I know that the phrase “vinegar and water” has an unappetizing connotation, especially for those of us of a certain age. Still, I could resist the title, because I had an edifying sauce experience this week. As you know, I cook a lot of meat. Especially these days, what with having gotten fat again and all, I find myself subsisting largely on steaks, pork chops, and chickens - and their leftovers. I lust for hash browns, big sandwiches, endless bowls of spaghetti, and the like. We’ve all been there. But in the meantime, I have to get by entirely on meat. It’s not as if I’m going to start eating vegetables. So I needed to find ways to make meat better, and without a lot of ingredients. (Post-Sandy, our refrigerator holds exactly five items, and two of them are butter.)
So I’ve been trying to make pan sauces for my steak.
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I don’t know why I have so seldom done this before. Maybe it was just that I liked seared, salty meat enough to eat it unadorned. But having taught myself the art of making classic french pan sauces, I have started to make them whenever I cook anything not named hambuger. So: having acquired some boneless short rib from Whole Foods (the best beef for the money I know of), I took it upon myself to salt and sear some up in a mix of butter and grapeseed oil (the butter for flavor and milk, the oil to keep it from burning.) I sliced up the short ribs, let them sear on one side until the kitchen was uncomfortably smoky, and then removed them. I looked around for some wine or beer to deglaze the pan with. After all, the best part of the meat was the brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan! So without anything else at hand, I reached for some Greenhouse Tavern rose vinegar, and deglazed with that, thrown a chunk of Kate’s Creamery butter in to thicken it as it reduced. There was nothing to add, of course, and it was way too vinegary (I put in too much) but it was the sauce all the same!
Unfortunately I used up all the vinegar in that lunch. And the next day, with more short rib to cook up, I still hadn’t thought to buy any wine or beer or vinegar or stock or any of the other things you are supposed to deglaze with. So I said, the hell with it. I’ll use water. How bad can it be? I can always not use it. But you know what? It was delicious. Yes, there was no special flavor to it other than beef, and no acid to cut all that fat, but so what? It tasted like roast beef jus, only thicker and more buttery. And it was a sauce. If I were a thinner or more patient man, I might have made some minute rice or couscous to absorb it and had a nice meal for myself. But that would have been too much work. What an awful man I am! But at least I know how to make sauce.