In Scout’s How to Cook Vancouver series, we will be striving to combine our addiction to dining out with our passion for cooking by challenging ourselves to make Vancouver’s best restaurant dishes in our own homes.
Can I just short-hand this to THE Fricassee? Surely anyone who has had this dish – either at Chambar or Café Medina – will immediately clue in with just those two words. If the word ‘fricassee’ doesn’t immediately send a deep jolt of pleasure running down your spine, allow me to paint you an extremely detailed picture of textural nirvana: melt-in-your-mouth tender bites of meaty short ribs intermingle with roasted potatoes, the gooey pull of smoked cheddar, the sweet lusciousness of caramelized onions, and the buttery flow of egg yolk while crisp bursts of tart green apple cut through what could quickly become overwhelming richness to produce a stacking of flavours that is exactly what people like me – those who crave a tiny piece of EVERYTHING on the plate in every single bite – are always searching for. It’s the kind of dish that would be obscene to eat in the same time frame as say, a small lavender-milk-chocolate-dowsed waffle (especially given that a thick slab of grilled focaccia is already allotted for sopping-up privileges), but yet I find myself ordering both on every visit I make to Café Medina. I appreciate the ability to order both sweet and deeply savoury breakfast in the same breath, especially since I am not conditioned to be the sort of riser who has ever managed to avoid any breakfast line-up ever and not having to choose between sweet and salty seems like a just reward for my patient waiting.
It should be said right off the bat, that this recipe – originally from the brunch menu at Chambar and further popularized by brunch spot, Café Medina – is certainly not something you’ll be whipping up at a moment’s notice on some lazy Saturday morning unless of course your plan was to eat the latest breakfast known to your household (hey, you were due for a project – one of the latest recipes I threw at you was a sandwich – you had a lengthy braise coming to you!) No, this is a definite plan-ahead situation if intending to serve for breakfast, but how fortunate that most braises are in fact even a little bit better the day after they’ve been made. Not to say that this dish has to strictly maintain its post on the breakfast menu as it makes for a wonderful Sunday dinner (I don’t think at my house we ate it for breakfast once in the saga that was recipe testing and tweaking). It is worth noting that instead of using the caramelized cipollini onions called for in the original recipe, which I’m sorry to say are a bit of a nightmare for a home cook due to the peeling situation, one of my tweaks was to substitute with regular caramelized onions. Though a diehard fan might miss the pleasant pop of biting into a cipollini, the point for me was to develop the backbone of deep, savoury flavour that caramelized onions lend this dish, which can be done without cipollinis.
Source note: The “bones” of this recipe came from modifying Medina’s recipe for the vegetarian version of this fricassee (the mushroom-based ‘Fricassee Champignons’) from the Vancouver Eats cookbook, compiled by Joanne Sasvari. The rest comes from never having eaten anything different at Medina for the last 10 years.
Short Rib Fricassee | Serves 6-8
6 tbsp + ¼ cup olive or neutral oil, divided
3 lb boneless beef short ribs, cut into (roughly) 1-½-inch cubes
Plenty of kosher salt + freshly ground pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced into half-moons
8 cups beef stock
2 cups full-bodied red wine (I use Syrah)
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
4 tbsp honey
3 medium tomatoes, quartered
3 bay leaves
2 rosemary sprigs
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 tsp dried juniper berries (optional)
2 lb baby potatoes, preferably yellow-skinned
¼ cup tomato paste
1 cup applewood-smoked cheddar cheese, cut into (roughly) ½-inch cubes
2 Granny Smith apples
Arugula or watercress, to serve
Eggs, to serve (1-2 per serving)
Large loaf of focaccia bread, to serve
You will also need a piece of cheesecloth and kitchen string (both of which are available at basically every grocery store)
Place a large Dutch oven (or similar vessel) over medium heat and pour in 4 tbsp oil once hot. While the oil heats, season the cubes of beef generously with salt and pepper. Place the flour in a shallow dish and, in batches, dredge the cubes of beef in the flour, shaking off excess flour from each cube after dredging. In batches, sear the flour-tossed beef in the hot oil until lightly golden on each side, making sure that the pot stays hot enough to sear the meat without any burning happening. Avoid overcrowding the pot – which will impact how easily the beef develops a lovely seared crust – by browning the meat in several batches and placing completed batches on a large plate. Add more oil to the Dutch oven if things are looking dry.
Once the beef is cooked, you should hopefully have some beef fat and residual oil co-mingling in the pot but NOT burning. If the oil or pot residue seems burnt to you (not just lovely golden stuck-on bits), you may wish to drain and/or wipe the pot out before moving onto the next step, but hopefully this is not the case.
Pour 2 more tbsp of oil into the hot Dutch oven along with the butter (you will need to add a bit of extra oil if you had to do a full pot wipe-out). Heat until the butter is foaming then add the sliced onions, using your fingers to scatter them evenly into the hot fat, and season with 1 tsp kosher salt. Toss the onions to coat and then leave to cook over medium heat, stirring every few minutes before settling back into an even layer. Cook for ~30 minutes, or until the onions have developed a deep golden-brown hue and a sort of “creaminess”. Monitor the heat during the caramelizing process to avoid any burning at all. Once the onions are caramelized, add the seared beef back to the pot (along with any plate juices that have accumulated) and pour in the beef stock, red wine, vinegar, and honey. Cut off a large double-layered square of cheesecloth and in it place the quartered tomatoes, bay leaves, rosemary sprigs, peppercorns, coriander seeds, and juniper berries (if using). Tie the cheesecloth into a little bundle using the kitchen string and nestle this right into the middle of the pot. Could you avoid this seemingly fussy step? If picking the individual aromatics out of your stew prior to serving sounds like a fun twist on an Easter egg hunt to you, go ahead – but otherwise save yourself the additional work with this tiny extra step here. Bring the whole mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, then turn down to medium-low and let it bubble slowly away, uncovered, for ~2 hours, skimming off any foam that gathers along the surface. The beef should be extremely tender when you sample a piece, with no chewy give whatsoever.
If planning on serving the fricassee on the same day, get started on the roasted potatoes while the beef braises (otherwise skip ahead to the next paragraph and return to this step on the day of serving). Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Toss the baby potatoes in ¼ cup oil, scatter onto a large baking sheet, and sprinkle with 1 tsp salt and a hearty grind of pepper. Roast in the oven for 20-30 minutes, tossing halfway through cooking, until patches of burnished brown appear on all sides and the potatoes are tender. Let cool down slightly before cutting into bite-sized pieces (in halves or quarters, depending on how big your potatoes are). Set aside. Leave the oven on.
Once the beef is tender, remove and discard the cheesecloth packet. Strain the stew over a large heatproof bowl so as to separate the liquid from the beef and onions (the latter will be set aside for the time being). Pour the braising liquid back into the Dutch oven, whisk in the tomato paste, and increase the heat to medium-high until boiling. Turn the heat down just slightly to a vigorous simmer then keep at this level, stirring occasionally, until thickened and reduced by at least half, ~ 45 minutes. The end product should be more saucy than soupy. Taste and adjust the seasonings – you will almost certainly need to add more salt, but you may also want to kick up the acidity with a touch more balsamic or soften it with a dash more honey for sweetness. You decide, but however you tweak, you should be left with a super flavourful, highly savoury sauce with a velvety texture. Taste the beef and onions as well – they should also be perfectly seasoned with salt and pepper. If making the fricassee ahead of time, let the sauce and beef cool down until they can be covered and refrigerated. Reheat the sauce before getting ready to serve as it tends to be a bit thicker when cold or may accumulate some hardened fat on top.
When serving time is near, decide on the dish(es) you will be using to serve (also if you made the stew ahead of time, reheat the sauce to warm and preheat the oven back to 425). Ideally you might have a few ovenproof, single-serving size dishes available, but if not you can always make this in a larger dish (e.g. a shallow casserole dish) and dish out servings into shallow bowls before doing the toppings.
Place the roasted potatoes in the bottom(s) of the dish(es), then cover with the beef and onions, and ladle the sauce overtop (not to completely submerge). Nestle the cubes of smoked cheddar evenly throughout. Set the dish(es) on a large rimmed baking sheet and place in the oven, baking until the cheese has mostly melted and the stew is bubbling, ~10 minutes (longer if the beef is reheating from a stint in the fridge). I say ‘mostly melted’ because it’s actually nice when the cheese maintains a little bit of texture to it while still becoming gooey and delicious. While the fricassee bakes, get the rest of the toppings assembled. Typically, the apples would be cut into matchsticks, but if this is too much to ask of you at this point, you can just dice them up (skin on). You also have the option of lightly oiling and then quickly griddling or pan-frying the focaccia, but again, if you have already stretched your energy reserves far enough – and your bread is lovely and fresh – you can skip this step.
Either way, cut the focaccia into fat rectangles that can easily be swooshed through the velvety fricassee sauce. Fry up as many sunny-side-up eggs as are needed for the crowd you are serving (1-2 per person).
To serve, keep the fricassee in the individual baking dishes (if using) or spoon into shallow serving bowls. Top each serving with a scattering of arugula, some matchsticked/diced apples, and an egg or two. Grind a generous amount of black pepper over each serving and pop a platter of focaccia on the table for unmitigated sopping action. No one deserves this more than you.