Sanity has returned and I am once again able to focus on my favourite subject, great food!

The Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics are over and have been deemed a success by most people, myself included, though being tropical-born, I’m not crazy about winter and, unfortunately, am not a true-blue (red?) hockey fan either. But I have to say, even the chickens were quiet during those few overtime minutes when we were all afraid to breathe, in case the puck went into the American fire instead of the Canadian frying pan.

So that’s my excuse for being absent from this blog for so long — way too many distractions! I return with a neat trick I learned by having lunch at Market Restaurant earlier this week. Market is New York uber-chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Vancouver outpost. I ordered the Soy Glazed Short Ribs with Apple – Jalapeno Purée and Rosemary Crumbs.

The meat was perfectly seasoned, tender and delicious. But what took it over the top wasn’t the apple – jalapeno puree, which, to be honest, was a little too mild; I expected more fire. But those rosemary crumbs. Wow! They sat in a little hillock just north of the meat, waiting to do their thing. Ribs are slow braised, and once they’re perfectly cooked, they become deeply flavoured, but while you’re blissing out on the flavour, you don’t expect much more than meaty velvet in the way of texture. Enter the crumbs. Dip a morsel of the rib in those crumbs and heaven happens. The happy intersection of tenderness and crunch is outstanding. And it occurred to me that this might be something you could do with any juicy but tender meat or seafood, for example pot roast, a simple wine-based beef stew, or even a mild-flavoured, tender grilled salmon (think pink). Serve the crumbs in a small dish alongside the main plate because the crunch will fade quickly in the presence of liquid.

I checked Vongerichten’s book, Simple to Spectacular, which he wrote with New York Times food writer Mark Bittman (Broadway Books, 2000) in hopes of finding a recipe for the dish I had at Market. I did find something that might approximate the ribs, but no crumbs.

A wider search for herbed crumbs didn’t turn up anything that could be used the way Vongerichten presents them at Market. So I tried making my own with a mixture of white and whole wheat crumbs (1 cup total, using fresh whole wheat slices oven-toasted until completely dry, and white crumbs I already had on hand), mixed them with very finely chopped rosemary leaves and a small dollop of finely minced garlic. I fried them in a heated mixture of olive oil (about 3 tbsps.) and unsalted butter (about 1 tbsp.) until they were fragrant and  browned.

The result? Certainly not as exquisite as Market’s crumbs, but darn good. I would  only use white crumbs next time I try this, because the whole wheat tends to dominate the flavour. And I would probably up the rosemary content. For a cup of crumbs, I used about 2 tsps. of fresh minced herb. Double or even more would have made the rosemary flavour more pronounced. I’m sure Market’s kitchen has some top-secret way to make these — perhaps bread brushed with rosemary oil before toasting, then amped with more rosemary in the finished mixture. In any case, herbed crumbs are a good way to use up left-over bread. You can use any sturdy herb, too, such as thyme, oregano or sage instead of rosemary. And the sky’s the limit on where they end up: on salads, steamed or creamed veggies, mashed potatoes, sprinkled over casseroles or simple garlicky pastas. They not only tickle the flavour up a notch, they zoom up the texture. It’s a win all around.

Here’s the recipe for the short ribs from the Vongerichten-Bittman book. Market suggested garlic mashed potatoes as a side dish. The book suggests steamed rice and a stir-fry of bok choy and water chestnuts. You choose. And you’re on your own with those crumbs!

SHORT RIBS BRAISED WITH CHINESE FLAVORS

¼ cup peanut or neutral oil, such as canola or grapeseed

4 lbs. short ribs

Salt and freshly-ground black pepper

1 large onion, peeled and roughly chopped

4 large garlic cloves, peeled and mashed

¼  cup roughly chopped ginger (don’t bother to peel)

2 tbsps. sugar

5 star anise

5 dried chiles

2 tbsps. Szechwan peppercorns

20 cilantro stems, preferably with roots attached, well washed

1 cup dry (fino) sherry

½  cup soy sauce

Put 2 tbsps. of the oil in a deep heavy skillet or casserole and turn the heat to high. Brown the ribs well on all side, seasoning well with salt and pepper as they cook; this will take about 20 minutes. Remove the ribs, pour out and discard the fat, and wipe out the pan.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Put remaining 2 tbsps. oil in pan, turn heat to medium-high and add onion, garlic, chopped ginger, and sugar. Cook, stirring until the onion is very brown, 10 to 15 minutes.

Add star anise, chiles, peppercorns and cilantro stems; cook, stirring, for another minute, then add the sherry, soy sauce and 3 cups water. Add the ribs, cover, and put in the oven. Cook until the meat is very tender and falling from the bone, about 3 hours; turn meat once or twice an hour.

When ready to serve, transfer ribs to a platter. Strain vegetables and liquid, pressing hard on the vegetables to extract all of their juices, into another large pan and refrigerate or reheat. Bring to a boil and reduce slightly. Add the ribs and serve. Serves 4.

Note: The ribs at Market were served with very little of the pan sauce, which was probably reduced into a much thicker mixture to help the crumbs adhere better.

From Simple to Spectacular