Braised short ribs are the perfect accompaniment to a cool autumn evening
By Andy McDonough
Some dishes are just meant for the cold weather, when you need something that will both warm the house and stick to your ribs. The ideal dish would also perfume your kitchen for hours with the smells of a classic, good-feeling, home-cooked meal. Braised short ribs not only fit the bill, but is a real rarity in the kitchen: amazingly good and easy to prepare.
The flavor, texture and richness of braised short ribs make eating them an almost primal experience. Even better, the cook gets to practice all three attributes of the most elemental of recipes: brown, add liquid and stand back. A few hours later (sometimes more than just a few), you’ve got at an irresistible, one-pot meal that can feed a family without breaking the bank. It might even give rise to a rumor that you’ve been studying the French culinary arts. It’s that good.
Unlike other cuts of meat, short ribs seem ready take on the essence of whatever you put in the pot with them. As the beef is infused with the spices and wine you introduce it to, its bones are enriching the liquid destined to become a flavor-paced accompaniment to the final product. Even better, short ribs are amenable to just about any seasonings you can think of. You can marinate or simmer them in red wine, sake, beer or barbecue sauce. In the end, your humble ribs will still be unmistakably beef, but with so much of that ‘something extra’ that they will transcend even the most expensive cuts.
Yes, short ribs are do-able and economical, but they are also socially acceptable being featured regularly at top restaurants. If I haven’t sold you on them yet, know that they can also survive hours of braising better than a stew or pot roast, which means you can serve a portion that looks not just presentable, but actually elegant.
Here’s a bit of trivia about short ribs that you might use to impress your guests: The consensus of the opinions of beef experts is that the best cut of beef ribs comes from the lower, ventral, section of the beast, from the sixth through the tenth rib, which your butcher can tell you is roughly the same cut as the St. Louis cut of pork ribs. This area is called the short plate, and the ribs are called short ribs not because they are short in length, but because they come from the short plate. The short plate is located right in front of another inexpensive, chewy but flavorful cut, the flank steak, and just behind another favorite cut for barbecue, the brisket. Enough cow anatomy, good short ribs can take a while, so let’s get cooking.
You can do ‘shorties’ right on a hot grill and they can be ready in less than an hour. But if you want something tender that your family and guests will be raving about, consider one of the following proven methods for making an otherwise tough rib tender.
1) Barbecue – When roasted low and slow with dry heat and a bit of wood smoke, you get a dark brown exterior, and a outstandingly flavorful, tender meat. Many a chef’s reputation has been made on these Chicago- and Texas-style BBQ favorites.
2) Kalbi – When the meat is cut thin, marinated, and grilled hot as they do in Korean Kalbi, you get relatively tender, powerfully tasty meat, with both beef and marinade mingling to perfection, plus it gets ribs of the grill fast and into the hands of your hungry guests.
3) Braising – When simmered low and slow in a flavorful liquid, as made famous by French chefs, the result is a juicy, very tender, flavor packed meat that has absorbed the richness and full flavor of the braising liquid. Yes, it does take some time, but its well worth the effort. In the end, the meat will have given up most of its innate essence to the greater good of the stew, so making a demi glaze or otherwise reducing the liquids to serve with the ribs is a must. Here is a great recipe for this classic from an outstanding Chef, Bob Belt of Rumson’s Salt Creek Grille that does just that:
“When the weather is cold and stormy I want a savory, comfort dish that is robust without being too heavy,” says Belt. “There is nothing like our recipe for Salt Creek Grille Braised Short Ribs that are fall-off-the-bone tender and are packed with depths of flavor. The delicious results are from the technique of first searing, then slow-roasting the ribs for several hours in a delicious blend of Tawny port wine, chicken broth and caramelized vegetables. This dish is best served with mashed potatoes that highlight the wonderful finished demi-glace made by reducing the liquids that the short ribs are cooked in. It’s the kind of dish that you make in the morning, allow to cook all day, then finish off just in time for a Sunday night football game.”
Whether you take a lesson from this executive chef’s play book and master this classic braising technique, take your guests to Salt Creek Grill or get the short ribs as take-out (we won’t tell), these wonderful short ribs are sure to warm you and your guests from the chill outside. Don’t be surprised if they become a cold weather tradition.
SALT CREEK GRILLE BRAISED SHORT RIBS WITH A TAWNY PORT WINE DEMI GLACE
(Serves 8-10 hungry guests)
8 pounds short ribs (bone in)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup peeled garlic cloves
2 quarts chicken broth
1 pound carrots diced medium
1 bunch celery diced medium
1 pound onions diced medium
2 cups flour for dredging
2 quarts Tawny Port wine
Salt and black pepper
Caramelize the vegetables in a large sauté pan with the olive oil and set aside.
Dredge the short ribs in seasoned flour, then brown the ribs on all sides in the same sauté pan.
Place the vegetables in the bottom of a roasting pan and place the short ribs, bone side down, on top of the vegetables.
Add salt & pepper, port wine, chicken broth and garlic. Liquid should almost, but not completely, cover the meat.
Wrap tightly (plastic wrap, then tin foil) to create a good seal.
Braise in a pre-heated oven at 250 degrees for 8 hours.
Remove and let stand for 30 minutes.
FOR DEMI GLACE
Strain cooking liquid into a sauce pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
Simmer until the desired consistency is achieved. Strain twice through a fine mesh strainer. Adjust the seasonings as needed before serving.
Serve over homestyle mashed potatoes with a side of seasonal vegetable. Sauce should be ladled generously over the ribs.