The Zihuatanejo: Blueberry Soda & Thyme Braised Veal Shank with Spring Pea Shoots on Artisan Rolls
Happy Friday, folks. This is my first post with Let’s Lunch, a fabulous group of food bloggers from all over the globe, so if you’re a new reader, welcome! You can like my Facebook Page and follow me on Twitter, and who knows, you might be Sandwich Surprised in the near future.
The Let’s Lunch theme for this month? Spring, hope and/or daffodils. I actually never got around to the flower part of the inspiration, because any time I see “hope” and “spring” in close proximity, my brain automatically goes to Rita Hayworth & The Shawshank Redemption because it’s the Hope Springs Eternal chapter in Different Seasons by Stephen King.
I first read the novella in 7th grade, and was immediately obsessed with it. When the movie came out a decade or so later, I was furious because I was sure Hollywood would screw it up. Silly me. Now, without fail, I’ll watch it to the end if I stumble across it on TV. Which is all the time. I recently watched it when the sound was off and the screen was small and 30 feet away because I was at the 1-2 no-limit poker tables at the Borgata in Atlantic City.
But I digress.
I love everything about Shawshank, especially that it ends with Red saying, “I hope” and reuniting with his friend (the movie does, anyway). So I give you … the Zihuatanejo!
(It would have been my Veal Shank Redemption, but I couldn’t bring myself to call it that, as there are too many other meat shank redemptions online.)
The blueberries were for Maine (it’s the state fruit there) and the soda made it in because a man working outdoors feels more like a man when he can have a bottle of suds. As for the thyme, it pairs well with both the veal and the blueberries, and hello, it’s a movie about doing thyme! (Tee hee.)
I based the braising recipe on the short ribs in the long-defunct Chanterelle Restaurant’s Staff Meals cookbook:
BLUEBERRY SODA & THYME BRAISED VEAL SHANK
3 lbs. veal shank ossobuco (ask your butcher to trim the fat and cut into 2- to 3-inch pieces)
32 oz. low-sodium organic chicken broth
3/8 c. olive oil
2 medium organic yellow onions, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into thin slices
1 T. organic flour
2 organic thyme stems with leaves
2 bottles blueberry soda (I bought the Maine Root brand from Luke’s Lobster)
1 pint of blueberries
1 t. salt (or more to taste)
1/2 t. freshly ground pepper
Cost: The veal blew this beyond my usual budget; the tally was about $65 for 6 sandwiches.
For the bread, I’d suggest ciabattas or baguettes from the store. But if you want to make the White Artisan Rolls, skip to the recipe below first.
Heat 1/4 cup of the oil in a large, stainless steel, heavy-bottomed pot (I used an All-Clad stock pot) over medium-high heat. Add only enough of the veal shank pieces to fit into the pot without crowding and brown well on all sides, about 5 minutes each side. Transfer to a bowl and keep browning the remaining pieces in batches. (As this is ossobuco, you can remove any bones with marrow in them and save them for roasted bone marrow for dinner.)
When all the meat is browned and removed to the bowl, and the remaining 1/8 cup of oil and the onions and cook covered over low heat until the onions are very soft but not browned, about 20 minutes.
Uncover the pot and cook until the onions carmelize a little and are light brown, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the onions and stir frequently, cooking for 4 minutes.
Add 1 bottle of soda, increase the heat to medium-high to bring to a boil, stirring from the bottom to loosen the meaty brown bits stuck to the pot.
Return the ribs to the pot along with the chicken broth, the other bottle of soda, thyme stems, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, then reduce the heat to low and cook covered for 2 to 2.5 hours …
… until the meat is very tender and easily pulled from the bones. With tongs, transfer the veal to a platter and cool. Also remove the thyme stems (the leaves will have long fallen off).
While the veal cools, keep cooking the meaty sauce on medium heat until it thickens, approximately 30-40 minutes. Add salt and pepper as needed. Halfway into the cooking of the sauce, add the pint of blueberries.
When you can touch the veal, remove the meat from the bones and return the meat only to the pot. Simmer until heated through, about 5 minutes.
Now time to assemble. Preference alert: When I eat sandwiches on rolls, I tend to scoop out some of the non-crust bread. You can, but you don’t have to. Place a small amount of sweet pea shoots on the bottom of the roll. (Thanks for the suggestion, Chris!) With a slotted spoon, scoop out braised veal and blueberries onto the layer of pea shoots.
FYI, I would recommend putting maybe 1/4 of the pea shoots seen in the photo above, because when we tried it with that many, it overwhelmed the other flavors. Also, I swapped the order (shoots first, ask questions later*) because of the critiques below.
Close the sammy and serve with salt and vinegar potato chips!
My take: The meat came out really tender and the blueberry soda-chicken broth-thyme braise was very subtle, so it really highlighted the flavor of the veal rather than masking it. The pea shoots gave the sandwich a freshness and lightness. But because I had billed it to myself as a blueberry braise, I wished the blueberry notes were louder.
Chris and Sachin were this week’s Sandwich Surprisees. Did they agree with me?
“It’s a very tasty sandwich,” said Chris. “The veal is amazing. There’s a nice crunch from the pea shoots. And you can taste a subtle hint of blueberries. The crunch on the outside of the bread was nice. But the bun got a little soggy, so maybe you could strain more of the broth out and toast the bread. Especially since you scooped out some of the bread. The sogginess threw it off a little.”
“But I like the texture of the bread,” said Sachin. “Maybe just eat it faster? I like the moistness. And I love that the bread is homemade. I wouldn’t toast it. I think it’s really good.”
Another thing that was really good? The cupcake surprise Sachin sprung on us, courtesy of Brooklyn Cupcakes in Williamsburg:
The tres leches and the French toast cupcakes were delicious and probably worth a trip back to my old neighborhood. I hope I can make it across East River. I hope to see my friend, cupcake in hand. I hope McCarren Park is as green as it has been in my dreams. I hope.
WHITE ARTISAN ROLLS
6.5 cups organic all-purpose flour
1.5 T. organic yeast
1.5 T salt
3 cups lukewarm water, filtered
Approx. 2 t. organic all-purpose flour for dusting
Cost: About $6.50.
Mix the yeast, salt and sugar with the water in a large lidded container, and let stand for 20 minutes to get the yeast going. Then mix the flour into the yeast water with a spoon. Work in any remaining dry bits with your hands, wetting them first and adding water to the dry flour a tablespoon at a time, only as needed, and being careful not to overwork the dough.
Cover the container by lightly resting the lid on top, but not actually sealing it, and let it rest for 2 hours until it rises, then flattens on top. Then stick it in the fridge for at least an hour to make it easier to work with. The batch of bread I made this morning was from a dough that’s been in the fridge for 7 days, so it had a slight sourdough thing happening. But the cinnamon-cardamom sugar balanced that out.
Preheat oven to 450˚ about 40 minutes before baking. Place a broiler pan on a rack not being used for the bread. And if you have a baking stone handy, place it on the center rack.
Dust the top of the dough with some flour and pull off baseball-size pieces and shape into rolls. Space the rolls at least 2 inches apart on a SIlpat baking pad dusted with flour (or a pizza peel dusted with flour, should you have one handy) and let them rest for at least 20 minutes, preferably on the stove so it’s getting some of the ambient heat. Then sprinkle with some more flour and using a serrated knife to mark an X on the top of the loaf-to-be.
Put the dough and Silpat in a baking pan and stick it on the center rack in the oven (or slide the dough ball from the pizza peel onto the baking stone). Also make sure to pour a cup of water in the broiler pan to create a steam effect.
Bake for 18-20 minutes, until each roll at least has a nice light golden color. Take the loaf out and let it cool until you can hold the loaf comfortably, then use the serrated bread knife to slice in half.
*That reminds me of one of my favorite Mystery Science Theater 3000 lines: “Shoot first, ask Christian Slater.” Yep, I’m a nerd.