You morons, you idiots, why are you spending so much goddamn money on meat when the best parts are so damn cheap. Here, for instance, are beef shanks, which you can usually buy in a cut that resembles a giant osso buco, which is to say cut across the shank, perpendicular to the bone, usually an inch to an inch-and-half thick. A heavily worked muscle--it's the leg, after all--shanks have a reputation for dryness and toughness, and it is true that you wouldn't want to sear one off and serve it rare. But aside from the organs, the truest expression of the flavor of the animal is in its real flesh, the parts that it uses. I do not know why this is, but it is. Well-seasoned and long-braised, the beef shank reveals something of what the boring domestic cow's ancestor must have tasted like: gelatinous and a little gamey, savory with a slight unctuous texture. Incidentally, the bones are full of the most delicious marrow, which dissolves into the braising liquid to help fortify and thicken it.
3-4 beef shanks, an inch or so thick
1/3 cup pancetta, diced
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
2 medium shallots, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, crushed and finely diced
1/2 lb button or crimini mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1 medium fennel bulb, coarsely chopped
1 16 oz can whole plum tomatoes (San Marzano, preferably), crushed by hand
several pinches dried basil (note on dried herbs below)
1/2 cup shitty red wine, but not too shitty
juice of 1 meyer lemon
semi-aged sheep's milk cheese (such as Spanish Malvarosa), grated
extra virgin olive oil
Heat a generous pour of the olive oil in a large, deep braising dish over very high flame until very hot. Season the meet with salt and pepper. One at a time, brown the shank cuts until golden brown on either side. Set aside.
Reduce heat to medium high and add the pancetta. It is mostly a flavoring agent. The idea is to render some of the pork fat into the oil. When it has begun to fry, remove the meat with a slotted spoon. Reserve.
Add the onions, shallots, garlic, and fennel, salting as you go. Sweat out until soft and translucent. Add the mushrooms and sauté until soft. Add the tomatoes, wine, lemon juice, and dried basil. (In general, I do not like dried herbs, but dried basil, especially when you grew and dried it yourself, has a deeper, darker flavor than its fresh counterpart, and it makes an excellent addition to a braising liquid.)
Return the pancetta to the braise. Place the beef in the braise, smothering until the tops of the cuts are just visible. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low. Simmer over low heat for at least 2.5 hours.
After it has simmered, the meat will be nearly falling off the bone. Remove gently. It will naturally divide into several large chunks per cut. I serve this over homemade wide noodles--or you can buy fresh pasta from a good Italian market; or serve over a simple risotto or even over a long-grained white rice. Whatever your starch, lay a bed of it in a wide, shallow bowl. Ladle a portion of the braising liquid over the top as a sauce. Place a piece or two of beef on top. Spoon one more bit of sauce over the meat, and garnish with a nice pile of the grated cheese.
Friday, February 26, 2010
Thursday, February 25, 2010
David Ignatius' phoned-in hack job on Iranian "machinations" and interference in Iraqi politics doesn't exactly move me to scrutiny, seeing as it is, well, a phoned-in hack job. That having been said, it is impossible to repeat often enough the utter, fundamental, essential, intrinsic, inherent, unavoidable, inarguable, insane absurdity of lecturing a country for taking an active role in the politics of its neighbor and longtime rival when your own nation has invaded that rival, deposed its long-standing government, mandated a new constitution, fortified and occupied its capital city, garrisoned over 100,000 occupying troops, and committed itself to an "enduring" military presence to be measured in decades at least.
Yesterday it was Bobbo Gates telling the Euros that they were insufficiently bellicose for an advanced society, and today the Times gets in on the act. I don't want to be too hard on the poor shits. Ever thus to dorks and losers. No matter how they try to dress themselves in the drag of the popular kids, there is always something just a little . . . off about the cock of their baseball cap and the sag of their jeans.
The story of the forthcoming Dutch withdrawal (and the likely subsequent withdrawals of other, um, coalition forces) is straightforward and wholly uncomplicated. The Dutch public was all like, "Yo, fuck this shit. What the fuck are we doing in Afghanistan?" The Netherlands is small and its political parties are as yet not wholly owned subsidiaries of Boeinglockheedmartinsachselectrichousemobil; they must occasionally respond to public opinion rather than simply manipulating it into something amenable to the murderdeathkilling of yet more illiterate poppy farmers for some hazy geostrategic endeavor to overcome the sunk costs fallacy and the boundless capacity of the Afghan tribes for rejecting foreign invaders. So, in short, they are taking their cocaine, and they are going back to Greensburg!
The gyroscopic fearmongering by which the Times balances its heavy load of bullshit might fly in Peoria, but I have a feeling that that ain't so in Amsterdam, for though the living memory may be fading, the Dutch have got to figure, "Hell, we were occupied by the fucking Nazis, and we managed to survive as a people and a culture, so perhaps we'll manage to tough out the occasional subway bomb by a gang of revanchist malcontents without totally losing our fucking minds." Or something along those lines.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
I am obviously no great believer in progress, but look, even though it's only been fifty years, the post-war Western European peace has got to rank as one of the great achievements of our sorry civilization, and for all the EU's problems and iniquities, the fact that those countries have created a vast, cooperative, peaceful union of peoples on the fucking ash piles of the greatest human calamity of all time can hardly be taken lightly or dismissed. That you can travel without a passport from Madrid to Berlin is nothing short of a miracle given our species' persistent brutishness, clannishness, violence, indifference, and cruelty. Europe, if hardly a utopia, if beset by the ghosts of its colonial past and its demographic future, if uncertain of political values and economic policies, if often racist and often unjust, if overburdened by bureaucracies and no longer the greatest epicenter of human invention, is nonetheless at peace with itself and its neighbors--a mature, happy, somewhat cossetted, wealthy, weary society full of fast trains and bad pop music. It bears repeating. All of this on the ground-up bones and wailing shades of mankinds self-made, mid-century apocalypse, our greatest disaster, our worst moment, our most titanic act of collective insanity.
Soooooo . . . this is apparently a bad thing. The so-called demilitarization of Europe is crimping America's ability to occupy foreign countries and fight neverending counterinsurgencies in order to achieve something or other.
A perception of European weakness, [Secretary of Defense Robert Gates] warned, could provide a “temptation to miscalculation and aggression” by hostile powers.What fucking hostile powers?
There was plenty of unintentional absurdity at the Supreme Court yesterday, which is, as we say in bowling, about par for the course. But one particular eruction from the Solicitor of the Court of His Majesty Barack Obama caught my eye like Johnny Weir's ass under a pair of sheer leggings, except, um, not in a good way:
Ms. Kagan gave examples of prohibited conduct. A lawyer would commit a crime, she said, by filing a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of a terrorist group. Helping such a group petition international bodies is also a crime, she added.So. His Obamitude, having already arrogated to Himself the established Presidential perquisites of oublietting or guillotining anyone anywhere for anything, has now claimed the less flashy but no less totalitarian right to forbid the legal defense of any animal, vegetable, or mineral that His government predetermines to be a terrorist, or terrorish, or terroresque.
It's an astonishing and sweeping proposition, really. It's illegal to file amicus briefs?
Why not just make it illegal to provide counsel to the guilty? I mean, we already know that they're guilty.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
I Couldn't Have Been in a Crowded Restaurant Seen by Multiple Witnesses because I was Robbing a Bank at the Time
But the belief that the world operates rationally is itself irrational. The example of Hitler both instructs and warns. The Nazi leader was not just an anti-Semite who actually believed his insane theories; he also made decisions that were in themselves crazy. For example, why did he declare war on the United States after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor? Why did he invade the Soviet Union before he had defeated Britain? In both cases, he had his reasons. And in both cases, his reasons were crazy.Richard Cohen is one of those authentic American morons who has managed to cobble together a whole crackpot Weltanschauung out of a hobbyist's affection for History Channel documentaries. Yes, Hitler was a certified fruitcake, but neither of Cohen's examples proves it, especially given that both of his points are totally historically inaccurate. Why did Hitler declare war on the United States after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor? Well, because the United States declared war on Japan, and Article III of the Tripartite Treaty dictated that the Axis powers enter and aid in any conflict in which a party not currently involved in either the European war or the Japanese-Chinese conflict declared war on an Axis Power. As for invading the Soviet Union, that was always the plan. The Battle of Britain and aborted Operation Sea Lion were late additions to the German war plan, and when the Luftwaffe failed to break British air defenses or the "will" of the British people through aerial bombartment, the Nazi government simply abandoned plans for an amphibious assault on Britian, correctly assuming that the British were in no condition to challenge Germany on the Continent at the time. Meanwhile, Operation Barbarossa was an early success, with the Wehrmacht making huge territorial gains very swiftly, and the subsequent reversals on the Eastern Front across the next two years had almost nothing to do with the failure to conquer Britain, despite what the D-Day hagiographers in the Anglosphere would tell you.
Anyway, the rest of the Cohen article is about how Crunktakular Mahmoud Ahmedinejad is and how Barack Obama should act more like Richard Nixon, whose record of wartime achievement . . . wait, what? I mean, what's remarkable at the article, what makes it an almost achetypal example of the kookjobbery that is the WaPo opinion page, is that after extrapolating incorrect lessons from fictionalized historical incidents, it then misapplies its own dishonest conclusions. It's like a criminal who fabricates an incredible alibi and then uses it prove that he's actually guilty.