All the windows and the back door in the kitchen are wide open. The stove’s exhaust fan is going full blast. An industrial shop fan is perched by the door funneling acrid, tallow-tinged smoke out into the winter night. Not 20 minutes ago my oven combusted into a flash fire, rapidly snuffed by a closed oven door and a hasty punch of the “cancel” button on the control panel of my range. Gas feed stanched. Oxygen deprived. Disaster averted. What is to be the centerpiece entree at our New Year’s Eve Dinner Party (the restaurant-quality ribs! the silky potato puree! the free-flowing wine! the impressed guests!) now simmers humbly on the range top. What was to be a cozy Tom Colicchio-devised short rib braise almost became a firey blaze.
Things were going very well there for a while. I’d marinated my ribs for a full 24 hours. I’d sweated another batch of mirepoix. I’d added the stock. The ribs. I also added a bit of hubris. I thought: why not make twice as many ribs this time. I thought: why not have twice as many people over and have a New Years Party. Just me, my wife, and three very close friends and family (two of them being hearty beefeaters).
But then, mid way through the 3 hour braise, a double batch of my “take the back date night” ribs boiled over, throwing a lipid-rich, napalm-like broth onto the floor of my oven, producing smoke, flames, and a shaken resolve in this parent trying to one-up his recent victory in the realm of dinner parties.
My near fatal error was overloading my all-clad masterchef braising pan with ribs beyond its intended capacity. This pushed the stock/wine reduction braising liquid to just a half-inch from the edge. This allowed the incendiary liquid to spill over the sides of the pan and into the hot environment of the oven. This produced smoke. I stupidly thought that if I took the pan out and cranked the heat, I could cook off the fatty glaze. Something about a 400 degree fahrenheit oven just doesn’t seem to agree with beef drippings. Something about combustion. (My kids? Playing, safe, sound, and unaware, in the living room.)
Still, the ribs (unscorched, on their way to fork tender) simmer on top of the stove. Slowly, the acrid smoke is being replaced by that delicious aroma of aromatic vegetables, thyme, wine, beef, and an adults-only dinner party to come.
Happy New Year.