Fifth Quarter: Brasato al Barolo (Beef braised in Barolo)
It’s true: it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity. I’ve just returned from a trip to northern Italy, where every day was in the 80s, but bugs, sweat, and tears were nonexistent. In the town of Serralunga d’Alba, only a few grapevines away from Barolo, I dined on the regional beef specialty: Brasato al Barolo. Bellissimo.
The fifth quarter, or butcher’s cut, is offal traditionally kept by the butcher for home cooking. Often inexpensive and always tasty, RVA’s monthly column, Fifth Quarter, offers less-traveled recipes that are both good and offal.
The fifth installment of Fifth Quarter utilizes beef shoulder, which can be found for $3 to $4 a pound.
It’s true: it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity. I’ve just returned from a trip to northern Italy, where every day was in the 80s, but bugs, sweat, and tears were nonexistent. In the tiny, hilly town of Serralunga d’Alba, located in the heart of Piedmont, and only a few grapevines away from Barolo, I dined on the regional beef specialty: Brasato al Barolo. Bellissimo.
One might think braised beef in red wine is too wintry for a summer evening, but it wasn’t. Maybe it was the country (Italy), the company (Anna Abbona, proprietress of Marchesi Di Barolo winery) or her chef’s handiwork, but on a week-long trip of eating and drinking, this was by far the best piece of beef I have had.
For this dish, Piemontese use a cut from the neck of the cow called “tenerone”, meaning “big tender”, but the chef at Marchesi di Barolo used a shoulder cut for his version. The meat was rich from absorbing one bottle of Barolo per pound of meat and also from the bits of tendon striating the working cut.
In my version, I cut back just a touch on the wine. I recommend Barolo for the wine, but, if cost is an issue and you still want to give this recipe a whirl, try a Spanish Mourvedre or another dry, full-bodied red wine. Buy the best you can afford and make sure to have plenty left over for the meal.
Adapted from dinner at Marquisi di Barolo and Romancing the Vine: Life, Love & Transformation in the Vineyards of Barolo by Alan Tardi
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 3 pounds of beef shoulder, tied (available at Big Apple Grocery on Jeff Davis, $3.50lb)
- 2 medium onions diced
- 2 carrots diced
- 5 ribs celery diced
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
- Bay leaf bundled with 3 sprigs of rosemary (tying them together makes them easier to remove later)
- 3 cloves
- 7 black peppercorns, whole
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 or 3 bottles of Barolo
- Nob of chilled butter
- Splash of veal stock, chicken stock, or water
Heat the olive oil in a heavy roasting pan not much larger than the size of the meat. Add the beef and cook on high heat until browned on all sides. Add the garlic, bay leaf, veggies, and season with salt and pepper. Cook on medium heat until the veggies brown. Add the wines, cloves, peppercorns, and cinnamon stick. The level of the wine should almost submerge the meat, but not quite. Boil over high heat for five minutes, then reduce heat to medium-low to low, and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, turning the meat from time to time so it will absorb as much Barolo as possible. Add a splash of water or stock to just cover the meat and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover the pan and braise for two hours, turning the meat every half hour or so. The meat should be fork tender.
Remove the meat from the liquid and cool the beef before refrigerating. Let the cooking liquid cool and remove the bay leaf. Strain the liquid through a strainer lined with cheese cloth or food mill with a small fitting. Season the liquid and refrigerate. This dish tastes better if made a day or two ahead of serving. But, if you are making the dish to serve on the same day, please be sure to cool the meat thoroughly before slicing it for best results.
Remove the string from the meat and slice into 1/4-inch pieces. Put the slices in a heavy skillet. Add enough of the chilled, reserved cooking liquid to cover the meat and simmer until the meat is warmed. If the sauce becomes too thick, add a splash of stock or water. When the meat is warm, place it on a serving platter. Add a knob of butter to the remaining liquid in the pan and allow it to thicken before saucing it over the beef. This is, as you can imagine, a saucy dish. Have lots of bread at the ready for sopping.
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