My culinary career, such as it ever was or is, began with a gig flipping hamburgers at Jack in the Box. I remember fondly playing Frisbee with the frozen hamburger disks in the parking lot behind the “restaurant,” deftly dodging the dumpster and cars to make catches. I learned much from that experience, not all of which can be summarized by the words “don’t eat fast food” and “spent oil leaves a bad taste on French fries.” Some of what I learned was actually positive.
I learned, for example, that it is nearly as easy to work fast as slow in the kitchen. And I learned that presentation counts. But, in all honesty, most of what I learned from that phase of my life – especially seen from the safe distance of over half a lifetime — was how wrong that place was. That which it stands for, with few exceptions, is that which I stand against.
And much of it can be summarized by the phrase “fast food sucks.” By “fast food” I do not necessarily mean “food that can be obtained quickly and cheaply.” The street foods in most places on this planet can be obtained every bit as cheaply and likely far less expensively than your average hamburger at Jack in the Box or McDonalds. Whether its carne asada tacos from a street cart in Mexico City or döner kebab (think really good gyros) or midye dolmasi (stuffed mussels) beside the Bospherus in Istanbul, its usually a pretty good bet that street food is great. And its fast. And its cheap. And it usually bears a very real connection to the earth, to the culture, and to the rhythms of life. It is, in short, both fast food and slow food. You may be able to obtain it quickly, but it is not a product of massive agri-business, processing plants and Madison Avenue advertising. And, importantly, it might not be the same in winter as it is in summer.
Frankly, much of what I consider “right” in food is embodied in the Slow Food Movement.
It is this last factor – in some ways the result of it – that may be the most easily understood aspect of the Slow Food movement. We all intuitively know that when the weather turns nippy we are more interested in a braised dish than a fresh garden salad. Do you really want an Insalata Caprese in the middle of winter? Winter tomatoes suck worse than the Jack in the Box hamburgers and perhaps as much as the spent-oil fries. And yet, with rare promotional exceptions, the menu at Wendy’s is the same in February as it is in August and certainly not different because of the agricultural seasons.
Slow Food is the opposite of that. It demands a connection between the end-consumer and the raw material. It says that food is more than just human fuel. It demands something more than going through a drive-thru window (or its equivalent). It demands that the end-consumer invest something in the meal, be it foraging, growing some of the ingredients or at least meaningfully participating in the preparation of a meal that connects us to our world.
NB. It may seem odd – indeed at odds with the essence of this article – that I am posting it on May 31. It is. I wrote this article back in late February and early March and mistakenly believed that I had already posted it. I have several upcoming articles for which this post was an essential table-setter. So, my apologies for not having posted this in March when the slow-cooked short ribs would have been more appropriate and the winter vegetables were what was in season. I’ll probably link back to this next winter.
Braised Short Ribs with Winter Vegetables
- 1 racks beef short ribs (about 4 pounds), cut into individual ribs
- 2 tablespoon grapeseed or canola oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2 carrots, diced
- 2 parsnips, diced
- 1 rutabaga, diced
- 1 turnip, diced
- 2 small beets, diced
- 6 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 cups beef stock
- 2 cups good quality red wine
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Sear the Short Ribs. Season the short ribs with the salt and pepper. Put half the canola oil in a heavy braising pot over high heat. When the pan and the oil are hot add the short ribs and sear well on all surfaces. When well seared remove the short ribs from the pan.
- Caramelize the Vegetables. Wipe the pot clean and reduce the heat to medium. Add the other tablespoon of canola oil and the onion and cook until translucent. Add the remaining vegetables and cook until lightly caramelized.
- Braise the Short Ribs. Return the short ribs to the pan and add the veal stock and wine. Add 2 of the thyme sprigs, bring the pot to a boil and then immediately reduce the heat and simmer for 1 ½ to 2 hours until the short ribs are extremely tender.
- Finish the Dish. Separate the meat, the vegetables and the braising liquid. Cover the meat and the vegetables in aluminum foil to keep warm. Return the braising liquid to the pan, add the tomato paste, balsamic vinegar and reduce by half. Serve drizzled with the sauce with Garlic and Chive Mashed Potatoes, over Pappardelle pasta noodles, or with rice. Garnish with the remaining thyme sprigs.