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Winter Dinner Party 101

Rural Intelligence Food Though the cold is lifting, neither true spring weather nor the new harvest will arrive for a bit, so to make it through these next few muddy and cold weeks, why not give a dinner party?

The shtick in my house (i.e., my husband’s shtick) is that I never make the same thing twice when we’re entertaining. He’s not entirely wrong: I am absolutely in the habit of using guests as guinea pigs. I think the stress of entertaining lifts a bit when I’m engaged by the challenge of cooking something new, and (for better or worse) I don’t worry so much about who sits next to whom or whether the candles look just right. But in the winter, I tend to experiment less. Maybe it’s seasonal lethargy, but I prefer to think it’s because my go-to menu for cold weather dinner parties is so delicious.

I’ve made this menu countless times—for fancy dinners and homey ones—and the response is always the same: ecstatic. The recipes come from an incredible cookbook, Suzanne Goin’s Sunday Suppers at Lucques. Based on the family-style dinners Goin serves every Sunday night at her Los Angeles restaurant Lucques, the menus are complete (fish/vegetarian and meat entrées for each menu) and organized by season; for a cook who’s bold enough to try new ingredients or techniques, there’s a sense of adventure and discovery in preparing every dish.

I’ve changed virtually nothing about this menu—just a couple of tweaks and a shortcut or two. This is a great menu to make ahead (except for the salsa verde, which should be made no earlier than the afternoon of your dinner)  so you only have to reheat the meat and sauté the broccoli rabe at the last minute, which gives you plenty of time to enjoy your guests.—Paige Orloff

Brisket Braised in Stout with Lentils, Broccoli Rabe, Salsa Verde and Horseradish Cream
(adapted from Suzanne Goin’s Sunday Suppers at Lucques, Knopf, 2005)
Serves 8-10

6 pounds whole beef brisket (approximate)
3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves (or 2 tablespoons dried)
2 bay leaves, crumbled
10 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
3 chiles de arbol, crumbled with your hands
2 tablespoons cracked black pepper
2 teaspoons coarse salt
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into thirds
2 stalks of celery, strings removed and stalks cut into thirds
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
3 cups stout (I use Guinness)
4 cups beef stock

Place the brisket in a shallow dish large enough to hold it and rub both sides with the thyme, bay leaves, garlic, chiles and pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Take the brisket out of the refrigerator one hour before cooking to bring it to room temperature. 30 minutes before cooking, season the meat with the salt.
Preheat the oven to 325F.
Heat the olive oil over high heat in the largest sauté pan you have. Scrape the garlic and chiles off the brisket and reserve them. When the oil is shimmering, add the brisket and sear well on both sides—you may have to do one end of the brisket at a time, depending upon the diameter of your pan. It will take about 8 minutes per side, a bit more if you’re searing only a portion of the meat at one time. Once the meat is well browned, transfer to a large roasting pan or dutch oven, big enough to accommodate the entire piece of meat.

Add the vegetables to the sauté pan over medium high heat and cook 8 to 10 minutes, until they’re nicely caramelized. Stir often with a spoon to scrape up the bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the reserved garlic and chiles and cook another minute or two more. Turn down the heat and add the vinegar and the beer to the pan. Bring to a strong simmer and reduce the liquid by one-quarter. Add the stock and bring the mixture to a boil, scraping the bottom of the pan again to loosen any crusty bits on the bottom. Add the vegetables to the pan with the brisket, tucking them around the meat, and then carefully pour the hot stock mixture over the meat. Cover the pan tightly with foil—use two layers if it doesn’t have a lid, or one layer if your pan has a lid. Braise in the oven for 5 to 6 hours. The meat will be done when a fork slides into it easily.

When the meat is done, remove from the oven.  Let it cool in its juices for 30 minutes, then remove the whole brisket from the sauce to a baking sheet. Allow it to cool completely, and cover and refrigerate if you’re not serving right away.

Strain the braising juices into a saucepan, pressing down on the vegetables to extract all their liquid. Chill the liquid, and when cold, remove the top layer of fat.

Preheat the oven to 400F. Slice the cold brisket against the grain, and put back into a large roasting pan. Heat the braising sauce (you may want to allow it to reduce a bit to thicken—that’s up to you) and pour a bit over the meat enough to just cover the bottom of the pan and moisten the meat thoroughly. Put the roasting pan in the oven and cook about 20 minutes until the meat begins to get crispy on top.  Serve on a large platter atop the lentils (see below.)

Simmered Lentils

2 cups beluga or French (de puy) lentils, rinsed and picked over
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 teaspoon fresh or dried thyme
1 chile de arbol
1/2 cup red wine
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, and add the chopped onion, thyme and chile. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the lentils and 1 teaspoon of salt, and stir to coat with the oil. Reduce the heat to low, and add the wine and 6-8 cups of water—enough to cover the lentils by about an inch. Bring to a boil, and then turn the heat down very low. Simmer 25-30 minutes, until the lentils are tender. Drain off the cooking liquid (reserving some for serving) and just before serving, toss the warm lentils with the remaining olive oil and, if necessary, a half cup pr so of the reserved cooking liquid. (You don’t want them swimming, just nicely moist.) Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as necessary.

Sautéed Broccoli Rabe

3 bunches broccoli rabe, with about 1-1-1/2 inches trimmed off the stem ends
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
4 shallots, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon fresh or dried thyme
1 chile de arbol, crumbled
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat a large pot (like a big pasta pot) of salted water over high heat and bring to a rolling boil Add the rapini and cook in the rapidly boiling water for about five minutes, until the stems are tender but not mushy. Drain, and cool on a platter or baking sheet lined with towels to absorb the extra water.
Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan (you may have to do this in two batches; if so, divide the oil or be prepared to use a bit more.) Add the garlic, shallots, thyme and chile and cook for a few minutes, until the shallots are translucent, Add the rapini and 1 teaspoon of salt. Stir well, coating the rapini with the oil and the seasonings. Sauté for about five minutes, until piping hot and tender. Serve along side the brisket and lentils.

Salsa Verde

2 bunches Italian parsley, stems trimmed off
1 teaspoon fresh oregano or marjoram leaves (ok to omit if you can’t find it out of season)
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil (or more to achieve desired consistency)
2 cloves garlic
2 anchovies (preferably salt-packed), rinsed and bones removed
2 tablespoons capers (preferably salt packed), rinsed and drained
juice of one lemon
freshly ground black pepper

Combine the herbs, garlic, anchovies and capers in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse until minced well and combined. Add the lemon juice, and pulse to combine. With the motor running, slowly pour in the olive oil until the mixture forms a nice, smooth puree. Season to taste with the pepper. (Because of the anchovies and capers, you’re unlikely to want added salt.)

Horseradish Cream

1 cup creme fraiche (preferred) or sour cream
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Stir all together, seasoning to taste.

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Posted by Dan Shaw on 02/12/09 at 05:11 AM • Permalink