A Tall Order For My Short Ribs

Complete meal

A chef friend of mine recently propositioned me to cook up a "family-style" meal for some of our cooking colleagues. We happened to have some short ribs handy, so I thought I’d try my luck at braising. Short ribs come from cows, and they are much different than what you might think of as a “rib”. The short rib is cut from the portion of rib-cage located just behind the shoulder of the cow. They are usually nicely marbled pieces of meat, and tend to consist of more meat than bone unlike pork ribs which typically have a more evenly dispersed ratio.

When it comes to cooking these chunks of beef, there is a right way and a wrong way. If they aren’t braised long enough, they can be super tough to eat; if they are cooked too long, the meat will just fall apart. The key to preparing short ribs is to cook them until they reach a point that is just before they would fall apart. If the timed correctly, all of the fat in between the fibers will have melted away, leaving behind only tender, super moist meat. This is the first time I’ve attempted to cook short ribs, and I didn’t have a recipe in my head, so I looked a few up, and off I went. Mine turned out pretty darn good, so I would like to share my success with you.

To begin, you will need a couple of onions, carrots, some celery, and a small can of tomato paste (eight ounces will do for a small recipe). Chop the onions (two will be sufficient for about eight short ribs, 3-4 ounces each), chop up the carrots (2 will do) and celery (same idea) and puree them together in a food processor. Throw in some garlic as well and add some herbs like rosemary, thyme and bay leaf for more depth in flavor for the eventual braising liquid and meat. If a food processor is unavailable, the mirepoix (French for the combination of chopped onions, carrots and celery) can be roasted with oil in the oven which will caramelize the veggies before they are used in the braise. A blender will also work, but only on the chop mode; a few quick pulses should be more than sufficient. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and preheat the pans before adding the oil. Pat the meat dry with a paper towel and season one side with the salt and pepper. Patting the short rib down allows for a better caramelization of the meat.

Whether the short ribs are already cut into portions or if they are in whole pieces, it’s important to sear each side of the meat in hot oil until golden brown, seasoning liberally with salt and pepper. Once the meat is seared, remove the ribs and set them aside to get rid of any excess oil. Add a tablespoon or two of new oil to the pan, add the pureed vegetables and start browning the mixture until it begins to stick to the bottom of the pan on medium heat. Add the tomato paste and repeat the above steps until the tomato/veggie mixture becomes maroon-like in color, and again starts sticking to the bottom of the pan. Take care to not burn the mixture, the goal is only to caramelize, because if you burn it then it will become bitter, and you don’t want to cook your expertly seared short ribs in bitter liquid.

The next step is to place the short ribs in your baking pan and cover them with the pureed paste. Then, take the sauté pan, or pans, that have been used for cooking thus far, and add some red wine to “deglaze” the surfaces. Be careful of the flames that will flare up from this process. Only do a little bit at a time to avoid having the local firemen over for dinner. While adding the wine, take a wooden spoon and scrape all the left over bits and allow the new mixture to reduce. This process will concentrate the flavors. Add this to the pan with the ribs, then add water until the it covers the meat and veggie mixture completely. You can also use beef stock or vegetable stock for added flavor. I like slightly sweeter things, so I add some brown sugar to the liquid in proportion to the amount of meat that is cooking (maybe one-half cup for this recipe so far). Take a cooling rack and place it in the pan to weigh down the meat so that it remains fully submerged the entire length of its stay in the oven. Also, cover the cooking container with aluminum foil, then braise at 375 degrees. The lower and slower you cook these short ribs the better, because low and slow allows the fat to break down in the meat and also allows the meat to marinate in those flavorful juices. The chef I used to work for would cook  his for eight hours, and I have heard of some kitchens braising from 12 to 72 hours with vacuum-sealed bags in a temperature controlled water vat. But for our purposes, your basic oven will do just fine.

Once the ribs are in the oven, leave them alone. Halfway through the cooking process, flip the ribs over and rotate them from the middle to the outside. Once the meat is cooked to a tender texture, they can be eaten right away, or allowed to sit in the vat for a day or two to soak up more flavor and complexity. Whether or not they are eaten right away or at a later date, it’s important to have a sauce to serve with it. If they are not going to be scarffed up right away, allow the rest to soak. Take some of the liquid, and put it through a strainer to get all the bits out, and what is left will be a smooth sauce. Take double the amount you’re going to need for your portions, then reduce it until it’s half of its original volume to get a thick flavorful sauce. There are a ton of different options for sides, but potatoes or even polenta work well to soak up the juice from the meat and sauce. In terms of vegetables, use what is in season. This should be a solid meal for friends, family, or this case, fellow cooks.

When reheating the short ribs, warm them in the original braising mixture because the sauce will continue to add flavor to the meat. Do this until the meat is about 160-degrees, or the sauce starts to bubble and the meat is hot to the touch. There are also a ton of options for left-overs, such as pulled short rib sandwiches or tacos. You can make enchiladas, mix the meat in with eggs, add it to Mac N’ Cheese, or just slather some mustard on your favorite hearty bread and make a short rib sandwich. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience making these flavorful bites of meat; I hope you can now do the same for your family and friends.

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