How one chef gets beyond the short-rib cliche

08/02/2013 10:38 AM

08/02/2013 10:38 AM

If you have come to the conclusion that the braised short rib has become too much of a restaurant cliche, Chef Howard Hanna has a surprise for you.

At least it felt like a surprise to me the other night when I had dinner at Hanna’s Rieger Hotel & Grill Exchange (I usually get away with just calling it the Rieger).

The menu called it a cured and smoked short rib. Sounded good, but I didn’t even think about it when I ordered, and for a second, after the plate arrived, I wondered whether I’d been served the right dish. Before me were five thick, pinkish planks of what looked like corned beef. Hmmm. Oh yeah — cured and smoked.

Also on the plate: a creamy, exceptional white polenta; a multi-textured, multi-colored succotash with fresh green beans, corn, sweet onions and heirloom tomato, and a little ramekin of horeseradish mustard, just to hammer home the corned-beef point.

It’s a brilliant dish ($25), a creative celebration of summer, and though I had an idea how Hanna pulled the corned beef out of the magic chef’s hat, I wanted to hear him explain it.

“On our last menu,” he wrote to me by email, “we had great success with our house-made pastrami at lunch, so we thought we would try to do something similar with shortribs.

“For this dish we use boneless shortribs (all natural, from Vintage Beef) that we cure in a pastrami brine. For pastrami we would then coat it with with black pepper and coriander and hot smoke it, but for this we wanted a long, slow cook time and a more subtle smoke, so we cold smoke it pretty lightly and then cook it sous vide” — that means the meat is put in a vacuum bag and placed in a temperature-controlled water bath — “with some mustard and horseradish. It has the tender richness of a braised shortrib, but with a gentle smoke, the distinctive color and flavor of cured meat, and a little kick from the horseradish and mustard.

“I think it works for a summer dish, because it isn't as heavy as a traditional braised dish that you might want to reserve for the fall and winter, but has nice balance and is reminiscent of barbecue.”

In the past, Hanna said, he’d top braised short ribs with fried leeks or onion rings. For this dish, his sous chef, Tom Carlin, devised a simple crispy accent: “He said we should just drizzle tempura batter into the fryer and serve the little crunchies, so we tried that and I love it!”

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