I’m a brown-and-braise believer. I love how an inexpensive, tough cut of meat can be transformed into succulent, savory bites simply by spending an afternoon in the oven surrounded by broth, wine and softened vegetables. And, the idea that the dish gets better-tasting every day? This kind of kitchen alchemy is a beautiful thing.
Last weekend, this full-page story about short ribs written by Gail Monaghan for the Wall Street Journal caught my eye. After reading it I could think of nothing else.
While Monaghan’s ingredient list looked good (with a few adjustments), I found her instructions for preparation confusing. So, I re-worked her recipe. Before we get to it, a couple of thoughts about drawing out maximum flavor:
Browning the meat before braising adds flavor to the finished product. Rather than following Monaghan’s direction to brown the ribs in a 450-degree oven on a cookie sheet, I browned mine in my giant dutch oven on the stove over high heat. That way, I knew the precious beef drippings and bits of meat stuck to the bottom of the pot wouldn’t be lost on a cookie sheet.
The aromatics — onions, fennel, celery and carrots are a great base, but I increased the amount of onion, cut the amount of celery in half and reduced the amount of herbs, too. And, rather than plucking the tiny thyme leaves from their equally tiny stalks, I tied fresh twigs of thyme together with kitchen twine and did the same with a few sprigs of parsley. This approach made it easier to fish them out when I was ready to serve. (You’ll also toss a few bay leaves into the pot — be sure to fish them out before serving, too. They are inedible.)
Also, I left my olive oil on the shelf, braising the veggies in the rendered fat, and scraping up those tasty beef bits as the crunchy veggies wilted.
I added tomato paste on its own (rather than with the wine and herbs as the recipe instructed), stirring the paste around for about a minute until it melted into the vegetables, and I could smell its sweet fragrance. This quick step delivers a more intense tomato flavor than adding it along with a bunch of other ingredients. Then, I poured a full bottle of Pinot Noir into the pot and added the bundles of fresh herbs. A full bottle of wine seems like a lot, but you’ll reduce it by half.
I prefer to braise in the oven; I have better control of the pace of cooking that way. On the stove, I’m always peeking under the lid and adjusting the heat to keep the pot on simmer. I cooked my short ribs — covered — for three hours at 325 degrees, removing the lid and checking them once an hour. They’re done when a fork slides through the meat without resistance. The hunks of meat in my pot slipped right off their bones.
I served my short ribs over buttery grits with a garlicky-anchovy-dressed green salad on the side. Mashed potatoes or buttery egg noodles would be terrific way to catch every drop of sauce as well.
My version of the recipe follows. And, here again is a link to Gail Monaghan’s story that contains her short ribs recipes.
- 10 (8-ounce) beef short ribs
- 1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt, plus ½-1 teaspoon for seasoning
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus about ¼ teaspoon for seasoning
- 1 bulb fennel, cut into large dice
- 2½ large onions, coarsely chopped
- 3 large stalks celery, cut into large dice
- 2 carrots, peeled and cut into large dice
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 large bay leaves
- ¼ cup double-concentrated Italian tomato paste
- 1 (750-milliliter) bottle dry red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Burgundy or Côtes du Rhône
- small bundle of fresh thyme tied together (about 1 tsp leaves)
- 5 large sprigs fresh parsley, plus 1 tablespoon chopped, for garnish (put the chopped parsley in a small bowl, cover it and refrigerate until you’re ready to serve)
- 2 heaping teaspoons dark brown sugar
- 6 cups beef stock, warmed on the stove
- Take the short ribs out of the fridge 30 minutes before cooking. Assemble your ingredients while the ribs are losing their chill.
- Mix 1 tablespoon kosher salt and ½ teaspoon freshly-ground pepper together in a small bowl. Generously rub the mixture over each short rib.
- Put a large dutch oven on the stove and turn the heat to medium-high. Once the pot is hot, begin browning the short ribs — five ribs at a time. Once the ribs are brown on each side, remove them from the pot and place on a large plate. Brown the last five ribs in the same manner and then remove to the plate.
- Add the chopped fennel, onions, celery and carrots to the dutch oven and turn the heat down to medium. Sprinkle the vegetables with ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Cook the vegetables until softened, stirring frequently, scraping the beef drippings from the bottom of the pot. This will take 15-20 minutes.
- Add the minced garlic and two bay leaves to the pot and stir constantly for about a minute — keep an eye on that garlic, you don’t want it to burn. Add the tomato paste and stir the mixture well. You want the paste to melt into the vegetables.
- Add the wine and the herb bundles; turn the heat to high. You’ll reduce this mixture in half. It will take about 15 minutes. Make sure the shelves in your oven are adjusted so that your dutch oven fits in the oven. Set the heat to 325 degrees.
- Warm the stock in a medium-sized pot over medium heat; keep an eye on it. When it begins to simmer, stir the brown sugar into the stock and turn the heat down. You want the stock warm — you don’t want any of it to cook away.
- Once the wine has reduced by half, turn the heat down to simmer and begin adding the ribs back to the pot, placing them on top of the softened, wine-soaked vegetables. Add the warmed stock and turn the heat up until the liquid begins to boil. Cover the pot, turn off the heat and carefully place the dutch oven into the oven.
- Check the ribs every hour. Mine cooked for three hours; I checked for done-ness (using a large fork) at two hours but gave them another full hour so they were very tender when pierced with the fork.
- When the ribs are done, turn off the heat and take the pot out of the oven. If you’re going to serve the next day, uncover on top of the stove and let the pot cool until you can cover it again and store in the fridge.
- If you plan to serve the short ribs the same day, remove the ribs from the pot and place on a large plate. Cover the plate loosely with foil. Uncover the dutch oven on top of the stove, turn the heat to high and reduce the sauce by about a third. I like my sauce a little juicy, but if you like a thicker sauce, keep an eye on it (after about 10 minutes) and then turn off the heat when you have the consistency you like. (You’ll notice I did not skim the fat, but you can if you prefer. You’ll need to refrigerate the pot so the fat congeals on top.)
- When the sauce is the consistency you like, fish out the herb bundles (they’ll just be limp or naked twigs), taste the sauce (mine was savory and flavorful — I did not add any additional salt or pepper). Serve the short ribs over grits, mashed potatoes or your favorite accompaniment. Give the plate a sprinkle of chopped parsley before serving.
- If you’re serving the next day: remove the dutch oven from the fridge about an hour before serving and spoon off the congealed fat (When I warm up the leftovers, I skim ¾ of the fat and leave the remainder in the pot).
- Remove the ribs from the pot, turn the heat to high and reduce the sauce by a third. Once the sauce is the consistency that you like, add the ribs to the pot and turn the heat to medium-low. At this point, you simply want to warm up the ribs — you do not want to continue reducing the sauce. When the ribs are warm, serve them with a sprinkle of parsley.