January 21, 2005

Beef Braised in Two Buck Chuck

by peterb

After mentioning this dish in passing in the "what to drink" article, I realized that it was worth sharing the recipe. It is based loosely on one of Mario Batali's. My version is a little bolder, and about 350% cheaper.

Start with 2 pounds of beef brisket (you can also use a large chuck roast or similar cut). Salt and pepper it, and brown it on all sides in a large stockpot with 6 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. This will take you about 10 minutes, including time for turning. Set it aside.

Drain most of the liquid and then add one chopped carrot, one chopped onion, one chopped celery stalk, and about a quarter-pound of bacon, diced. Sweat those until they start to get soft. Pour in a bottle of Two Buck Chuck or some similarly cheap-but-drinky wine, and add 2 cups of simple tomato sauce (homemade is best, but the world won't end if you use canned. We're going to cook this into oblivion). Bring the concoction to a boil. Put the meat back in, lower the heat until just simmering, and cook until the meat starts falling apart -- about 3 hours, but you can use your judgment. Since this is wet cooking, don't worry about overcooking the meat.

When you've decided it's done, remove the meat from the stockpot, raise the heat, and reduce the liquid until it reaches a consistency you like. Slice the meat, spoon the sauce over it, and serve.

Easy, delicious, and the leftovers will last for a few days if you keep your guests from devouring it all.

Posted by peterb at January 21, 2005 09:24 PM | Bookmark This

Though I don't agree with the idea of cooking with $60 bottles of wine, I do think it makes sense to use something that you'd enjoy drinking.

You can get much better wine for $10-12 a bottle, and you can definitely taste the difference in most wine braises (particularly if you hold back 1/2 a cup or so and add it at the end to the finished sauce to brighten it up).

So, pretty much, if you're going to all the trouble (and it's worth it) to make a nice braise, why would you use an importatnt ingredient that's so inferior when you can do a lot better for a bit more money?

Posted by greg at January 23, 2005 09:19 PM

Maybe I'm misreading you, but I think your question assumes the equation "cheaper is inferior." I think that assumption is wrong. In today's (American) wine market, I would propose that _most_ red wines in the $10-12 range are, in fact, inferior to good old Charles Shaw. This is because the wine market is basically a scam where you can sell a crappy California wine for $12 based on nothing more than a cute label and a stupid name.

Am I saying there are no $12 wines better than my cooking wine of choice? Of course not. And if you know the wine you'd like to use, go ahead and use it.

For the record, though, I like drinking Charles Shaw. As much as a Frescobaldi Chianti? No. But if you give me a glass, I'll enjoy it, so I've no problem using it in a braise like this. If you think it's disgusting swill, then of course you shouldn't use it.

I do think value matters in cooking; how expensive a dish is to produce feeds directly in to how often one can have it. Let's crunch some numbers.

2 pound slab of beef: $8.
Some vegetables: $1 (we'll assume they're expensive organics)
Homemade tomato sauce: $3

So that's $12. Use a bottle of Charles Shaw, and the total is $15. Use a $12 bottle of wine, and you're at $24. I consider that a significant jump in price for not a lot of added value. Again, I'm starting from the point where I think that the wine I'm using _tastes good_ -- if that's not true for you, then go ahead and spend the extra $9.

You can always spend more on more expensive ingredients. Organic hand-dried sea salt! Dry-aged super-organic grass-fed beef! Marzano tomatoes plucked by virgins on the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius! Some dishes require only the best to be worth making. I think this is a dish that stands up very well when made with commonplace, everyday ingredients -- and that includes the wine.

Posted by peterb at January 23, 2005 10:03 PM

Before getting into this: if you find Charles Shaw to be a good wine for drinking, then it's a fine wine to cook with; my previous comment doesn't apply. It's not at all to my taste.

Now on in more detail:

You've partially misunderstood. I definite don't think that cheaper = inferior with wine. There's no doubt that a lot of California wines are absurdly overpriced (though that's slowly starting to change). To make things worse many of the good ones, though nice to drink, aren't at all appropriate to cook with (too much oak!). But this is not the place for me to head off onto my mini-rant about wines for drinking with food and wines for drinking on their own.

I should have been more specific in my previous comment: I was thinking more of Australian or French wines. You can get all kinds of good wines here in the $10 (+/- $2) region. I'd be willing to bet that the same is true of the South American producers too, but I haven't spent as much time trying those.

I can't dispute your economic argument except to say that food is one of my high-priority items, so I'd rather pay the extra for the wine and economize somewhere else. Again, it's personal taste.

Posted by gregl at January 24, 2005 10:21 AM

Thought you might be interested in this story.

A Scottish chef has created the world's most expensive haggis to celebrate Burns Night tonight.

It is made with finest Scotch beef, boiled, as tradition dictates, in a sheep's stomach and infused with one of the rarest whiskies in the world. The cost: 2,850.


Posted by Stewart Clamen at January 25, 2005 08:09 PM

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