All I can say is: have mercy.
I’m typically not a sandwich-as-entrée type of cook, so when I say that these Grilled Cheese and Short Rib Sandwiches are the best sandwiches I’ve ever made, I’m not really saying much. But I can also say that these short ribs are among the best beef I’ve ever cooked, and that my friend, is something. (I was a Texan long before I was a flexitarian.)
Beef short ribs are simply the meaty tail ends of the beef ribs from the rib, chuck, and brisket portion. Short ribs are sold in slabs of varying lengths and widths, depending on the butcher. Unlike back ribs, which are more bone than meat, short ribs offer a good amount of beefy-tasting meat that is also high in connective tissue. They also tend to be quite fatty, so besides trimming any external fat before cooking, it is best to brown the ribs before cooking to render excess fat and intensify the meat flavors.
Well, there you go. The ribs I procured were about an inch and a half wide, another inch and a half thick, and most were about four inches long. The five pounds called for in the recipe translated to nine ribs in my case. When I made my request at the meat counter, the butcher was nodding approvingly as he weighed and wrapped them, as if to say, “Aw, yeah…”
With my refresher on bovine anatomy complete, the only remaining research topic was the cheese. I know next to nothing about fine cheese, but would love to learn. All I know is that I love eating it – I’ve only met one cheese I wouldn’t care to have again (it tasted a little too much like the smell of sweaty gym socks).
I’d never heard of Petit Basque. Again, I turned to JOC. While I didn’t find anything on Petit Basque specifically, I did find this interesting little nugget:
The French believe, with scientific evidence to back them up, that cheese contains beneficial enzymes and bacteria that aid in digestion – and that even much of its fat content remains unabsorbed by the body, so that it is not as nutritionally daunting as it might look.
Well, how d’ya like that one? I’m filing that right next to the articles that sing the nutritional praises of dark chocolate, wine, and coffee. When I’m 50 pounds overweight and diabetic, due to my chocolate/wine/cheese/coffee diet, I’m taking my documentation with me to the doc’s office. If, however, I somehow magically morph into a fitness queen look-alike by eating cheese, then I’m writing a diet book. I’ll call it Eat the Stuff They Say Will Kill You.
If I’d had more time, I would have stopped by the bookstore to see if I could find an in-depth reference on cheese, like this one or this one or this one. But since we live in the age of the Internet, I poked around and stumbled upon iGourmet.com, which looks like a dangerously easy way to blow a lot of cash on high-end food without getting off the couch. They specialize in cheese and had this information on our ingredient in question:
This semi-soft sheep’s milk cheese is handmade in the French Pyrenees. The Pyrenees Mountain range, a natural border that divides France and Spain, is populated by the Basques, a people who have their own customs and language. Although the Basques live on both sides of the border, they produce this cheese on the French side. Amidst the breathtaking, rolling mountains of the Pyrenees, vast pastures stretch as far as the eye can see, providing fertile grazing for milk-producing sheep. P’tit Basque, made from pure sheep’s milk, has a slightly oily texture and an earthy, nutty flavor. It comes to us in a whole, uncut cylinder, offering a beautiful presentation as well as a lovely taste.
This brought to mind a short jovial little man walking among sheep on a verdant hillside, without a cloud in the sky, speaking half Spanish and half French. Why is it that I assume they are romantic low-tech Luddites? In reality, the cheesemaker in my imagination is probably pecking cheese production forecasts into his iPhone and cussing at the sheep in Spanench for moving too slowly.
Okay, time to stop daydreaming about a second career as a cheesemaker and make a sandwich…
I was pleasantly surprised by the onions – when I saw “caramelized” and “pickled” in the title, I imagined slowly cooking onions for an hour and then soaking them in some sort of brine overnight. Turns out they were just sautéed onions with a little sugar (“caramelized”) and a shot of vinegar (“pickled”) added at the end. Okay by me!
So basically, you do a little chopping, you sear the meat, you let it cook for a couple of hours, and you sauté onions for about 15 minutes. After that, you assemble and grill the sandwiches the same way you would for any ol’ grilled cheese or patty melt.
Except that this ain’t just any ol’ grilled cheese. This, my friends, is gourmet man-food. The meat retained its beef flavor, but brought along hints of the wine and sherry in the braising liquid, like a well-executed beef stew. The richness of the meat was offset by the sweet-and-sourness of the onions and the bite of the arugula. And the cheese… good Lord, the cheese! It had a wonderful mellow flavor and melted like a dream. And all that was book-ended by crunchy golden slabs of tangy sourdough. Heaven.
I will absolutely make this again. It would have been perfect cut into quarters, or sixths, and set out on a platter for a casual party. Why I didn’t make this for the Super Bowl, I’ll never know. I give this recipe an easy A, and unlike the spaghetti and meatballs last month, I wouldn’t change a thing.
I would love to hear from anyone else who made the recipe. Did I miss anything? Speaking of missing something, does anyone else think that the greens on the BA cover photo look more like baby spinach than arugula?
p.s. I feel compelled to tell you that this is no place for pillowy WonderBread. You need something dense and chewy to stand up to all that goodness piled between the slices, otherwise you’re going to have a soft gooey short rib casserole on your hands…