Just in time for fall and holiday gatherings, acclaimed chef Jerome Grant puts his own cultural spin on short ribs and sweet potatoes
If the changing leaves haven’t been enough of a signal, we are in the midst of a seasonal shift — one that naturally transitions us from being “back outside” to gathering in the great indoors, as the temps drop. For Chef Jerome Grant, the James Beard-nominated founding chef of the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s Sweet Home Café and chef-owner of Washington DC’s Mahal BBQ, it’s also a season for the much-needed community.
“You know, we’ve always thought about the community being the cornerstone of how we operate nowadays, but we’ve realized these past couple of years that it’s so much more,” Chef Jerome told theGrio. “We’ve realized who our community is and who our community isn’t…It just goes to show that with everything that’s been going on, besides family and faith, community just has so much more of a meaning, you know?
“And I think that hopefully, it turns into that old way, where a community can help raise a child. And all of a sudden, we’re protecting our communities, we’re staying within our communities, we’re putting businesses in our communities. We’re doing all those things to be at home or to be closer to home — to be closer to people that we love,” he added.
While the warmer months may be grand for family reunions and cookouts, there’s nothing quite like the impending holiday season to gather your community around your literal or proverbial table. “You know, it’s sort of like that whole switch,” said Chef Jerome. “The leaves begin to change; We’re spending a lot more time at home, but we’re a lot cozier. We have holidays that we’re looking forward to, so there’ll be cousins coming to the house; the kids are out of school a little bit more, so I’m able to spend a lot more time with them… I know fall and winter are definitely my family time.”
In honor of family time, Chef Jerome drew on his own Black, West Indian and Filipino heritage to create two comforting recipes perfect for the fall and winter seasons; cultural influences that bring new dimension to even the most classic of dishes.
“I’ve been privileged and lucky enough to walk through different faces, to see [the world] through a tool that I can interpret well, which is food,” he explained. “It also opened me up to being around a lot of other folks [who] helped me navigate through life and at the same time, helped me find what my voice is. So what does it bring to the table? I think all this has brought a new attitude to the table.”
That includes his own riffs on culinary favorites, like short ribs and sweet potato gnocchi (demonstrated in our video above), which Chef Jerome says are “right on time” for cooling temps. “You know, anything braised right now is going to be something great, but taking something super-fatty like a rib, especially a beef rib … It’s just right on time,” he said.
“To cook a proper short rib, a lot of love goes into it, even though it’s just simple. So you have, like, this big, meaty, pulled type of thing, and then you have these delicate little pillows that are kind of more like dumplings, the way I make them,” he continued. “But then, taking that sweet potato flavor, that’s like another introduction of fall and also something that normally you see around this time just in general … To have a bowl of sweet potatoes and this really rich braised rib is just huge and fatty, and delicious — and then just finishing off with just tons of cheese — cheese is that other lush part.”
Braised Short Rib and Sweet Potato Gnocchi
Sweet Potato Gnocchi
2 cups flour, additional for dusting
2 pounds sweet potato, roasted and pureed
1 large egg beaten
1. Line a medium sheet tray with parchment paper and dust with flour.
2. In a mixing bowl, add sweet potato puree, beaten egg, and flour.
3. Flour your hands and knead the dough until it comes together in a loose clump. Once the dough comes together — do not overwork it — the dough should be a tight ball.
4. Cut the dough into quarters, keeping the others covered as you work. Roll a piece of dough into a long snake about 3/4-inch thick and cut crosswise into 3/4-inch-thick pieces.
5. Dust with flour. (Note: Gnocchi can also be frozen right on the baking sheet — once they are solid, transfer to a zip-top bag for longer storage.)
1/4 cup avocado oil
3 pounds bone-in short ribs
kosher salt, as needed
fresh cracked black pepper
1 large carrot, medium diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 medium onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 cup red wine
2 bay leaves
3 thyme sprigs
1 cup chicken or beef stock
aged pecorino, for garnish
chopped chives, for garnish
1. Preheat the oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Heat avocado oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat.
3. Season short ribs all over with salt and fresh cracked black pepper.
4. Working in batches, sea short ribs on all sides until brown. Transfer browned short ribs to a large plate and continue with the remaining ribs.
5. Once all ribs are browned, in the same pan add the carrot, celery, and onion. Stir occasionally, until slightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes.
6. Add garlic and tomato paste, continuing to cook and brown. Once the mixture has browned, deglaze with red wine and bring to a boil, then reduce by half, 1 to 2 minutes.
7. Add the bay leaves, thyme, stock and bring to a boil.
8. Once boiling reduce heat to a simmer and add the short ribs. Cover and place in oven. Cook until short ribs are tender and falling off the bone about 3 1/2 to 4 hours.
9. Remove the short ribs from the oven and place in a separate bowl. Using two forks, shred the meat, discarding the bones and cartilage. Reserve Dutch oven with braising liquid and skim fat from braising liquid.
10. Add back pulled short rib. Bring sauce to a simmer over medium heat.
11. Over high heat place a large pot of salted water to boil for the gnocchi.
12. Add the gnocchi to the boiling water and let cook until they float.
13. Remove gnocchi with a slotted spoon or spider and add to the simmering sauce. Continue to cook until the sauce is reduced and the gnocchi is coated. (If the sauce is reduced too much, add a little of the gnocchi cooking water).
14. Garnish with saved aged pecorino and chives.
If anyone at your table has room left after that wonderfully rich and savory dish, Chef Jerome suggests finishing the meal off with a sweet and seasonal treat. “I love pies,” he said. “I enjoy making pumpkin pies, sweet potato pies… pecan pie is my favorite. I can’t go, especially in the fall time, without pecan pie like every two weeks.”
However, it is another classic pie. Chef Jerome remixed for theGrio, replacing the crowd-favorite sweet potato pie with a version made with the Philippines-grown purple yam known as ube and coconut milk. “It’s a cream pie that’s pretty fun,” he said. “Ube starch is a little different than even Japanese purple potatoes. It’s a sweeter, more fragrant starch that’s not overly starchy… it’s [got] a little more fragrance and a little bit more sugar. It gives you this really, really incredible texture … and the flavor’s really good. Ube has a specific flavor to it and you’re able to kind of smell the purple.“
Ube + Coconut Cream Pie
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
(Note: a premade graham cracker crust can be substituted.)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Graham Cracker Crust
1. In a medium bowl add graham cracker crumbs and fold in melted butter. Using a spatula, toss all together until the graham cracker mixture becomes the consistency of wet sand.
2. Transfer the mixture to the pie pan and press lightly into a buttered 9-inch pie pan. Begin pressing graham crackers into the pan firmly onto the sides and bottom (use a flat-bottomed glass or measuring cup to help compact the crust into an even layer).
3. Bake crust for 8 minutes just to set. Let cool completely.
1 can (13.5oz) full-fat coconut milk
1 1/4 cup whole milk, divided
1 1/2 Ube puree or Japanese purple potato puree (jarred or homemade)
1/3 cup turbinado sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ginger
5 egg yolks
1/3 cup cornstarch
whipped cream, for topping
1. In a medium saucepan add coconut milk, 1 cup whole milk, purple sweet potato, sugar, salt, and cinnamon and ginger over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally until sugar is dissolved.
2. In a separate bowl, add the remaining milk with egg yolk. Whisk in cornstarch until smooth and no lumps remain.
3. Add in a 1/4 cup or so of the hot milk mixture, whisking vigorously.
4. Continue to whisk in hot milk, 1/4 cup at a time, until about half the milk mixture has been incorporated and the yolk mixture is warm to the touch.
5. Pour into saucepan with remaining milk mixture and return to medium heat. Bring to a boil, whisking frequently so the bottom of the custard doesn’t burn, and once it starts to bubble continue to cook for 2 minutes.
6. Strain it through a fine mesh sieve to remove any large chunks.
7. Pour the custard into the crust, spreading it into an even layer. Let cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight until completely set.
8. Just before serving, top slices with fresh whipped cream.
So there you have it—short (rib) and sweet (potato) comfort food fit for a crowd. To make your gathering gourmet from the first to last bite, start the feast with Chef Jerome Grant’s Black Garlic, Sorghum + Pickled Berry Butter Board and serve his Braised Coconut Greens as a side. “All these flavors mean so much, as well as the method of how we’re presenting them,” says Chef Jerome, adding, “they’re fun and you’d definitely see them at my house.”
Maiysha Kai is theGrio’s lifestyle editor, covering all things Black and beautiful. Her work is informed by two decades’ experience in fashion and entertainment, great books and aesthetics, and the brilliance of Black culture. She is also the editor-author of Body (Words of Change series).
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