by Bruce Aidells with Anne-Marie Ramo
photos by Luca Trovato
Even if you don’t know who Bruce Aidells is, surely you’ve see packages of Aidells Sausage in the grocery store. He started that company in 1983 and although the only association left with the company is his name on the door, the backstory is worth telling… I first saw it in Bruce Aidells’ Complete Sausage Cookbook.
Aidells earned a Ph. D. in biology at UC-Santa Cruz and subsequently worked as a cancer researcher in London. He says “I first started making sausages while I was living in London… and trying to convince myself that the traditional British banger was made from anything other than sawdust, salt, and grease. I’d been eating sausage all my life−from traditional, garlicky Jewish salami and frankfurters to more exotic types…” So he bought a cookbook and a small electric grinder, began making his own. It was the birth of an empire.
I was fortunate to meet Bruce at an IACP conference in Portland. His personality is as grand as he is but what the culinary community benefits from are his smarts and ability to educate us regarding meat.
The Great Meat Cookbook: Everything You Need to Know to Buy and Cook Today’s Meat is a virtual textbook. Each chapter (beef, pork, sausages/pates/cured meats, lamb and goat, and veal) begins with an explanation of terms like grass-fed and natural beef−heirloom, pasture-raised, natural pork−grain finished lamb, etc. In addition there is information on How to Buy, What to Look For, Storing, and Thawing. Then each cut of meat is explained i.e. what is cut from the rib, the loin, the shoulder, the leg and so on. The amount of information is awesome. Like I said: he’s an educator.
If you’ve hung in there and learned all of that, your reward is a huge variety of tasty, rich recipes, e.g., Tandoori Lamb Shoulder Chops, Grilled Scallions Wrapped in Pork Belly, New Orleans Veal Grillades with Cheesy Grits, Braised Beef Steak with Tequila, Tomato, and Orange (salivating yet?). Aidells has interwoven creative ethnic recipes with his better versions of old standbys like rump roast, grilled ribeye, pork tenderloin and lamb shank.
John T. Edge’s remark rings true: “Bruce is our nation’s most pleasantly loquacious and intellectually curious meat man.” As for me, I think Bruce Aidells and his wife Nancy Oakes (chef/owner of Boulevard Restaurant in San Francisco) must throw a helluva dinner party.
I didn’t mention that each recipe has “category” noted. The following recipe is under the heading “Fit for Company.”
Grill-Braised Vietnamese Short Ribs With Sweet Vinegar Glaze
(photo © by Luca Trovato)
Five-spice powder, a Chinese flavoring, is also popular in Vietnamese cooking. Star anise, which gives five-spice powder its characteristic licorice flavor, is also used whole in this braise.
For the five-spice rub
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
1 tablespoon mild chile powder, such as New Mexico or California, or sweet Hungarian paprika
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
8 flanken-style beef short ribs (about 4 pounds)
2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 cups chopped onions
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
3 cups homemade beef stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
1/2 cup plus 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 whole star anise
1/2 pound thick fresh Asian rice noodles or cooked dried linguine
For the garnish
2 cups bean sprouts
Thinly sliced scallions
Fresh cilantro sprigs
Make the rub
1. Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and sprinkle generously all over the ribs. For the best flavor, place the ribs on a platter, wrap in plastic wrap, and let rest for at least 2 hours at room temperature, or refrigerate overnight.
2. Set up a gas grill for indirect cooking. Sear the ribs over medium-high heat for 1 to 2 minutes per side, turning, until all sides are nicely browned but not charred. Set aside. Once the ribs are cool enough to handle, tie the meat to the bones with butcher’s twine.
3. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat on the stovetop. When it is hot, add the oil. Add the onions and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, for 1 minute more. Add the stock, fish sauce, 1/4 cup of the rice vinegar, the soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of the brown sugar, and the star anise and bring to a boil. Add the short ribs.
4 Place the pot over the area of the grill with no fire. Cover the pot, close the grill lid, and cook for 30 minutes. (If your grill has a thermometer, it should read about 350°F.) Check, and if all the ribs are not submerged in the simmering liquid, move them around so that the uncovered ones spend time in the liquid. Cover the pot and adjust the heat if necessary to maintain a slow simmer. Check again 30 minutes later, move the ribs around if necessary, and cover the pot. After another 30 minutes, check the ribs for tenderness. You should just be able to pierce them with a fork, but they should not be falling apart. If not tender enough, continue to cook, covered, checking every 15 minutes. Remove the ribs and set aside.
5. Degrease the sauce and taste: It should have a nice rich flavor. If it is too thin, return the sauce to direct heat and reduce until flavorful. Set the pot aside. (At this point, you can cover and refrigerate the sauce and meat overnight.)
6. To make the sweet vinegar glaze, pour 1 cup of the sauce into a small saucepan and stir in the remaining 2 teaspoons rice vinegar and 2 tablespoons brown sugar. Place over high heat and boil the glaze until it becomes syrupy, about 5 minutes. Brush the glaze over one side of each rib and place the ribs on the grill over medium-high heat. Grill until the glaze begins to bubble and darken slightly. Turn the ribs and brush with the glaze. Continue to brush and glaze, turning frequently, until all sides are nicely glazed. Transfer the ribs to a warm pan or platter and drizzle the remaining glaze over them.
7. Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil. Cook the noodles for 3 to 5 minutes, or until tender; drain. To serve, divide the noodles among four large shallow soup bowls. Ladle over the sauce. Mound the bean sprouts over the top. Remove any remaining twine from the ribs and place 2 ribs, and any juices, on top of the noodles in each bowl. Sprinkle with scallions and a few sprigs of cilantro.
Alternative Cuts: Boneless short ribs. English-cut short ribs. Any boneless chuck roast, cut into 3-inch chunks; beef country-style ribs; or brisket, cut into 3-inch chunks. Beef shank or oxtails (increase the cooking time by at least 1 hour).
• This recipe is a more concentrated version of the classic Vietnamese soup pho. To turn it into pho, use 6 cups chicken stock and 1/4 cup fish sauce and don’t reduce the sauce. To serve 8, allow 1 short rib per person.
• Serve the more concentrated dish one night, then add stock and serve as a soup another day for lunch.