When I had my recent poor experience of trying to buy some lamb shanks, I thought it was an isolated incident. However, I was wrong. There is an oft used expression in marketing circles. That phrase is ‘Retail Theatre’. You know the sort of stuff; a rotund, jolly looking chap carrying freshly baked bread on a tray above his head or the vegetable aisles that look similar to a Shakespearian street scene. I am all in favour of a bit of the theatrical when I’m out and about buying the staples. But, when style pushes a knife through the arras and kills substance as effectively as Hamlet saw off Polonius, It’s time for me to take to the stage.
When I go to the butchery counter to seek out my pound (500 grammes) of flesh, I expect to be served by either a butcher or a butcher’s understudy. Sadly, in the theatre that is the modern supermarket, the stage hands are often given the stripy apron and silly hat. This a butcher does not make. They are (with deference to the faux-filet) a Faux Butcher or ‘Futcher’ for short. Once dressed, they are pushed from the dressing rooms onto the great retail stage and into the glow of the meat counter footlights.
Futcher: “How may I help you today, Sir?”
Me, (from the front row of this market theatre): “May I have some beef shin, with the bone in?”
Futcher: “Bone-in?” (nervous glance to left and right) “Let me check.”
Futcher moves upstage to consult with ‘Second Player’, an older, and perhaps more qualified personage. A whispered conversation ensues, with nervous glances in my direction. Futcher moves downstage and re-engages with me.
Futcher: “We have beef shin in chunks. It’s in the cooler cabinet behind you.”
Me: “No, I wanted it bone-in, to cook a particular dish.”
Futcher (as if talking to an idiot): “That’s the only way it comes.”
At this stage, I really did not want to let it go, so I asked for short ribs. My enquiry was met with a blank stare, as if my asking “Do you have short ribs?” was the opening line in a music hall gag. It was time for me to exit, stage left, and go to a real butcher shop.
A quick spin to Fenelon’s Butchers in Stillorgan, near my home (why did I bother with the supermarket?), yielded some lovely short ribs, prepared by a real butcher. I had decided to rest the shins for another performance.
I got to thinking about what to prepare and decided upon Beef Short Ribs with Red Wine and Onion Gravy, served with Mushroom Mash. The mushroom mash involves adding blended reconstituted dried porcini and chestnut mushrooms to mash. Delicious.
The roll call of characters is shorter than the cast list for Robinson Crusoe
- 4 beef short ribs
- 3 onions
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 250 ml of beef stock
- Half a bottle of good red wine
- A good squeeze of tomato purée
- Salt and pepper to season
First, brown the ribs on all sides in a deep pan.
Everything will be cooked in this pan so choose it well. Then chop your onions. Add them to the pan and soften, while getting up any brown bits stuck to the pan. Chop and add the garlic about half way through the caramelisation.
Side note on cutting reviews: Tim Walker’s Review of Viva Forever, is as cutting as it gets. A brief excerpt: “One cannot, however, ignore the old tosh-o-meter, when the needle goes off the scale to register a show that’s so bad, it ought, if there were any justice, to be accorded a minus-star rating. This show is not just bad, it is definitively, monumentally and historically bad.” Ouch!
Caramelise the onions over a low heat to prevent burning. Add back the beef. Add the wine and the tomato paste. Then season well.
Then add the beef stock.
You will have enough time to go for a stroll down Broadway while this cooks, with a lid on, in a 150º C oven. It needs to be in there for between five and six hours. Why not take in a show while you are at it? You will have plenty of time. At around the two to three-hour stage, turn the beef in the gravy.
After five or six hours, take the beef out of the pan. Spoon off the layer of beef fat that will have accumulated. Place the pan on the stove top and reduce the onion gravy by about half. Put a big dollop of mushroom mash in the middle of a bowl. Balance one of the short ribs on top and spoon over the wine and onion gravy.
The mushroom mash had the character to provided the support that a truly great performance demands. Though the beef with wine and onion gravy was truly the scene stealer. Naturally, there was a libation involved (as there is after many great performances). This time it was a bottle of Royal Saint Emelion, picked up in the town of the same name some months ago.
It’s time for me to make my final curtain call on this one. It was a memorable performance. But none of the plaudits go to that bad actor the Futcher. He needs to wander his lonely way out the stage door and leave the retail theatricals to the professionals.