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BY TOM YATES

Even a frenzied cook sometimes needs calm in the kitchen. Long-braised short ribs provide the languid peace I crave.

Last Valentine’s Day, I wanted to try something a little different from the standard red wine and beef stock braise. I love experimenting. Using the same method for red wine braised short ribs with celery, carrots, onions, garlic, and canned San Marzano tomatoes, I simply replaced those ingredients with white wine, chicken stock, parsnips, leeks, fresh fennel, and fresh yellow tomatoes.

I seasoned, floured and browned the short ribs in a large dutch oven before removing them to a plate. I dropped cleaned sliced leeks, sliced fennel, diced tomato, smashed garlic, peeled parsnips, and peeled carrots into the hot oil to soften without color. When the vegetables were tender, I deglazed the pot with 1/2 bottle of chardonnay and 2 cups of chicken stock. When the braising liquid came to a boil, I added the short ribs, 2 bay leaves, fresh parsley stems, carrot fronds, salt, and pepper. I covered the dutch oven and slid it into a low 300-degree oven to braise for four hours, checking it periodically to determine if I needed to  add more wine and stock.

As I lounged on the couch all day, the short ribs practically cooked themselves. Easy. After three hours, I removed the spent carrots and parsnips, replacing them with fresh ones. Back into the oven it went for another hour. The house smelled amazing.

To bump up the Valentine’s Day factor, I decided to serve the short ribs over lobster risotto.  The prep was fairly simple. After dicing a roma tomato and small shallot, I split a large lobster tail, brushed the flesh with olive oil, and par-cooked it on a very hot grill pan until just underdone. After pulling it from the pan, I removed the tail meat, diced it into bite sized pieces, and set it aside.

Risotto waits for no one. When it’s finished and hot, you eat it. Period.

I usually don’t fall prey to dishes with requirements, but risotto is a different beast. While the short ribs bubbled away, we exchanged Valentine’s chocolates, cards and gifts. Thirty minutes before we decided to dine, I started the risotto.

While two cups of chicken stock simmered with a pinch of saffron in a stock pot on a back burner of the stove, I pulled a stool to edge of the stove and made the risotto. I sauteed one cup of arborio rice in olive oil with minced shallots until well coated before deglazing with white wine. When the wine reduced by half, I added chicken stock 1/2 cup at a time, allowing the rice to absorb the stock between additions. The slow absorption of the stock slowly releases the starches in the rice, insuring creamy risotto.

Midway through, I tossed the diced tomatoes into the mix to soften, break down, permeate the rice. When the risotto was creamy with a hint of a bite, I added the sliced lobster meat to cook through, adding further flavor to the dish.

Before plating, I swirled 4 ounces of Crottin Montchevre goat cheese into the risotto, letting it melt into the creamy rice. I pulled the short ribs from their steam bath and set them aside while I finished the sauce like a classic blanquette de veau. I tempered 2 egg yolks with 1/2 cup of the warm sauce before slowly incorporating it back into the mix to further thicken and enrich the melted leek,  fennel, garlic, parsnip, carrot, chicken stock, and white wine braised blanket of goodness.

The short ribs were so tender from the long braise. The sweetness from the vegetables enhanced their unctuousness, while the egg yolk rich sauce completely enveloped them with ribbons of leek and soft anise-toned fennel. The soft melted creamy rice was punctuated with briny sweet al dente lobster bites, undertones of sweet tomato, savory saffron and  tangy fresh chevre. Perfect in every possible way.

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