THE SMOKE AND THE FURY
I’ve decided that I like the taste of fire.
Actually, I think I decided that a long time ago. But only recently have I come to think of it that way—I like rustic smokiness, I like crispy charred burned bits, I like the deep brownish-black sear from just scorching the hell out of something. I like all the things that cooking over a wood fire (wood, not just charcoal and definitely not gas) does to the food I like to eat. There’s something very pleasing, in a directly primal sense, in tasting the resinous traces of the fuel that turned your food from something raw into something cooked.
It’s far from the most refined way of cooking (at least the way I tend to do it) but really, there are times when refinement has no place at my table. There are times when I want my flavors a little rough around the edges. When I want to taste the fire that my food was cooked in, the hints of char that it left behind, and the three or four ingredients that I added to make a sustainable meal around a scorched chunk of meat.
This dish is perfect to fit that bill: fire, scorched chunk of meat and about 5 ingredients. It occurred to me on a cold day when I was thinking about braising. I was also thinking about how enjoyable winter grilling can be. I wanted to combine the two and get the best of each—the comforting slow depth of something tasty and braised and the elemental smell and taste of fire from something grilled or smoked. What I came up with is basically beef in an extremely simple braise with the added step of searing the meat over a wood grill rather than in the braising pan. The result is something rich, deeply flavored, lightly smoky and perfectly simple. It tastes like a friendly, comforting version of fire, one you might sit next to in your living room. Make it on a Sunday morning and enjoy the best football food you’ve had in a long, long time.
Smoked, tomato braised short ribs with pappardelle
I really love using canned tomatoes as a braising medium. They provide a sturdy, deep backbone to nearly any cut of meat without a lot of fussiness. And they have the added bonus of becoming an outstanding sauce for a little pasta once your braising is done. The goat cheese provides a bright, fresh counterplay to the fire and smoke.
3lbs beef short ribs or other braise-friendly cut
Bacon fat or rendered pork fat
1 28oz can San Marzano tomatoes
3 smashed cloves of garlic
Pappardelle or other pasta (homemade is always best but store bought works if you’re feeling lazy, which I was)
Start a wood fire in your grill. Aggressively season your short ribs and rub them in the fat. Before the wood burns down to coals, grill the short ribs close to the flame and sear on all sides. Move them the smoke box, or to a very cool place on your grill to smoke for 30 minutes or so.
Preheat your oven to 300. In a braising pan crush your tomatoes and add the liquid from the can. Throw in your smashed garlic and a large branch of basil. Add the short ribs, nestling them into the sauce. Bring the sauce to a simmer and cover the pan, placing it in the oven. Braise for a good 3 hours until the fat on the short ribs has rendered and softened and they are pulling easily off the bone.
Boil a kettle of water and cook the pasta. Pull the short ribs out of the braising liquid, taste and season it, then toss the pasta with it. Remove the bones from the short ribs, slice and serve on top of the pasta. Sprinkle with goat cheese. Eat.