Ale, Ale, the Gang's All Here
Okay, I’m not going to waste any time apologizing for my long absence from this ostensibly weekly (!) blog except to say that I spent January and February editing my 51st issue of Northwest Palate magazine--the March/April issue, which also happens to be the magazine’s 20th anniversary issue. Go to your favorite magazine seller and demand a copy. It’ll be worth it, I promise.
A couple of weeks ago, I tasted Henry Weinhard’s brand new Organic Amber Premium Ale. It was good stuff, and I’ll get back to that in a minute.
In the olden days, Henry’s might have introduced the ale by throwing a media party where various reporters showed up, talked shop with each other, and wolfed down the ale. But in these days of strategic partnerships, a mere party-slash-press conference simply isn’t enough.
Instead, we went over to Western Culinary Institute, the older of two professional cooking colleges in Portland, where we were ushered into a classroom, where chef Stu Stein and students treated us to a demonstration of multiple dishes all using Henry’s Organic Ale as an ingredient. Henry’s had sent along its beer expert David Ryder, the official brewmaster for Miller Brewing (which acquired Henry Weinhard’s in 1999).
Lane PR, the Portland-based public relations firm, issued the invites to this affair. I don’t know whether it was Lane PR that put all the participants together, but I can tell you everybody benefited.
Henry Weinhard benefited because in a beer-conscious town like Portland, it’s not enough to just tell reporters that this is an organic beer--not when your company is part of an international brewing conglomerate. The company needed a little help from Stu Stein, who is, after all, author of The Sustainable Kitchen, a very locally focused, environmentally conscious guy. Bringing Stu’s food into the picture helps position Henry’s Organic Ale as a high-end beer, not PBR or Miller Lite. And it enticed that many more reporters to come and hear Ryder talk about finding the ratio of sweet malt to bitter hops that will appeal to mainstream tastes while not completely antagonizing the hop-happy lovers of microbrews. (And I think he succeeded.)
Western Culinary Institute benefited from hosting the affair, simply by getting reporters into its facility. In spite of, or maybe because of its official affiliation with the Le Cordon Bleu schools, WCI is sometimes perceived as too tradition-bound, and it is getting competition from the Oregon Culinary Institute, which was founded by ex-WCI instructors. Anyway, Stein does some teaching at WCI, so he knows the place.
Stein benefited because he got to remind all the reporters in the room that he’s about to open his brand-new restaurant, Terroir, in Northeast Portland this spring. And he got to give us a preview of his excellent cooking, and show us the right way to cook with beer, which can be tricky.
By the way, I benefited, too--I got something fun to write about in this blog.
And you, dear reader--you get a genuinely good dish to try. The instructions are published below. I saw Stu make it, or at least part of it, and he’s not one of these terribly artistic chefs who is incapable of writing things down. It should actually work when you make it!
By the way, if you’re still confused about what strategic partnerships are--I get them mixed up with co-branding, which is different--remember what Katharine Hepburn said about dance partners Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers: She gave him sex appeal; he gave her class. Together, they both looked better.
Ale-Braised Smoked Pork Spare Ribs
Courtesy of Chef Stu Stein, Terroir Restaurant, Portland, OR
Writes Stein, “This dish combines the smoky, rounded fatty and meatiness of pork spare ribs with the slightly spicy, sweet maltiness of Henry’s Organic Ale. The bitter yet refreshing flavor and aroma of the hops serves as a taste bud tonic and adds a final balancing component. The final funky component of sautéed cabbage with the crisp, piquant flavors of onion and horseradish and the bright fresh herbaceous tarragon puts this dish over the top.”
FOR THE SPARE RIBS
Non-GMO vegetable oil
2 pounds smoked pork spare ribs, country style cut from the loin
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 leek, white part only, cut into 1-inch lengths
1 onion, peeled and diced
1 rib celery, diced
1 sweet, spicy apple (such as Braeburn, Gala or Fuji) peeled, seeded and diced
6 cloves garlic, whole
1 sachet filled with 2 bay leaves, 12 whole black peppercorns, 2 whole cloves, 1 bunch fresh thyme
2 ounces all-purpose flour
3-4cups Henry Weinhard’s Organic Amber Premium Ale
Water or light chicken or pork stock
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper, to taste
Granulated sugar, to taste
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place a large, ovenproof braising pan over medium-high heat and add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Season the ribs with salt and cracked black pepper. Add the ribs and brown both sides. Remove meat but leave the oil. Add the carrot, leek, onion, celery, apple, garlic and sachet. Cook until lightly brown.
Add the flour and cook, stirring frequently, until a slightly nutty roux is formed. Add the beer, and deglaze by scraping the fond from the bottom of the pan. Return the ribs to the pan and add enough water or stock to just cover the ribs. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and transfer to the oven. Cook until the ribs are tender, approximately 2 1/2 hours.
Remove the ribs and keep warm. Strain the braising liquid and remove the fat. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper, and, if necessary, granulated sugar.
FOR THE SAUTÉED CABBAGE
2 tablespoons butter or pork fat
1 small onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 head green cabbage, leaves blanched, shocked, dried and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon fresh horseradish, finely grated
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon, roughly chopped
Kosher salt & cracked black pepper, to taste
Granulated sugar, to taste
Sea salt for garnishing
Melt the butter or pork fat in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté 5-8 minutes or until just beginning to soften. Add the cabbage and horseradish, season with salt and pepper and cook until both vegetables are soft, approximately an additional 10 minutes. Add the tarragon, taste, and adjust the seasoning. Keep warm.
Place the sautéed cabbage on a plate. Top with spare ribs and ladle the some of the braising liquid over and around. Top with sea salt.
Braising the spare ribs several days ahead is not only possible but recommended, to build layers of flavor for a more complete and complex finished dish. Chill them in their braising liquid. When ready to serve, reheat them in their liquid and complete the recipe.
Ham hocks, pork belly, beef short ribs, or even oxtails can be substituted for the pork spare ribs. The key is to use a rich, somewhat fatty bone-in cut of meat,