Food Alone: Chocolate-Ancho Chili Chuck Roast


Adapted from a recipe in Gourmet magazine, March 2009 (not yet available on-line as of this post).

Seventy-five pounds of cut-and-wrapped frozen pork, as I mentioned here, are arriving next weekend. The job of creating space in my freezer is proceeding apace. About 1 1/2 quarts of chicken broth, four pint-sized tubs of tomato sauce, four packages of lamb chops, two half-gallon bags of frozen cubes of Meyer lemon juice, and about four long slabs of chuck roast must give way before then to the bundles of pig. I’m working as fast as I can. Last night, I decided to take a rub for flank steak that I saw in the latest Gourmet and turn it into a braise.

Chocolate and chilies together have recently joined forces to form a culinary meme. One or two friends have mentioned to me that they now add cocoa powder to beef stews. Boutique chocolates often have the flavor of hot chilies. It’s as if everyone is trying to achieve the Mexican mole effect without the effort. I’m all for it. The combination of spices that the Gourmet recipes calls for struck me as a promising alternative to making a mole sauce from scratch.

Here’s what I did…

1/3 – 1/2 lb piece of chuck roast

1 Tblsp ancho chili powder (according to Diane Kennedy, ancho chilies are sometimes called pasillas, which is the name I found it under in a Latino supermarket)

2 tsp unsweetened cocoa (make sure it’s really dark, like Valrhona’s cocoa powder)

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp Kosher salt

1 cup red wine

Parchment paper

Preheat oven to 300 F. I use a deep pyrex pie plate for my single serving braises. Mix together all the spices and rub the piece of chuck roast with most of the spice mixture, depending on how much beef your using.

Cut out a circle of parchment paper that is slightly smaller than the pyrex pie plate.

In a small saucepan, heat the wine until it comes to a full simmer. Immediately pour it around the meat, not on top of it. It should reach a little less than half way up the sides of the beef. Place the parchment circle on top. Put the pyrex in the oven.

Braise the beef for about 3 hours, depending on the amount of beef. Half way through the cooking, turn the beef over to expose the side that’s been touching the wine. If the liquid evaporates too quickly, add more hot wine.

The connective tissues in chuck roasts will dissolve and make the meat more tender. The beef should yield easily to a fork prying it apart when it’s ready.

After you’ve removed the pan from the oven, remove the meat and keep it warm. Spoon off most of the fat and pour into a small saucepan to reduce. I added more wine, a little butter, and reduced it for 5 mins.

What you serve the braised beef with is up to you. I was not happy with the orzo, Israeli coucous, baby garbanzo bean dish I served myself. Nor did polenta strike me as suitable. If you figure something else, let me know.

Tamasin Day-Lewis’s Braised Lamb Shank with Rosemary and Balsamic Vinegar

from Tamasin’s Kitchen Bible, p.169.

Tamasin Day-Lewis belongs to a generation of British cookbook writers that includes very prominently Nigel Slater. Like Nigel, Tamasin writes recipes in a breezy, offhand chatty style, although her recipes comes with a list precisely measured or weighed ingredients and Nigel’s do not. I have one other book of hers, The Art of the Tart, which I grew so fond of that I decided to pick up another of her books when I passed through London in September. She has recently published a big compendium of 1,000 recipes, All You Can Eat, but I decided to take her earlier book mainly on the ground that the new one is in hardcover and expensive and Tamasin’s Kitchen Bible (TKB, from here on out) was in paper and slightly cheaper.

TKB is oddly arranged. A list of the chapters shows that the index will be most useful, because there’s no way I can open it up to, say, the lamb section and leaf through it:

  • Easy Things
  • Simple Skills
  • Frugal Food
  • Christmas Countdown
  • Classic Recipes
  • Foolproof Favorites
  • Serious Skills

Apart from the cookbook’s organization, I like the cookbook and the attitude of its author. In particular, this lambshank recipe struck me as sensible and promising. I’ve made this recipe twice now, although I have not yet eaten the second batch. It’s flexible, pretty straightforward, and the first version was delicious.

Here’s how it appear in TKB:

2 tbsp plain flour

sea salt and black pepper

4 organic lamb shanks

2-3 tbsp olive oil, possibly an extra couple of tbsp

1 tbsp rosemary leaves, chopped

2 large onions, peeled and sliced thinly

6 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped

300 ml/ 10 fl oz white wine

150 ml / 5 lf oz balsamic vinegar

a bouquet of 2 strips of orange peel and a couple of bay leaves tied together with string

Put the flour and seasoning in a re-sealable platic bag. Throw in the shanks, seal the bag and give the shanks a good shake to coat them in the seasoned flour. (That way you don’t end up wearing it.) Shake off the excess flour and remove the meat.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed casserole and brown the shanks on all side over a medium heat. This should be done quickly, a couple of minutes a side until they begin to brown and crust. Scrape up any burnt bits of flour from the bottom of the pan and remove with a slotted spoon. If the pan looks like it needs more oil, add it. Then throw in the rosemary and let them fizz and hiss for a minute. This begins to tenderise them and draw out their astringent scent. Add the thyme, onions and garlic, stir and cook until softened and beginning to turn translucent. Raise the heat and add the wine and vinegar together, bubbling them furiously for a couple of minutes.

Return the shanks and their juice to the pot, lower the heat and add the bouquet tucked into the side and cover the pot with a layer of greaseproof paper and the lid. Simmer very gently for 2-2 1/2 hours, turning the shanks in the chocolate-brown liquor every so often. You may add a little more wine if it looks like the sauce is reducing too much. Serve with champ, a wonderful Irish dish of mashed potato.

My attempt went like this:

The first time I made this I was in a hurry and didn’t prepare all the ingredients before I began. Mistake. I needed to focus my attention on the heat of the oil in which the shanks browned and the minced herbs, garlic, and onion subsequently sauteed. When she calls for medium heat, heed that call. The second time, the transition from browning the meat to sauteeing the herbs without burning the latter went much smoother because I kept the flame to medium and kept my eye on the pan.

Next, the sauce. I jiggled the proportions of wine to balsamic vinegar from the first attempt to the second. The consistency of the sauce was thick, the first time I made it, thanks to the flour on the meat and the balsamic, I believe. The second time, I increased the amount of wine to 12 oz and decreased the vinegar to a little more than 2 oz. The sauce was thinner, but not as sweet as the first, which was what I hoped would happen.

I used two shanks in the first version. It took barely two hours to fall off the bone. The second time I used two shanks and a small rib-in shoulder roast and it took almost 3 hours.

One last change: in the second version I stuck it in the oven at 325 for 2 hours to braise. But I took it out and let it simmer on the stovetop for another half hour or so more.

I mashed a potato with a little butter and milk to eat with it.

What I’d do next time:

I’ll update this on Wednesday after my guests and I eat the second version.

UPDATE Wed Oct 15: To judge from my friends’ responses, the meal was a success. I braised a shoulder roast and two shanks, having adjusted the white wine-balsamic as I noted above. I think the next time I make this — and I’m sure to do it again — I’ll go back to the original proportions and give it one more try. But this makes a good autumnal and winter meal. I feel much encouraged to try other recipes in Tamasin’s book.

Thomas Keller’s Braised Beef with Red Wine

img_9247.jpgfrom Bouchon.

Executing a Thomas Keller recipe well is not for the fiscally faint of heart. A recipe that calls for expensive cuts of beef and homemade veal stock would deter most homecooks, especially those on a budget. Nevertheless, I maintain that Bouchon is a cookbook suited to the homecook who seeks to please guests with unpretentious food. The preparation may reek of pretension, but the goal is to efface the effort before the dish arrives at table. Formality does not belong in the home. Formal home dinners tend to be over-prepared, fussy affairs that position the food, instead of sociability, at the center of the event and make everyone, especially the cook, uncomfortable and unable to live up to expectations. I want my food to make people feel like they are in a home, not in a restaurant. Keller offers a way to impose the high standards he sets in his kitchen on food that ought to make people relaxed, satisfied, and animated. But, for most of us, learning to meet his standards is an on-going education.

Instead of beginning with the long recipe as Keller sets it out on the page, I will go straight to my adaptation. And, with no apologies, I have considerably adapted his recipes. As I observed in my first Keller recipe, he places great emphasis on purity and impurities. The point is to prepare each component of the dish separately in order to make each one distinct in flavor. I am convinced he is correct. Begin the stock four days before you plan to serve this meal and the short ribs 2-3 days before the meal. Believe me, this is a project.

So, here begins a long entry, beginning with the recipe as it appears in the book:

Veal Stock

5 lbs veal bones
4 oz tomato paste
6 oz (1 1/4 cups) carrots cut into 1-inch chunks
8 oz (2 cups) leeks cut into 1-inch chunks, white and light green parts only
4 oz (3/4 c) onion cut into 1-inch chunks
1 head garlic, cut horizontally in half (reserve half for another use) broken into pieces, root ends and excess skin removed
3/4 oz (about 18 sprigs) Italian parsley sprigs
1/4 oz (18 to 20) thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
8 oz (1 1/4 cups) diced tomatoes

Rinse the bones in cold water and place them in a very large stockpot. Fill the pot with cold water, adding at least twice as much water as bones. Slowly bring the water to a simmer; this coagulates the blood proteins and brings other impurities to the surface. Move the bones around from time to time as the liquid comes to a simmer, but do not stir; this would disperse the impurities. Skim off the scum that rises to the surface. As soon as the liquid comes to a simmer, remove the pot from the heat. (If you continue to blanch bones, you will draw out more flavor than necessary.)

Drain the bones in a large colander and rinse with cold water to remove any scum. It is important that the bones be rinsed while they are hot; if they are allowed to cool first, the impurities will cling to the bones and go into your stock.

Thoroughly clean the stockpot and return the bones to it. Add 6 quarts cold water and slowly bring the water to a simmer. This will take 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Skim continuously! (It is easier to skim before the aromatics are added, and the more you skim, the clearer the stock.)

Once the liquid is at a simmer, skim and then stir in the tomato paste. Add the remaining ingredients, bring the liquid back to a simmer, and simmer for 4 hours: Skim, skim, skim. Turn off the heat and allow the stock to rest for 10 minutes.

Strain the stock into a big bowl through a fine-meshed colander. Do not press the solids in the strainer. Return the stock to the cleaned stockpot. Slowly bring to a simmer and simmer until the stock is reduced to 2 quarts. It should have a rich brown color.

Red wine reduction

1 bottle red wine, such as a cabernet sauvignon
1 cup diced onions
1 cup sliced peeled carrots
1 cup sliced leeks, white and light green parts only
1 cup sliced shallots
1 cup sliced button mushrooms
3 thyme sprigs
6 Italian parsley sprigs
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
3 large garlic cloves, skin left on, smashed

Combine all the ingredients in a large heavy ovenproof pot with a lid that will hold the meat in a single, or no more than a double, layer. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the wine has reduced to a glaze. [My gloss on this: I reduced the wine about as far as it would go, but it did not end up with the consistency of a glaze. Once I strain it and it spent the night in the fridge, it appeared more like a glaze. But not at this point.]


2 3/4 lbs boneless short ribs (about 1 inch thick)
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
vegetable, canola or grapeseed oil
1 cup diced yellow onions
2/3 cup sliced peeled carrots
1 1/2 cups sliced leeks, white and light green parts only
2 garlic cloves, skin left on, smashed
3 thyme sprigs
3 italian parsley sprigs
2 bay leaves
About 4 cups Veal Stock [or in a pinch, let’s face it, beef stock]

Trim away excess fat and any silver skin from the short ribs. Cut the meat into pieces approximately 1 1/2 to 2 inches by 1 inch thick.

Line a baking sheet with paper towels. Season all side of the meat with salt and pepper. Heat 1/8 inch of oil in a large sauté pan over high heat. When the oil is hot, add only as many pieces of meat as will fit comfortably in a single layer; do not crowd the pan or the meat will steam rather than brown. Once the meat has browned on the first side, turn it and continue to brown the meat on all sides, about 5 minutes total. Transfer the meat to the paper towel-lined baking sheet. Brown the remaining meat in batches, adding more oil to the pan as necessary.

Preheat oven to 350.

Add the onions, carrots, leeks, garlic, thyme, parsley, and bay leaves to the reduction and toss together. Cut a piece of cheesecloth that is about 4 inches larger than the diameter of the pot. Wet the cheesecloth and wring dry. Place the cloth over the vegetables and fold over the edges to form a “nest” for the meat. (The cheesecloth will allow the liquid to flavor and cook the meat but prevent bits of vegetable and herbs from clinging to it.) Place the short ribs on the cheesecloth and add enough stock to come just to the top of the meat.

It is important that the liquid doesn’t evaporate too quickly. If the pot does not have a tight-fitting lid, cut kitchen parchment to cover the meat under the lid. Bring the liquid to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cover the meat with the parchment lid, if using, then cover the pot with the lid. Place in the oven and reduce the heat to 325. Braise the beef for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until the meat is very tender.

Transfer the meat to an ovenproof pot or container. Remove and discard the cheesecloth. Strain the braising liquid twice through a fine strainer or a medium strainer with a clean dampened tea towel or cheesecloth, straining it the second time into a saucepan. Discard the vegetables. Bring the liquid to a boil, spooning off the fat as it rises to the top. Strain the liquid over the beef. Let it cool, then cover and refrigerate for at least 1 day, or up to 3 days.


8 oz fingerling potatoes, preferably small
1 T kosher salt
1/4 tsp black peppercorns
2 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
2 garlic cloves, skin left on, smashed

If the the potatoes are small (less than 1 ounce each), leave them whole. Otherwise cut them into 1/2-inch thick slices. Place in a large saucepan, along with the salt, peppercorns, thyme, bay leaf, and garlic and add cold water to cover the potatoes by 1 inch. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 to 15 mins, or until the potatoes are tender. Drain the potatoes and transfer to a plate. Discard the seasonings. Once they are cool, slice the whole potatoes lengthwise in half. Set aside.

16 baby carrots
1 T kosher salt
1 tsp black peppercorns
4 thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
2 garlic cloves, skin left on, smashed

Peel the carrots and trim the tops. Cut the carrots lengthwise in half. Place in a saucepan, add the ingredients, and cover with about 1 1/2 inches of water. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the carrots for 4 to 5 mins. Drain the carrots and transfer to a plate to cool. Discard the seasonings.

4 oz slab bacon cut into lardons
32 small button mushrooms, cleaned
2 T unsalted butter
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Crisp the lardons in a frying pan; transfer to paper towel to drain of fat.

Trim away the mushroom stems flush with the caps. Heat the butter in a large skillet over high heat. Add the mushrooms, reduce the heat to medium low, season with salt and pepper to taste, and cook gently, tossing often, until the mushrooms are lightly browned and tender throughout, 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside.

Putting it all together

24 pearl onions, peeled and trimmed
2 T chopped Italian parsley

Preheat oven to 250.

Place the container with the beef in the oven for a few minutes just to liquefy the stock. Remove from the oven and turn the oven up to 400. Carefully remove the pieces of beef to a deep ovenproof sauté pan. Strain the liquid over the beef.

Place the pan in the oven and warm the beef for about 5 mins, basting occasionally with the cooking liquid. Add the potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, and onions and toss gently. Return to the oven for an additional 5 to 10 mins, or until the vegetables and meat are hot.

Meanwhile, rewarm the lardons in a small skilet.

Remove the sauté pan from the oven and gently toss in the parsley. With a slotted spoon, divide the meat and vegetables among serving plates or bowls. Spoon some of the sauce over each serving. Distribute the lardons among the plates. Serve with Dijon mustard, if preferred.

Last thoughts

I was happy with how this dish turned out, although I expected the wine reduction to be more dense. However, the flavors were satisfyingly complex. I scraped off the remaining fat that had congealed after two days in the fridge. When it came time to eat, I served it with the NYT’s Slow-Rise Bread, a salad of greens with a tarragon-dijon vinaigrette, and an apple crumble tart with vanilla ice cream. A meal that is far more complex than a list of its parts would appear.