I love to make food that is "stick to your ribs" and still very company friendly. I also think its a good idea to practice a recipe before you actually make it for company. You can tweak the recipe changing it to suit your families' tastes and have a good idea if you even want to serve it to your Mother-in-law beforehand.
Tweaking recipes is really very easy as most experienced cooks will tell you. First you have to identify what you don't like..you can't do that from looking at the recipe ingredients. Let's say you hate-hate-hate onions. Your recipe calls for 1/2 cup of onions, 1 cup chopped celery, 1 cup chopped carrots and the rest of the ingredients are all OK with you. If you leave out the onions it may change the recipe too much it and it would throw off the balance of the recipe. It will not taste the same and you may need to change the rest of the ingredients to make up for the missing onion.
One of the amazing things about recipe contents is that it is very likely that even though you hate a particular thing in a recipe, once it's all cooked together with other items you can no longer identify that particular food. For example can you single out the taste of onions in spaghetti sauce? No because it has married with the other ingredients to form a new taste combination. Now, if I hated onions (I don't) I certainly wouldn't order French Onion Soup which is an example of a high flavor recipe.
OK, so you have made the recipe and tasted it and while it looked great it doesn't taste as good as it looked. So change it and try it again! Be aware that some spices are stronger than others and while some taste good strong (garlic) and others don't (juniper berry) so you really need to know the strengths of the spices you do like. It's all trial and error.
I have substituted a tablespoon of grated ginger instead of 3 cloves of minced garlic. It makes for a whole new dynamic in the recipe. Do remember to change your side dishes or starches to reflect the new taste sensation. Ginger goes better with rice than mashed potatoes...
So I have a recipe here for you that has a lot of possibilities. You can change the meat in it from beef shanks to country style spare ribs to chicken.
3 pounds beef shanks
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 bay leaves
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Pat the shanks dry and season with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat and brown the shanks on all sides, working in batches if needed. Remove the shanks and set aside. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the Dutch oven and reduce the heat to medium. Add the onions, carrots, celery, salt, and pepper and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, to remove the raw flavor, about 3 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the vinegar, and then add the red pepper flakes and bay leaves.
Add the shanks back to the pan and add enough stock to reach halfway up the sides of the ribs. Bring the pan to a simmer, cover, and place in the oven. Braise until the meat is tender, about 1 1/2 hours. During the last half hour, uncover to allow the liquid to reduce and the shanks to brown.
Here are some substitutes I have tried with this recipe and LOVED: Instead of stock add a good red wine in the same amount. Instead of vinegar use apple juice or cider. Instead of tomato paste use ketchup. I have made these substitutions separately and used them all together, its good any way you do it.
I serve the above recipe with creamy polenta but if I used pork I would substitute it with mashed potatoes or rice. Chicken would be good with either side.
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