My Citizens, as noted in my previous post, I am sharing not one but two Jewish beef recipes in honor of Sammy’s Roumanian restaurant, which shut its doors a week ago (although the linked article says they may reopen after the pandemic in a new location!). My first recipe in honor of my Eastern European Jewish heritage was for a nearly-extinct deli recipe to make rolled beef – it was ruthlessly authentic and I even tracked down the legendary deli master Ziggy Gruber of Kenny and Ziggy’s deli in Houston for tips, as he is the last vendor to make this!
While my first recipe was for a lost beef recipe of the past, this second one is a modern homage to the most classic Jewish dinner around – beef flanken in Yiddish, aka short ribs in English! All Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews of a certain age well remember this dish, almost always served in a sweet and sour gravy with carrots and accompanied by mashed potatoes.
For this recipe, I wanted to present to you a Fantasia, a flight of fancy if you will, strongly rooted in the flanken of the past but with my own unique take on its flavor profile with unique international ingredients that are still accessible to anyone via the Web. To be clear – this is NOT your bubbie’s (grandmother’s) flanken, but my own creation on that leitmotif by the Baron of beef, the Suzerain of fusion – YOUR TFD!
..but first – a discussion of flanken!
Short ribs are popular in many international cuisines. Meatpacking executive Richard C. Banfield notes that the term ‘short ribs’ comes from the fact that the cut of meat contains only a portion of each long beef rib.
Short ribs are a cut of beef taken from the brisket, chuck, plate, or rib areas of beef cattle. They consist of a short portion of the rib bone, which is overlain by meat which varies in thickness. There are two major types of cuts: The “flanken”, which is cut across the bone and leaves the bone just 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5.1 cm) in length, and the “English”, which is cut parallel to the bone and leaves the bone up to 6 inches (15 cm) in length. For this recipe, you absolutely MUST have the flanken cut with the bones – a picture for your reference is below.
Short ribs, by definition, are not the entire length of rib. When the carcass is cut across the bone to create strips of meat with multiple rib bones, the short rib is known as a “flanken cut.” These may also be known as crosscut ribs, Eastern European-style ribs, Hawaiian-style ribs, Jewish ribs, Korean-style ribs, or “kosher ribs”. Flanken-cut short ribs incorporate at least two rib bones, and are often no more than 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5.1 cm) thick.
Retail meat shops often do not differentiate between short ribs which come from the brisket, chuck, plate, and rib. In the United States, short ribs from the plate are generally the least expensive cut, followed by medium-priced short ribs from the brisket and chuck, and premium-priced short ribs from the rib area.
As noted in ‘The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat’, by Joshua and Jessica Applestone and Alexandra Zissu:
We marinate very few things at the shop; we don’t want to overmarinate and lose the true flavor of the meat. We prefer that our customers do it themselves. Flanken (or short ribs cut Korean barbecue style) is one of the few exceptions. It takes well to marinating, so you can leave the ribs in the marinade for up to 12 hours without losing that big, beefy taste.
Flanken has a funny place in our hearts. It appeals to both our Jewish sides and our foodie natures. Most older balabustas, or Jewish housewives, know flanken (a Yiddish term for flank, or side) as a flavorful, inexpensive cut to be braised. A good Jewish cook didn’t dare serve borscht without a good chunk of flanken in it to add that earthy, rich feel.
For years we were traumatized by this cut; older Jewish women would walk into our store and order flanken. We would say, “Short ribs, right?” and get berated. Sometimes we would be able to convince them that we were talking about the same thing. It’s the same bones, but a different cut—flanken is cut horizontally across the rib plate so that you get long, thin pieces of meat studded with many ribs. More recently foodies have been ordering this cut and grilling it Korean style. They call it kalbi.
This story from jewishmag.com really touched my heartstrings:
Gedemft For All Mankind
By Seth D. Bykofsky
My maternal grandmother, Rose (who among us didn’t have a grandmother named Rose?), made a mean flanken. And when I say “mean,” I mean “mean,” in the purest sense of the word.
It was “gedemft” – potted. Boiled out, for hours, until the bones were not only loose, they were gagging for air, clinging to the aluminum shissel in a vain attempt to escape!
Gedemft. As with much of the generation that enjoyed the rendering of chicken fat and threw thoughts of cholesterol into the mix like so many soup greens, gedemfte flaysh was standard fare in the household. A household, mind you, where Bubby was the consummate balaboosta – the perfect homemaker, housewife (with corresponding housecoat, of course) and cook. Walk in that door and Bubby was in charge – and she’d let you know it in no uncertain terms.
Ah, the smell of gedemfte flaysh – formerly resembling beef in another incarnation – would permeate the air on any given afternoon. Throw what once resembled a roast into a large pot, cover it with water, spice it up with tsibilis (onions), a bissel this, a pinch of that, and more salt than Lot’s wife could ever have looked back on, and let it simmer on low gas all day – or until the kitchen reaches Fahrenheit 450.
Of the great heroes, saviors and sages of our people — Moses, Maimonides, Koufax – it was often said, “hut gekemft far ale yidn” – very roughly translated as having fought for or struggled with all Jews. Sure, but could they make flanken? Pot roast? Gornischt! Kafka could cook, but you’d never find Betty Friedan in the kitchen.
All right. So I didn’t know that red meat had blood until I was married. Broil? Roast? Bar-B-Que maybe? “Come off it,” as Bubby would say. After all, this was her kitchen, and when she wasn’t fighting the battles on the front lines of the ILGWU or taking minutes (seemed like hours) at Histadrut, you could find Bubby at her post hovering above the stove, tissue hanging from the pocket of her housecoat, wooden spoon in hand (just in case the flanken tried to jump out of the simmering stew), making soup, boiling potatoes (borsht sold separately) and watching over the gedemfte flaysh.
Yes, in her own way, Bubby made a contribution to the Jewish spirit, as activist, matriarch, organizer and one who joined in the struggle. Gekemft far ale yidn. It was, however, her contribution to gastronomic tradition that endeared Bubby, not only to her family but to an entire generation. Gedemft for all mankind!
Flanken used to be very inexpensive, which is why it was incorporated into the meals of Jews who were stuck in poverty in Europe. Ironically, it was the incredible success of Korean grilled short ribs (aka kalbi) that caused flanken to become a lot more expensive at the grocery store or butcher shop. However, few things are as delicious when properly made as Ashkenazi-style flanken – now with a goodly amount of TFD magic in the seasoning and preparation!
First – how do you properly select a good piece of flanken? For that, here is an old-school trick from Jewish bubbies (grandmothers) of yore – always select a flanken with 3 bones per strip instead of 5, if you have the option to do so. The 3-bone strip is more tender. 🙂 However, there is a guaranteed way to assure tender flanken that doesn’t involve old wives tales – get your meat from full-blood American Wagyu cattle! This vendor has a nice product that isn’t too expensive.
Flanken recipes of old used a bay leaf or two for flavor – while that is never a bad way to go, I actually prefer the flavor of fresh Thai lime leaves instead – it helps cut through the richness of the meat and sauce quite well indeed! You can buy them quite inexpensively from here.
Now, the gravy is where I start to get very creative indeed! I call for a classic sweet and sour profile, just like my grandmother did – but with my preferred choice of outré ingredients that achieve true palatal perfection!
First, you’ll need a little bit of beef demiglace to add real richness to the gravy – you can buy it from here. Kosher grape juice is a must in this recipe – and this is my preferred brand, which is truly the best old-school grape juice you’ll ever have the opportunity to try! Substitute kosher grape juice of a less distinguished vintage if you so choose or prefer to buy in less-than-bulk quantities.
For an upmarket touch, some high-quality alcohol is used – in my case, I’m going all the way back to the Old Country by specifying slivovitz, a plum brandy that is also a respectful flavor nod to prunes, which were used in the flanken of yore. Buy it here. I also call for a decent hit of Chipotle hot sauce to add both smoky flavor and heat to the final dish – as well as my secret ingredient for a great stew: roasted garlic onion jam with balsamic vinegar! It adds the perfect flavor profile of onion, garlic, sweet and sour to my flanken!
Several different fresh and dried herbs round out the dish – I am extremely pleased to be able to offer a modern version of a classic Jewish recipe – and trust me, it will be the best and most tender beef stew you’ll ever try, redolent with flavor and unmatched in savor! Hoist a toast to Sammy’s when you make this and enjoy, my Citizens! Enjoy this with another updated Jewish classic via TFD – three-fowl chicken soup!
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
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