Short ribs. Braised short ribs. Lovely bits of meaty goodness bathed in a flavorful broth. Beef that falls apart as soon as you look at it.
My initial foray into the world of short ribs was courtesy of the Washington Post. They raved about Mahogany Short Ribs. So I gave them a shot. And they were awesome. But I can only fit so many pieces into a crockpot. So that recipe got filed away to be tinkered with. Only the tinkering never got off the ground.
But then Smitten Kitchen reignited my interest in the short rib with her Braised Beef Short Ribs post. New Year’s was fast approaching and I wanted to usher in 2009 with a special meal. This was just the ticket.
I was intrigued by her step of broiling the already cooked ribs before serving. As tasty as the Mahogany Short Ribs were, they didn’t look like I wanted them to. I wanted them dark and crusty. I also liked that she laid out the recipe so that it can be made ahead and then simply reheated. This is totally the key to special meals. You don’t want to spend so long fussing over a dish that when you’re done, you’re really done. As in you have no energy to pay attention to what you’re celebrating. It also goes a long way to solving the problem of all the fat that renders out of the meat as it cooks. An overnight rest in the Fridigaire allows the solidified fat to be easily skimmed off.
But I also made some changes to Deb’s recipe. Like adding port. I don’t have port and I don’t like the idea of buying one time ingredients. So instead of port, I just used more wine. I also didn’t have the holy trinity of cooking – celery, carrot, onion. In the end, I don’t think leaving them out made a noticeable difference. But it did let me skip straining the sauce. Although I should have because I added those pearl onions early and they seemed to hold onto a lot of grease. Speaking of those pearl onions, mine were frozen so if they needed to be separated from skins, I couldn’t tell. I just roasted them up in the oven and added them to the pot. Next time, and there will be a next time, I will wait and add them in when I reheat the dish.
And about that final step of giving the cooked meat a quick turn under the broiler? I honestly think that you should consider it optional. I gave those ribs a world class sear before the braise. And after they were done cooking, they were dark and crusty and lovely. For me, the broil was overkill. But maybe you’ll feel differently. You’ll just have to see for yourself.
Be sure to serve this up with something that will capture all the glorious braising liquid. And don’t be afraid to use boneless short ribs. When I went to the store, I ended up getting a mix of bone-in and boneless. To be honest, I liked the boneless cuts the best…but that’s just between us.
Braised Beef Short Ribs
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
3 pounds beef short ribs, bone-in or boneless
4 whole sprigs thyme
1 tablespoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 bag frozen small pearl onions
up to 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup diced onion
1/3 cup diced carrot
1/3 cup diced celery
1 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 cups hearty red wine
3 cups beef or veal stock
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Take the short ribs out of the refrigerator an hour before cooking, to come to room temperature. After 30 minutes, season them generously on all sides with salt and pepper and preheat your oven to 325 degrees.
When it’s time to cook the short ribs, heat a large Dutch oven over high heat. Pour in 1 tablespoon olive oil, and wait a minute or two, until the pan is very hot and almost smoking. Place the short ribs in the pan, and sear until they are nicely browned on all sides. (A splatter screen is your friend here. If you have one, I highly recommend you use it.) Depending on the size of your pan, you might have to sear the meat in batches. Do not crowd the meat. Add additional olive oil as needed, especially if you are browning the meat in batches.
When the ribs are nicely browned, transfer them to a plate to rest.
Turn the heat down to medium, and add the onion, carrot, celery, thyme springs, and bay leaves. Stir with a wooden spoon, scraping up all the crusty bits in the pan. Cook 6 to 8 minutes, until the vegetables just begin to caramelize. If you don’t have onions, celery and carrot on hand, skip this step.
Add the balsamic vinegar and red wine. Turn the heat up to high, and reduce the liquid by half.
Add the stock and bring to a boil. Arrange ribs in the pot, lieing flat, bones standing up, in one layer. Scrape any vegetables (if using) that have fallen on the ribs back into the liquid. The stock mixture should almost cover the ribs. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and a tight-fitting lid if you have one. Braise in the oven for about 3 hours.
To check the meat for doneness, remove the lid and foil, being careful of the escaping steam, and piece a short rib with a paring knife. When the meat is done, it will yield easily to a knife. Taste a piece if you are not sure. If you cook these a day ahead, this is where you can pause. The next day, you can remove the fat easily from the pot — it will have solidified at the top — bring these back to a simmer on the stove or in an oven, and continue.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Toss the pearl onions with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon thyme, 3/4 teaspoons salt, and a pinch of pepper. Spread them on a baking sheet and roast them 15 to 30 minutes, or until tender and caramelized. Add the roasted onions to the dutch oven and stir well to combine.
If the broth seems thin, reduce it over medium-high heat to thicken slightly. Taste for seasoning and dig in!