Are short ribs the answer to the pre-winter blahs? Well, on a deeply economic, sociologic and psychic level perhaps not. But cooking and subsequently consuming a batch of short ribs certainly can be good for what ails you. It can warm your kitchen and your belly and your heart, and it can give you a little of that free time that you need to read or go for a walk while it is in one of its long developmental processes.
This recipe is all about braising and I love to braise. I am a braising fool. I braise beef, lamb, pork and even chicken and duck. I am smitten by the way tough cuts of meat are rendered mouth wateringly tender by a long oven bath in herbs and wine and vegetables.
Short ribs represent to me the pinnacle of braising and braising is all about steps, or processes, if you will. The rewards, that culinary pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, is, to me worth the steps. But I tend to like the steps along the way as well. I cook for a living yes, and it helps me to just barely pay my bills, but I also cook because the process makes me feel good. The acts of food preparation beginning with the procurement, through the chopping and searing and all the way up to forking that first bite into my mouth are all part of the reward I get when I cook.
Short ribs are cut from the rib and plate primals and from one end of the chuck so tender all on their own, they ain't. Short ribs are generally cut into either English or "Flanken" cuts which involve the fatty but meaty heavy end of the ribs being cut into 1 1/2-2" sections. There is also a Korean cut of short ribs, but it involves the ribs being cut into long ribbons of meat and bone and isn't what we're talking about here. Short ribs are held together by intercostal muscles and a lot of tendon and what that means to us, the cooks, is that they will need to be cooked for a long time to break down all that connective tissue and render the meat what we know as "fallin' off the bone tender".
Braising is essentially two cooking methods in one; dry and wet heat are both used. First the meat involved is browned in a pan to provide that caramelization both on the meat and in the pan that provides a strong burst of flavor. Secondly the meat is entirely, or partially, covered in a rich liquid and cooked slowly in the oven so as to break down those collagen holding connective tissues and turn them into a deeply flavored gelatinous sauce.
Okay, enough science talk; let's cook. Well, no, first let's shop. I look for short ribs that are cut about an inch and a half and are not too overly fatty (this is sometimes just not possible). If you need to go to the butcher to order them a day in advance, remember, this is all just part of the process. It used to be, perhaps 20 years ago, that short ribs were something the butcher would beg you to take off his hands, but, as with all cuts of meat "rediscovered" by the foodie revolution this is no longer so. I just paid $2.99/# for some short ribs I thought were pretty nicely cut and trimmed, so you might want to use that as a bench mark (or not).
Something to note as well, AND THIS IS IMPORTANT, before beginning, is that this is not a recipe for a dish you are going to eat the first day it comes out of the oven, and if I had my way, you would not even eat it on the second day. Short ribs will taste their best after 48 hours of refrigeration have allowed them to "settle in" to their sauce, open up a bit, and absorb the cooking liquid.
Braised Short Ribs ala Chef of the Jungle
3# Beef Short Ribs, cut 1 1/2" (two good pieces per person will suffice)
1 Bottle Red Wine (as good as you feel comfortable cooking with)
1 Onion, cut in medium dice
1 Medium Carrot, cut in 1/2" dice
1 Parsnip, cut in 1/2" dice
1 Turnip, cut in 1/2" dice
6 Cloves of garlic, smashed and chopped fine
3 Bay Leaves
4-6 Sprigs of Fresh Thyme
2 Oz. Cooking oil
2 Cups of Chef of the Jungle Roasted Tomatoes (see other posts), or, 1 14 Oz. can of chopped tomato product
1 Qt. (this may be excessive) of Homemade Stock or, broth from a box
The first thing I do is season the short ribs with a good hit of sea salt and black pepper and then I sear them. There are two way to go about this searing process (yes, another process); the first is to sear them on the stove top in a heavy dutch oven or whatever vessel you plan to do your braising in. This works nicely, although I am not a big fan of the splattering grease involved. The second method, and the one I prefer, is to heat the oven to 400 degrees or so and put the short ribs in for about 35-40 minutes or so. You may want to turn them once.
There are two things you are hoping to accomplish by doing this. The first is that you want to render away some of the fat that coats the outside of your ribs. There can be a lot of fat. The second (and to me, more important) thing you're trying to accomplish is to get the ribs to brown and stick to the pan. That stuff that sticks to the pan (the French call this the "fond") is the source of a tremendous amount of flavor.
And now we are going to deglaze; ready? You will need red wine. When your ribs have gotten a nice brown color and they are sticking to the bottom of the pan, remove it from the oven, move the ribs to a plate, pour off the fat and put the pan on a lit burner. When the pan begins to sizzle and pop pour in about a cup of red wine and start scraping. Reduce and scrape for about 30 seconds or so until you have gotten all the good bits off the bottom of the pan. Pour your "fond" off into a cup or bowl.
Wipe the cooking pan clean (relatively speaking) with a towel and heat the cooking oil up in the pan. When it is hot, add all the vegetables (with the exception of the tomatoes) and let them saute. Go ahead and stir them around a little, but you want them to stick to the pan a bit; vegetables have flavor, too, you know. When the vegetables are starting to brown add the second half of the red wine and stir up whatever has stuck to the cooking pan. Let the wine reduce by half and add the tomatoes, your prized "fond" from the meat deglazing, and the herbs. Stir to mix, then return the short ribs to the pan, nestling them down into the vegetables. Add 2-3 cups of the stock, or enough to nearly cover, but not quite cover, the ribs.
Return the whole pot, uncovered, to the oven and adjust the heat to 35o. And now, get out of here. Got take a walk, read, make love, do something that will take your mind off the masterpiece that is beginning to form in your oven. In an hour come back and take a look. The tops of the ribs should be browning, so turn them over to get more of that brown flavor into the sauce and return the pan to the oven for another hour and a half. If the liquid has reduced to the point where over an inch of the ribs are showing, add a bit more stock. And remember, relax, this is a process, I told you that.
After two and a half hours, take the pan from the oven, put it on a cooling rack or a trivet and let it come to room temperature. When it has cooled down sufficiently, cover it and put it in the refrigerator and just walk away. The next day, when you take a look, all the fat will have hardened into a reddish (this is from the tomatoes) layer over the top of the pan and you will be able to remove it and dispose of it quite easily with your fingers, or, if you're just that way, a spoon.
Now at this point you can reheat the short ribs (very very slowly, please) and serve them and their amazingly rich sauce over buttered noodles (Chef of the Jungle's favorite), risotto, polenta, or any of the mashed root vegetables, solo or mixed (I am particularly fond of celery root and yukon golds). It will be wonderful, ethereal, comforting and just the very thing for a chilly evening. BUT, and I tell you this in all sincerity and seriousness, if you can wait another day, it will be SO much better. Really, trust me on this. It's all about the process.