Typical of California this time of year, in one day we went from eighty degrees and sunny to forty-five degrees and rainy, with snow in the higher hills. And while the rain does turn the golden hills back to green, we will still take the warmer weather as long as we can get it. But one of the benefits of colder weather is that we get to make some more "wintry" dishes, and that often means braises and stews. And one of our favorite braises involves beef short ribs.
Short ribs are a cheap, flavorful and tender (if you cook them right) cut of beef from the rib/plate section of the cow. Short ribs are butchered a few different ways, but for braises the rectangular "English" cut is usually preferred. The longer, thinner "flanken" or "accordion" cuts are more commonly used in Korean-style preparations, which are fantastic, but for another post. The short rib pieces are anywhere from 1-3 inches across and 1-2 inches thick and will usually contain a section of the rib bone. As there is a lot of fat and connective tissue (along with a bone), the short rib has potential for a lot of flavor, but is likely to be tough unless cooked long enough, at moderate temperatures and in a moist environment. Sounds like a braise is in order.
Braising is a combination cooking method where meat is first browned in dry, high heat and then slowly cooked in a covered pot along with liquid. And if you just said "isn't that just like a pot roast", you are correct. The high heat provides tasty, browned flavors and texture, while the moderate temperature, moist cooking breaks down tough cuts of meat and builds a sauce. The addition of aromatics and herbs and flavored liquids like wine and/or stock make for very deep, rich flavors. And while braising takes time and has a few steps, it is an easy cooking method and has the bonus that most braises keep well and are often better the second day. If you cook for a hungry family or a crowd, braises should be in your toolkit. (It is worth noting that braised short ribs are a popular dish with caterers for all the reasons we just noted, delicious, low-cost and easy to prepare ahead of time.)
Making this dish is easy, but the main ingredient here is time. The short ribs are best if you give them a rub of oil, salt, pepper and herbs the day before you cook them (or at least 4 hours before). And then you need to brown the short ribs and aromatics, build the sauce of wine and stock and place the whole thing in the oven for at least three hours. Once the short ribs are done, remove them from the pot and then strain the sauce and let the fat (and there will be a lot) separate from the sauce. Then you are ready to go.
The short ribs will be "pull-apart" tender and have deep beefy flavor and the sauce adds complimentary sweet and sour notes to this very rich dish. We like to serve the short ribs with a quick horseradish sauce (prepared horseradish, sour cream, mayonnaise, a touch of mustard, salt/pepper) along with the sauce from the pot for more contrast and bright spicy notes (yum). And as they are a "winter" dish, short ribs go with almost any starch; potatoes, squash and polenta will all match beautifully. So if you want a true comfort food dinner on a cold winter night, braised short ribs and the starch of your choice will be hard to beat.
Braised Short Ribs:
Notes Before You Start:
Ask your butcher for the rectangular "English cut" short ribs, it is a common cut and should be available.
Short ribs vary in size. Assume 6 -8 oz. per person. This will be 4 large or 6 medium short ribs. Short ribs keep well and are inexpensive, so it never hurts to make extra.
If you don't have a large heavy pot or Dutch oven, start the braise in a large skillet and then transfer everything to a casserole and cover with foil.
What You Get: Tender, flavorful beef with a luscious sauce.
What You Need: No special equipment required, but a heavy-lidded pot or dutch oven helps. (See notes above)
How Long? At least 4 hours and up to a day of time, but with about 30 minutes of active time. Braises are often best if made ahead, so they can be an "anytime" dish with planning. But this kind of dish is often best as a Sunday dinner.
4 large (or 6 medium) English cut short ribs
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 medium white onion, roughly cut into large dice
1 stalk celery, peeled and roughly cut into 1/2 inch dice
1 large carrot, peeled and roughly cut into 1 inch dice
1 dried hot chili (optional)
2 bay leaves
1 cup dry red wine (less tannic wines are better in braises)
3 cups beef stock or canned beef broth
Salt and pepper, for seasoning
1. Strip the leaves from one of the thyme sprigs. Mix 1 tablespoon of the oil, the thyme, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Coat the short ribs with the oil and thyme mixture and let sit in the fridge, covered, for 4 - 24 hours. Remove the short ribs from the fridge at least 30 minutes before cooking
2. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and adjust racks so your pot will fit. Place a wide, heavy-lidded pot or Dutch Oven over medium-high heat (and turn on your kitchen fan, this can get smokey) . Add the remaining olive oil and then sear the short ribs until well-browned on each side, 2 -3 minutes per side (take your time here, this is an important step).
3. Add the onion, carrot and celery. Lower the heat to medium and cook for 2 -3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chili, thyme sprigs, bay leaves and red wine. Cook until the wine reduces by half, about 8 - 10 minutes. Add the beef stock, stir and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot and place it in the oven.
4. Cook in the oven for 3 - 3 and 1/2 hours or until the meat easily pulls away from the bone. Remove the pot from the oven and take out the short ribs and place them on a plate or cutting board and tent with foil.
5. Using a fine mesh strainer, pour the braising liquid through the strainer, making sure to stir and push on the veggies to get as much liquid as possible, you will get about 1 and 1/2 - 2 cups. Let the sauce sit and separate for a 5 -10 minutes and then skim off the fat with a ladle. Then heat the sauce in a small saucepan over low heat, taste and adjust seasoning.
6. Arrange the short ribs on plates and spoon on some of the sauce. Add some prepared horseradish or horseradish sauce, if you like. Serve.