Since its mysterious opening nearly three months ago, Boeufhaus has become one of the hottest restaurants in Chicago this summer. Eating enthusiasts have begun to flock to the meaty brasserie on Western Avenue for its boutique steaks and cozy, chic space, but perhaps the bigger draws lie on the mostly affordable and unexpected small plates side of the menu. The poster child for that has become the short rib beignets, where an arduous two-day process results in a unique item that transforms beignets, mostly known as a sugary French-influenced pastry, into a meaty savory starter.
"I think (the short rib beignet) speaks a lot for what (co-owner) Jamie (Finnegan) and myself are trying to do here," chef/partner Brian Ahern says. "That it is something that's so time consuming yet we have it on the starter portion of the menu as a relatively inexpensive offering shows that we care more about the process and what we're serving, and that money is not always the driving force behind everything."
Ahern, who says he had been kicking around the idea of a savory beignet for a while and scribbled it on a napkin, starts the process with boneless chuck end short rib mostly sourced from Creekstone Farms in Kansas. He seasons the meat with salt, pepper, thyme and garlic and lets it dry overnight before searing it "very hard" in the morning until it's heavily colored on all sides. He removes the meat from the pan and caramelizes mirepoix vegetables (carrot, onion, celery) along with leeks, garlic and thyme in the juices to create the braising liquid, adds San Marzano tomato, deglazes the pan with red wine vinegar, reintroduces the ribs with house stock (dark chicken and veal), and braises for five-to-six hours. After cooling overnight, he shreds the meat "into manageable pieces" and reduces the liquid, finally adding more mirepoix vegetables, herbs and chives to give it crunch.
Meanwhile, Ahern creates a traditional Louisiana-style beignet dough (yeast, flour, egg, salt, oil)—but without sugar to make it savory. It proofs overnight while the short ribs are braising. The following morning he rolls out the dough and slices it into 2x1-inch rectangles, brushes them with egg wash, balls up the short rib meat mix, fills each dough piece with meat and a little jus to keep it juicy, stretches and folds the dough over each, and presses. After setting, each beignet is deep fried in beef fat until tender and plated in servings of six-to-seven with short rib jus on the side as a dipping sauce.
Ahern says Boeufhaus staff makes batches of 1000 short rib beignets 1-2 times a week, and that roughly 33 percent of tables order them. But has it become Boeufhaus' signature dish? "That was never the intention but maybe now if you're looking at it from an outside perspective at what we're trying to here," he answers. "It's a small little place and it'll always have a home on the menu.
"At the end of the day, all I care about is people being happy and satiated the whole time they‘re here so if a little pillow of dough with braised short rib in it helps us along that path, then that's what we'll do." Watch him prepare the dish in the gallery above.