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Nov 26, 2013
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Wine With…Short Ribs Braised in Ale

Carbonnade Flamande is what the Belgians call their beloved beef braised in ale. Any decent stout, lager or porter works well, or for that matter any flavorful pilsner, but if you substitute Coors or a similar lightweight beer the flavors will be insipid and have a bitter edge. Serve the dish with something soft and absorbent enough to soak up the succulent braising liquid: polenta, buttered noodles, mashed potatoes, risotto or a thick slice of good toasted bread are excellent choices. We like to follow the Belgian tradition of accompanying carbonnade with simple steamed (or boiled) parsley potatoes. A flourish of Italianate gremolata sprinkled over the potatoes may be gilding the lily, or mixing the metaphor, but it does bring an additional layer of lovely flavor to the beefy, beery dish.

Like all such braised meat dishes, the ribs are richer in flavor and less egregiously fatty if they’re made a day or two ahead of time. Those extra hours give them time to more fully absorb the flavors imparted by the braising liquid, and furthermore allow you to lift off and discard the thick layer of fat that has congealed during the overnight stay in the refrigerator.

Beer aficionados could certainly drink the same hearty brew with the dish that was used in the cooking, but one of the things we love about these short ribs is how delectable they are with red wine.

Short Ribs Braised in Ale

Serves 4

About 4 pounds short ribs, cut across the bones into square-shaped pieces
Salt and pepper
1-2 tablespoons mild olive oil
2 medium onions, sliced
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons thyme
red pepper flakes
1 bottle (approximately 2 cups) ale
2 cups chicken stock
about ¼ cup parsley or gremolata (recipe follows)

Trim excess fat off the rib (some recipes call for also removing the silverskin while others advocate leaving it on for adding body and meaty flavor to the sauce; we fall into the latter camp, but it’s a matter of personal preference). Salt and pepper the meat on all sides; the the earlier the better.

In a Dutch oven or other large cooking vessel heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Blotting each rib dry first, brown the ribs in the oil on all three meaty sides, working in batches to not overcrowd the pan (add more oil if necessary). Set the browned meat aside, and pour excess fat out of the pan. Stir the onions into the pan and cook for a few minutes until they begin to soften, then stir in the garlic. Add bay leaves and thyme, plus a dash of red pepper flakes to taste. Add the ale and broth, and simmer for 5 minutes or so.

If you are going to oven-cook the dish, preheat the oven to 350°. Add the meat to the pot (the broth should come up to about ¾ inch from the top of the ribs). Cover the pot and transfer it to the oven. Alternately, you can simmer it on low heat on the stove. Either way, cook for about 2-2½ hours, turning the meat over 2 or 3 times during the cooking period. If you are serving the dish immediately, skim off as much fat as possible from the surface. If you are making it ahead of time remove the meat to a separate container and store overnight in the refrigerator, along with the pot of braising stock. The next day, lift the congealed fat off the top of the stock and return the ribs to the pot. Before serving, reheat for 30-40 minutes. Ladle into serving bowls or dishes, and sprinkle with parsley or gremolata.

Gremolata

About ¼ cup finely minced parsley
1 clove garlic, finely minced
2 teaspoons finely shredded lemon peel

Combine all ingredients. May be made up to several hours ahead.

Carbonnade doesn’t taste so much of beer or ale as of succulent, fall-of-the-bone beef infused with a yeasty, earthy element. Pure comfort food, it’s an ideal dish to serve on a cold, wintry evening, when it will benefit from being paired with an equally succulent red wine. Our tasting revealed that the best matches came in two categories – wines that echoed the dish’s personality with their own earthy flavors and those whose charm came primarily from their rich, dark fruit character. Less successful pairings included wines that either tasted too sweet or felt too light on the palate. Carbonnade is hearty. It needs a wine with heft.

Selection

Approx. Price

Comments

Clos du Val, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

$38

A classic, somewhat old-fashioned Napa Cabernet, displaying more finesse than power, with an enticing hint of herbaceousness in the finish, this quite sophisticated wine matched the depth of flavor of the short ribs. It made for a truly symmetrical match.

Famille Perrin, Vinsobres (Rhône Valley, France) “Les Cornuds” 2011

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)

$22

Showing an earthy, meaty undertone, this southern Rhône red brought out the rustic character of the carbonnade, making the dish seem even more of a source of cold weather comfort. Lighter in body than the other wines we are recommending, it nonetheless has firm tannins, which enabled it to strut its stuff proudly.

Rosemount Estate, McLaren Vale (Australia) Syrah “Balmoral” 2010

(Imported by TWE Imports)

$45

Always a winner, Rosemount’s “Balmoral” is made with 50 to 100 year old vines, and shows the layered depth of flavor that can come from vines of that age. Initially dark and almost brooding, it opened up with exposure to air, and meshed very nicely with the deeply-flavored meat on our plates.

Ventisquero, Maipo Valley (Chile” Carménère “Grey” 2011

(Imported by San Francisco Wine Exchange)

$24

The most powerful wine we are recommending, this Chilean beauty almost shouts for attention, as its primary dark fruit and earthy secondary flavors are truly intense. Other dishes might well be overwhelmed by it, but our short ribs were so succulent and deeply flavored themselves that the match worked well. Still, this is not a wine for the faint of heart or palate.

Yangarra, McLaren Vale (Australia) Grenache “Old Vine” 2011

(Imported by Sovereign Wine Imports)

$32

Fruit-forward and quite supple, this wine was the opposite of the Ventisquero Carménère, being seductive rather than forceful, and taming rather than boosting the power of the dish. Very satisfying, it reminded us that successful food and wine pairings can come in a myriad of different forms.