Friday, July 13, 2012

Braised Short Ribs and Polyface Farms

The Setting: A toy-scattered apartment in need of a good vacuuming.

The Soundtrack: Relative silence.

On the Stovetop: Chicken breasts for Vietnamese Chicken Salad.

The Scenario: Last weekend, Oia, Hoosband and I ventured down to Polyface Farms, home of outspoken champion of sustainable agriculture and author of such books as Salad Bar BeefFolks, This Ain't Normal, and Everything I Want to Do is Illegal, Joel Salatin.

Farmers at heart ourselves and longtime fans of Salatin, we were excited to check out the farm, get a little inspiration, let the little one see some real, live farm animals, and pick up some organic, grass-fed meat.

Majestically situated in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, the "farm of many faces" produces forage-based rabbits, "Pigaerator Pork," stewing hens, pastured turkeys, pastured broilers, pastured eggs, sustainable lumber, and "Salad Bar Beef."

Polyface cows (you can see one in the distance--it's the speck to the left of the third tree) feast on a new salad bar of pasture almost every day, which leads to healthier cows, healthier meat, and a healthier Earth.

Pigs work as they lounge, aerating their thick bedding and helping turn it into fertile compost.

Bunnies happily forage in a portable shelter among rows of berries and other crops.

Pastured broilers are moved to fresh pasture daily. They get plenty of exercise and eat local, GMO-free grains and freshly sprouted grasses.

Laying hens freely range from an egg-mobile that follows behind the cows. The chickens scratch through cow patties to "cleanse" the pastures as they go.

A solar panel helps make use of the sun's energy.

As part of their commitment to their community, the environment, and the local food movement, Polyface Farms will not ship any of their food out of state. Their products can be found at a handful of Virginia retailers, as well as in their own on-site store.

If shopping for Polyface products, don't expect supermarket prices. Of course, you'd be hard-pressed to find in the supermarket what you can find here: incredibly tasty meat, painstakingly produced by pasture-based practices, steadfastly dedicated to nurturing animals, land, and people back to health.

We left the farm with a package of beef short ribs and a deeper appreciation of where the food we eat should come from.

For more information on Polyface Farms, check out or

Red Wine-Braised Short Ribs with Sweet Corn Polenta
This is a hearty, soul-warming dish, perfect for renewing one's spirits after a hard-day's work on the farm...or wherever else you toil. Grass-fed, "salad-bar" beef gives the dish a deep, enticingly minerally flavor and aroma. This is not a quick dish; its flavors are gradually developed and deepened as the connective tissue on the ribs slowly melts away to enrich the velvety sauce. If desired, the ribs can be made in advance, and the polenta can be prepared quickly before serving. Precise measurements for the ingredients are not nearly as important as slowing down to make and enjoy this meal with the ones you love.

For the beef:
garlic powder
freshly cracked black pepper
oil (such as vegetable or peanut) for the pan
2 1/2 lbs beef short ribs
8 oz cremini (baby portabella) mushrooms, sliced
1-2 T unsalted butter
1 large onion, diced
3 large carrots, diced
3-4 ribs celery (including any leaves), diced
1 1/2 T tomato paste
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp dried basil
2 cups dry red wine (I used a cheap Pinot noir)
2 cups unsalted beef stock

For the Polenta:
3 ears sweet corn
1-2 T unsalted butter
freshly cracked black pepper
pinch sugar
2 cups unsalted beef stock
1 cup water
1 cup dry polenta (preferably organic)
4 oz (1/2 package) cream cheese

several leaves fresh basil
several leaves fresh flat-leaf parsley

In a wide, shallow dish or baking pan, whisk together about 1/2 cup flour and about 2 tsp each garlic powder, salt, and pepper.

Pour just enough oil into a 4-quart, heavy-bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven to coat the bottom, and place over med-high heat.

Dredge the short ribs in the flour, lightly coating on all sides.

Shake any excess flour back down into the dish as you transfer each section of short ribs to the saucepan. Avoid crowding the pan; work in batches if necessary. Brown the ribs on both sides (about 2 minutes on each), adjusting the heat if necessary to prevent burning. Remove pan from heat and transfer ribs to a clean plate, also transferring any large pieces of browned bits that easily come out of the pan. Cover and set aside.

Place the pan back over medium-to-med-high heat and add just enough oil to re-coat the bottom. Add the mushrooms (ideally, you won't crowd the pan...but don't stress too much if you do). Season the mushrooms with pepper only, cover, and cook 5 minutes, stirring once or twice.

Lift the lid, season lightly with salt, and add the butter to the pan, stirring to scrape up any browned bits and flipping the mushrooms to help them cook evenly. Cover and cook 5 more minutes.

Stir in the onions, cover, and cook 5 minutes. Season very lightly with salt, cover, and cook 5 more minutes.

Stir in the carrots and celery, season very lightly with salt and pepper, cover, and cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the tomato paste and dried herbs and cook 1-2 minutes.

Increase heat slightly, add the wine, and stir to scrape up and incorporate any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the beef stock and short ribs (along with any juices or browned bits on the plate) and bring just to a boil. Reduce heat to med-low, cover, and gently simmer for 3-4 hours, or until the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender.

To prepare the polenta, cut the corn off the cobs, and place the kernels in a skillet or saute pan over med-high heat along with the butter and a pinch of sugar (the longer your corn has been sitting around, the more sugar you are likely to need; if your corn is very, very fresh and in the peak of the season, you may not need any sugar at all). Season with salt and pepper. Cook 10 minutes, or until the corn is fragrant and some of the kernels are slightly browned, stirring occasionally to keep corn from adhering to the bottom of the pan.

Meanwhile, bring the beef stock, water, and a pinch of salt to a boil in a medium-sized saucepan. Slowly pour in the polenta, whisking as you pour. Be careful, as it has the tendency to bubble and spatter. Cook for 1 minute, continuing to whisk the whole time. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cream cheese until smooth. Fold in the corn.
Finely chop the fresh basil and parsley.

Serve the short ribs, along with the sauce, over bowls of the polenta. Sprinkle liberally with the freshly chopped herbs.

Serves 4.
Thanks for reading. Here's to Being the Secret Ingredient in your life!

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