that dish rack?” It is definitely the biggest thing in my kitchen, but no matter how many dishes are piled inside of it, my simplehuman dish rack looks neatly organized like it’s part of a stock photoshoot. Plates and bowls are shingled in their designated spaces along the back, frying pans line up in the middle, glasses and mugs hang securely off the side, and sharp knives stay handle-side up in wooden slots. And even with all of that, there’s still room for items like a mandoline, clean leftover storage containers, and a cutting board without hitting capacity.

For most of my adult life, I had the standard, cheap plastic dish drying rack that I had to replace at least once a year because it got mildewy, moldy, or cracked in half. Then a few years ago, I decided to splurge on the simplehuman dish rack I eyed at Bed Bath & Beyond at least six times before committing. It was stainless steel and shining in the aisle, and since I hand wash all of my dishes (dishwashers are unicorns in budget-friendly New York City apartments) I needed space to dry them all. I bought the $80 dish rack with a 20 percent off coupon, registered it for its five-year warranty, and have zero regrets.

But even if you have a dishwasher, I highly recommend getting this larger rack (19.8″W x 17.7″L x 13.3″H), because you’ll inevitably have to hand-wash things like your Dutch oven, fragile ceramics, and wine glasses. It’s literally thought of everything: The drip tray is expandable and can slide to the left or the right of the rack. There’s a swivel spout that looks like a water slide so you can aim residual water right into the sink (you can put the rack on either side of the sink this way). The wine glass rack can hang even XXL wine glasses upside down by the base of the stem. Oh, and there’s an anti-residue coating on the plastic tray so water spreads and dries more quickly, making sure there’s no gnarly build-up or weird smells coming from your rack. To be honest, I haven’t cleaned it in the nearly two years that I’ve owned it… and it looks almost as good as new. I wipe the outside down when I clean, but it has a fingerprint-proof, rust-proof finish so I don’t have to do much.

As anyone whose come to my house and casually mentioned the piece now well knows, this is the Cadillac of dish racks. But if you think it’s too big for your kitchen, simplehuman also makes a compact version (11.9″W x 15″L x 8.9″H) that is slightly smaller and $30 cheaper, but I say go big or go home. It’s an investment in the illusion that you have your life together, and impressing people is priceless.

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If You Aren’t Putting Toppings on Your Soup, Are You Really Living?

Soup is delicious and comforting, but it’s not known for being exciting. So often, soup recipes end up feeling like a thrown-together meal of meat, vegetables, beans, noodles, all hanging out in a hot tub of broth. (That sounds like a weird episode of The Bachelor.) But with a few toppings and swirl-ins, it can be zhuzhed up into a beautiful, extra flavorful bowl that is ready for the spotlight, transforming in front of your eyes like Mia Thermopolis in The Princess Diaries.

Black Bean Soup with Chile-Lime Crema

But where do you start? There are a handful of categories that you can pull from: crunchy, creamy, rich, or fresh and herby—or all four. Take our new black bean soup recipe, for example. We topped that with a handful of Fritos corn chips, a dollop of chile-lime crema, diced avocado, red onion, and cilantro. Maybe that was overachieving, but just look at it. It is a whole lot more appetizing than a bowl of murky black beans, and now all those flavors can dance on your tastebuds as if you’re having a full-on Taco Tuesday in one bowl of soup.

With that beautiful watercolor portrait of fully-loaded black bean soup in mind, here are our pillars of soup toppings, with some ideas to soup up your soup night.

Crunchy

We’ve already discussed Fritos, but any tortilla chip will do, especially for bean soups or, well, tortilla soup. Crushed up potato chips on top of potato soup would be a potato inception, corn nuts could complement a corn chowder, or good ol’ crackers (oyster, buttery Ritz, saltines) are a good standby. Some spiced nuts (like these sambal cashews!) or toasted breacrumbs would be nice on a creamy soup, or even some crispy grains like buckwheat on top of cauliflower soup. To take things to the next level, you could make bacon croutons for your split pea soup, cheesy toast on French onion soup, or grilled cheese croutons for tomato soup.

rent week squash soup single

Photo by Alex Lau

Chives, Greek yogurt, and olive oil top this easy squash soup.

Creamy

A good swirl of yogurt, sour cream, or creme fraiche will make any soup look more mesmerizing and appetizing, and add a contrasting tangy flavor. We like yogurt on top of coconut lentil soup and simple squash soup to keep them from being just a big spoonful of pureed veg.

Rich

You may argue that something creamy is rich, but this is more about a nice finishing note like a drizzle of good olive oil, chunks of avocado, or a hefty sprinkle of Parmesan cheese on low-commitment wedding soup (that gets panko on top for extra crunch). Sometimes you need a little extra decadence. And though this is a very herby idea—more on that below—a dollop of pesto has a few categories in one, with nuts, herbs, garlic, and cheese packed in one flavor bomb.

italian wedding soup

Photo by Chelsie Craig

Ooooh, look at those breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese hanging out on low-commitment wedding soup.

Fresh and Herby

This can be a squeeze of lemon or lime to brighten up a bowl, or making it rain herbs like chives, scallions, cilantro, parsley, or dill. We’ve also used fennel fronds (which look like dill but are more vegetal in flavor) for a subtle flavor and pop of green, or finely chopped shallot or red onion when you want a little more of a contrasting bite. For a little spice, try infusing chiles into oil and drizzling on top. There is no limit to the amount of toppings you can put on your soup—you just might need a bigger bowl if you go too hard.

About that bean soup:

Basically-Black-Bean-Soup-01.jpg

In Kentucky, Where the Future Really is Female

“Hot, behind!” Jen Rock yells. She’s carrying a very large pot of tomato gravy. The warning goes up like an emergency flare to her fellow chefs crammed in one of New York City’s most hallowed (and most claustrophobic) kitchens: the James Beard House.

The chefs squish closer to their stations to give Rock room. “This calms me down,” she says to me as she wipes tomato gravy puddles from the countertop. “Close proximity, I’m used to. The stressful part was making sure that everyone got here.”

That’s because tonight is the graduation ceremony for Rock and the group of sous-chefs, high school culinary teachers, and chef de cuisines gathered together in this kitchen. Just the day before, they all drove up from Kentucky in small sedans packed with boxes of prepped ingredients for the climactic moment ending their time as the first round of mentees under the LEE Initiative.

lee initiative jen rock 5

David Chow / Courtesy of the James Beard Foundation

Rock’s take on pork and beans for the James Beard House dinner

“How do you respond to the #MeToo movement in a way that’s more than a reactionary thing?” Edward Lee poses to me over the phone, about a week before the dinner.

After news of sexual harassment allegations against Mario Batali, John Besh, and Ken Friedman about a year ago, Lee, the chef behind 610 Magnolia in Louisville, and 610’s general manager, Lindsey Ofcacek, reflected on their own experiences working in restaurants. “I have been in the industry my whole life, and I’ve always believed there is more good than bad,” Lee says. Part of that good, he recognized, were the female chefs leading beyond the kitchen.

Their conversations led to the formation of the LEE Initiative, a week-long mentorship program that pairs five Kentucky-based cooks with a respected chef from restaurants around the country. The goal is to give rising local talents a chance to shadow a mentor and gain exposure to the industry from multiple angles—from meetings with accountants to social media management to the leadership skills necessary to run a kitchen. Funds raised from sponsors (Maker’s Mark) and private donors (including Lee) go toward paying for each mentee’s time off from work. This year’s applicant pool reached to 200 candidates. The winning five were paired with mentors Anne Quatrano of Star Provisions in Atlanta, Katie Button of Cúrate in Asheville, Brooke Williamson of Hudson House in Redondo Beach, Sarah Grueneberg of Monteverde Restaurant & Pastificio in Chicago, and Jenn Louis of now-closed Ray in Portland, Oregon.

“We wanted to do something smaller and quieter but something we thought could last for years and create change,” Lee says. “It was really Lindsey’s idea.”

Ofcacek started her career as a line cook, then eventually moved to the front of the house as a general manager and sommelier. Even though she loved her job, Ofcacek thought this was only temporary—she had two small children at that time and couldn’t see how she could meet the demands of running a restaurant while also taking care of them. Then in Louisville, she was hired by chef Annie Pettry of Decca, where maternity leave, nursing in meetings, and strict sexual harassment policies are the norm. She realized she could make it work.

When she joined the 610 team about a year and a half later, she brought with her practices passed on from Pettry: ask questions, take care of your staff as much as you do your guests, and don’t be afraid to change the whole system if it’s not working for everyone. Now she’s extending these mantras to the LEE Initiative as executive director.

“I just thought about how there are lot of women on the bottom of management and not the top. That’s because if you’re treated like garbage during your first job in a restaurant, you’ll leave,” Ofcacek explains to me over the phone. “We wanted to be an incubator for more women to push through and stay in this industry.”

lee initiative jen rock 2

Photo by Chelsie Craig

Ofcacek and Lee with the first class of LEE Initiative mentees

Back at the Beard House, the mentees work together seamlessly. It’s the first time they’re cooking dinner as a team and, for some, it’s the first time they’ve cooked in a kitchen without men. “It’s quieter,” one of the mentees mentions. “Less competitive,” another adds. Then Rock says what all the mentees are thinking: “It feels like a level playing field.”

“I stumbled across the call for applicants on social media, and I remember thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, this is me. My name is all over it,’” Rock tells me. “Then in typical Jen Rock fashion, I waited until the very last moment to turn in my application to Lindsey.”

She lets out a husky laugh. Rock is a petite woman, dressed in all black, with short, curly hair that seems to defy gravity, and Doc Martens on her feet. Her black, rectangular glasses continually slide down her nose, and she’s mastered a kind of choreography to get them back in place without missing a beat.

Rock got into cooking as a way to financially support different career paths she thought she might take—theology school, HIV prevention non-profit work, etc. “There’s always been a little activist inside of me,” she says. But it wasn’t until she started cooking privately for a family that she realized cooking could be a career. So, when she and her family decided to return to Louisville three years ago, Rock landed at Gralehaus, starting off as a part-time line cook/dishwasher and working her way up to chef de cuisine alongside chef Andy Myers—a position she never dreamed of having.

She detailed what happened next in her application to LEE Initiative: Mental illness changed her wife, and she became emotionally and physically abusive toward Rock. Then, her wife left her. Devastated, Rock sought out therapy at the Center for Women & Families in Louisville. She poured herself into her work.

“I lost my whole world, and I found myself a domestic violence survivor,” Rock says. “I could hardly get up for myself everyday, but, Gralehaus, that was the one good place. It just helped me pull myself up, get through it, and focus on something else.”

When she was paired with Jenn Louis for her LEE Initiative mentorship earlier this spring, she had no idea the two would connect over this issue. Louis has written about her own experience of surviving domestic abuse. From her, Rock honed her knife skills and learned how to better communicate with front-of-house staff. But the thing that’s stayed with her the most was how Louis was able to lead in the midst of intense personal struggle. It made Rock realize, “I can do that too.”

“My time with Jenn was like a window into where my potential lies,” Rock says of the confidence she gained.” This opportunity [with the LEE Initiative] to take risks, do something for myself, take credit for a dish at the James Beard House—that’s amazing.”

Lee and Ofcacek are already planning the next class of the LEE Initiative for 2019. A new crop of chefs have already approached them to volunteer as mentors. They’ll stick to Kentucky, but hope to expand the program to more cities in the future. But for now, the two aren’t making any drastic changes. They plan to do a thorough review of what worked, what didn’t, and what they could do better, then get started on fundraising.

“I personally don’t think change happens in one sweeping motion: It happens because a lot of people do millions of small good deeds,” Lee says. “And over time, they drive momentum.”

lee initiative jen rock 1

Photo by Chelsie Craig

Rock at the Beard House

As the clock ticks down to 7 p.m., the 70 or so guests shuffle to find their seats at the Beard House as Rock and the chefs scramble to plate each other’s dishes. After the whirlwind of a meal, Lee calls the mentees up from the kitchen to introduce them to the audience.

“They were scared s**tless downstairs,” Lee says into a microphone, getting a few laughs from the crowd. “They are the future of Kentucky cuisine. They are here to impress you but also to push themselves more than they ever have before.”

Lee puts down the mic, and the diners applauded the chefs for their dishes, and their time in the program. Rock takes her certificate that says she officially cooked at the Beard House. She lingers for a moment to bask in the pride and confidence she’s learned to embrace. She beams, and pushes up her glasses one more time.