For the last two weeks I’ve been in Ontario on a business trip and when anyone travels they tend to eat out a lot. Being a chef and a foodie you can see that this is no problem for me. It gives me a chance to see what a town or city has to offer in the culinary world and perhaps it will unveil some culture and history.
During my three week trip I had a lot of really great meals but one I thought I would mention was at a restaurant in Thunder Bay. Not many people have a lot to say about Thunder Bay because people simply don’t go there. I wanted to mention a meal I had while I was there because I notice this a lot with restaurants and it is something often overlooked.
First off let me start off by telling you what the dish was. I had a beer battered braised short rib on a cauliflower puree and a gravy. I liked everything about the dish other then the gravy. On the menu it was called sauce, but I have had enough orders of fries and gravy to know that it was the generic powder gravy that some pub cook adds water to and presto.
I find that the sauce is often an afterthought for a lot of cooks, which is sad because in this case it ruined the dish entirely. The chef goes through two days of preparation braising the short ribs, battering them in a perfect batter, making a cauliflower puree and then a copout for a sauce. Either they don’t know how to make a proper sauce or it is flat-out lazy.
I find the same when I go to restaurants and eat pastas with cream reduced sauces such as alfredo and carbonara. Who can’t add some heat to a pan and cook until it is thick? It shows a lack of creativity and a lack of skill.
The point is that a sauce should be on a dish to highlight the dish and enhanced something already on the plate. It should not be the main event or the dead weight of a dish no matter what it is.
In the case of the short ribs, the chef could have used the braising liquid and added a couple of basic ingredients and I would have been writing a different column.
Here is what I would have done to make the dish better -in my opinion – and I hope that it inspires all you Nelsonites to do the same when it comes to your next dish with a sauce.
I would have taken the braising liquid which probably had the basic mire poix (onions, celery, carrots) with some garlic and perhaps some red wine and tomato paste and passed it through a strainer (china cap). This would have left me with a very flavourful liquid that would be too runny for a sauce. Now in the old school kitchens a lot of people add flour until you are left with the classic gravy that our grandmothers have passed down the family tree. In my case I want to get a little creative with this and avoid flour for all of you Celiac out there. Sautee some onions and garlic in a pan and deglaze with some brandy or whisky and make sure to scrape the pan of any bits stuck to it. I would then add your braising liquid and gently whisk in some Dijon mustard until it is smooth. Reduce this until it has a nice consistency and it has the correct seasoning. Just before it is finished squeeze some lemon juice in the pan and a couple of cubes of butter and whisk until smooth. You can even add some hoisin sauce if you feel the need, but this takes just about as much time as it would to make the powder brown gravy and you know what is in it.
In closing I just wanted to say that if you are going to put the time and effort in a dish then think it through and if you are going to do then do it right. Cutting corners never pays of and this goes with all things life has as well. It doesn’t have to be a difficult process and involve a professional but, just a little bit of love and attention and you reap the rewards.