Saturday, July 13, 2013

Sour Braised Beef with Polenta Fries

Some mornings I spend the entire bus ride to work day dreaming about what to concoct for dinner.  I have taken to carrying a notebook about with me (finally) lest I be hit with an idea unprepared. The inspiration for this dish first came about after an amazing beer dinner at Stout's Pub in Roseville, featuring the skills of chef Daniel Parker and the wonderful ales of Ommegang.  Five courses and several drinks in, we were served an amazingly fork tender mound of meat accompanied by bacon fried potatoes and sweet and sour onions.  The beef had been braised in Curvee Brut to compliment the sour cherry hints in the Three Philosopher's that was paired with the course.  Daniel lamented the lack of tartness to come through in the braising process.  Thus the sweet and sour onions served alongside.  Daniel truly had little to lament.  The dish was the highlight of the dinner for me.

Vamping off that...and out a desire to have a bit of leftover beef for a recipe down the road...I turned to a classic beef carbonnade, but with a much, much more sour beer.  The cooking time can be reduced slightly by cutting the beef down into smaller chunks, but I opted to stick with a full roast.  Look for a cut of meat with a lot of fat marbled throughout.

For the beer, Flanders red and oud bruins are a good place to start. I found myself looking towards the Rodenbach Grand Cru.
 This is a sour I can never seem to get enough of. The result was amazing.  Because of the acidity of the beer, there was no need to add vinegar as many recipe variants recommend.  The sour dissipates to an earthly, slightly tart flavor that perfectly compliments the sweet caramelized onions and rich fat of the bacon.

The cooking process generated far, far more jus than I was anticipating.  But you know what?  After dinner is done, skim the fat off of the remaining juices and transfer it--onions, bacon bits, and all--to the fridge.  The next day, heat it up, ladle it into a ramekin and top with a bit of crusty bread and some Gruyère.  After a quick trip under the broiler, you'll be treated to an amazing twist on French onion soup...

beef carbonnade adapted from chef Charlie Palmer and Saveur
polenta fries adapted from Epicurious

serves 4-6

The Ingredients:
for the beef
3 lb beef chuck roast
salt and pepper
1/4 cup flour
4 Tbsp butter
4 slices of bacon, coarsely chopped
3 yellow onions, thinly sliced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 cup sour beer such as a Flanders red ale
1 cup beef stock
2 Tbsp brown sugar
3 sprigs fresh thyme
3 sprigs fresh parsley
1 bay leaf

for the polenta fries
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup cornmeal
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 Parmesan (optional)
additional salt for sprinkling

The Process:
 Generously season the beef with salt and pepper and dredge in the flour.

 In a large heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, melt 2 Tbsp butter over medium-high heat.  Add the beef and brown, 3-4 minutes per side.  Transfer beef to a plate, cover and keep warm.

Add the bacon to the same pot and cook until most of the fat renders, 6-8 minutes.  Reduce heat to medium-low and add the remaining butter, along with the onions and garlic.  Cook until the onions have caramelized, about 30 minutes (long, low and slow is key).

Add half of the ale to deglaze the bottom of the pan.  Simmer for about 5 minutes or until reduced slightly.    Whisk together remaining beer, broth and sugar.  Return the beef to the pot.  Add the herbs and pour the beer mixture over top.  Bring to a boil, cover tightly, and reduce heat to simmer.  Cook until the beef is tender, about 2 hours.

Slice or shred to serve.

for the polenta fries:
Combine the milk and water in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Once the mixture comes to a simmer, whisk in cornmeal and salt.  Cook the mixture until thick and creamy, about 20 minutes.  Stir in the butter and Parmesan.

Prepare a 9x13 baking dish with a coat of non-stick cooking spray.  Once the polenta has thicken, pour in to prepared dish.  Spread into an even thickness, smoothing the surface out as much as possible.  Cover and chill 30-45 minutes, or until the polenta has set.

Preheat the broiler and place the oven rack 4-6 inches from the heat.

Carefully turn out the polenta onto a large cutting surface.  Cut crosswise into four even rectangles.   Cut each rectangle into 10- 12 even strips.  Line cut polenta onto a lightly oiled baking sheet. Bring the fries with oil and generously sprinkle with salt.

Broil, flipping once, about 10 minutes per side or until evenly browned.

Serve immediately with beef and juices.

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