Braised Short Ribs
Perhaps one of the best things about food is its ability to surprise.
A while back David and I had the opportunity to visit Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While there we did some of the standard tourist things. We ate lunch at a real cheesesteak place, not a fancy restaurant, but a wonderful, small "hole in the wall" place. This wasn't a place for tourists, this was a local’s place, and you could tell right away. There I learned that Cheez Whiz is the preferred cheese for a Philly cheesesteak (although I think I may have also heard that on the Food Network at some point). I was surprised I liked it as much as I did. I was further surprised that I wanted another one before I was finished eating the first. We visited the Benjamin Franklin museum where you can see the outline (via a large steel structure) of where his home and print shop once stood. Since it was a beautiful day we walked along the paths in Independence Park, we wandered through the famous Reading Terminal Market, and of course visited the Liberty Bell. On the day we visited the Liberty Bell there were not many people, maybe only ten or fifteen folks who stood near the rail surrounding the bell. It was eerily quiet and everyone was whispering. Many of them had their cameras out but they were not taking photos of the historic bell; instead they were snapping shots of the guard who was costumed as Benjamin Franklin. As we got closer I realized that the man who, I assume, is stationed there to keep people from actually touching the bell (and to maybe answer questions about the bells history) had actually fallen asleep while sitting in a small niche in the wall. At first we thought he was just pretending but, as a few visitors took selfies with him, that notion was quickly dismissed. It was most surprising that people would wander up to the bell and stand quietly, not out of reverence to a piece of America's history but out of polite concern they may wake a person from their slumber.
We stayed at the Palomar hotel and on our first night there, since we had a late lunch, we decided to forgo a big dinner and instead share a dessert at the hotel restaurant. The restaurant was virtually empty save for us and maybe one other couple. I always feel bad for waiters in that situation because there is nothing worse than standing around in an empty restaurant. When he came to the table we told him we just wanted to have dessert so there was no need for a full menu. I am sure he was thinking, "Well there goes a big tip down the drain". David and I took our time looking at the dessert menu and discussing each option, weighing the pros and cons of each. When the waiter came back, we politely asked him not to judge us too harshly as we ordered. I told him the dessert I picked out, then David told him the dessert he picked out and just before the waiter said ok, I said, and then were also going to share a third item that we both chose. We also asked him if it was possible to bring each one individually, instead of all three at once. We instantly started making jokes about our gluttony to the waiter, along with as many other puns, jokes, and witticisms we could pack into what we thought would be a fairly short stay at the table. To our surprise the waiter joined in with a humor all his own. With each dessert he brought us it was like a whole new comedy routine between us. We stayed at the table quite a bit longer than we had originally intended and since there was almost no one else in the place we didn’t feel bad taking our time. By the time we were finished, we had all laughed so much the waiter made a point of rushing back to our table as we stood to leave and genuinely thanked us for making his shift "the best he'd ever had". I'll bet he was surprised to see we had given him a generous tip to boot.
Had our trip ended there I would have been perfectly satisfied, but the second night we were there, we wandered the streets looking for a place to eat. We walked for a pretty long time, checking out places and then moving on to see what was on the next street. Places that we found as we walked just didn’t seem to appeal to us and there was a long stretch where there were no restaurants at all. Just as we were about to give up and go back to eat at the hotel, we turned a corner and right there was this small restaurant that looked promising. Outside the door was a sign that said “bring your own tequila and well make it into margaritas for you” as they did not have a liquor license at the time. I think this was the first time I had ever heard of a BYOB restaurant. We did not bring our own bottle but we did go in nonetheless. David can't remember what he ate that night (it was a pork chop) but my memory of what I ate is vividly clear. I saw it on the menu and immediately knew it was what I wanted... Braised short ribs (apologies to my vegetarian friends). It would be impossible for me to tell you how good that plate of food was, there are no words that could do it justice. I'll say it was just perfect. It was served on a heap of celery root and potato purée. The combination of the sauce from the ribs, the tender meat, and the smooth firm mash underneath made for one of the best meals I have ever had. By the way, if the chef from Lolita's, that made that plate of food, is reading this and you want to send me your recipe, feel free... and if your ever in the neighborhood feel free to stop by! I enjoyed that plate of food so much I have never forgotten that night and that surprises me, as more often than not, I can't remember what I had for breakfast.
Braised short ribs are one of those things that make me feel good as I cook. I'll usually pick a weekend where I'm not rushed with other things. I take my time pepping and getting everything set. I purposely slow myself down so I can enjoy what I'm doing. I don't look at this meal as something I just throw together. If those ribs are going to sit in the pot for several hours doing their part, I can at least take my time in doing my part. When you think about it though, throwing this together is pretty much what happens. Once you’ve got everything prepped you’re simply putting it all together in one big pot and cook it until it’s done. It’s a simple meal to make, which makes it easier to enjoy making. Aside from taking my time with the dish, I also wait until I can purchase nice big short ribs. I’m picky that way. If the ribs are too skinny there is little left of them after braising and that’s not good. So when I am at the market I look at the ribs and if they look good and meaty, I’ll buy them, if they look thin and skimpy, I’ll pass. Again, if you’re going to braise these for several hours you want to have a nice meaty rib to enjoy when they're done. This is also where a good relationship with your butcher pays off!
It should also be said that very rarely do I cook the ribs the same way when I do make them. This is one of those recipes that I don't always measure everything. I cut up two onions, and if it equals three cups great, if not, that's ok I'll add in some extra celery. As long as you're in the ballpark, everything's going to be ok. There are a just a handful of ingredients that form the base, onions, celery and carrots (a classic trio!). But sometimes I have taken ideas from other chefs and added shallots, fennel, and/or as I have in this recipe, leeks. Sometimes I make this recipe without the tomato paste and sometimes I don't add garlic... wait, no, I always add garlic, who am I kidding. At other times I follow the recipes exactly as found in cookbooks. One is Scott's Ribs from Ina Garten. I like how she adds in a bit of fennel to hers, which is fantastic. Another is Rea Drummand's who in place of the leeks that Ina calls for uses shallots in hers (she also adds panchetta which is a huge bonus as far as I'm concerned). Anne Burrell makes hers using similar ingredients but she puree's her vegetables, which gives you a different sauce in the end than either Ina or Rea's. Each one of these versions is as good as the next.
Besides a little butchers twine to tie up your herbs with, there is one special piece of equipment you'll need to braise short ribs and that is a good, heavy pot with a lid that can go from the stovetop to the oven. I highly recommend the Le Crueset 7¼ quart round Dutch Oven (if you have a big family though, consider getting the 9 quart). Now, I know they're expensive, but it will be a purchase you will never regret, and with proper care it is an item that will last a lifetime - probably your child's lifetime (or some other person’s child’s lifetime) as well. I use mine all the time, for soups, stews, chili, etc. I got mine at one of those outlet malls where Le Crueset had a store, and it was about half the regular price. You can also check out Lodge enameled Dutch Ovens at a fraction of the cost as well. In any case if you have a good Dutch oven you're all set.
So here is how I made today's batch.
8 meaty short ribs
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups chopped onions (about 2 medium)
3 cups chopped celery (about 6 mediums ribs)
2 cups chopped carrots (about 4 medium)
1 leek, white and light green portion only, thickly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 bottle (750 ml) of dry red wine
2 cups beef stock
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
Putting it together
Preheat your oven to 325°F with the oven rack in the lower third of the oven making sure that your Dutch Oven will fit before preheating!
Take your ribs and liberally salt and pepper them.
In a large Dutch oven heat the olive oil over medium high heat until shimmering and just starting to smoke a little.
Put in the ribs and allow them to brown on each side. Don't crowd the ribs, work in batches if you have to. Remove the browned ribs to a clean plate and set aside.
Put the onions, celery, carrots and leeks into the pot and stir to coat them in the oil.
Allow the vegetables to cook until softened about 10 minutes, stirring regularly.
Next add in the garlic and stir until it becomes fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Now, add in the tomato paste and the sugar, and stir until it has coated the vegetables evenly and is beginning to brown on the bottom of the pan, which takes 2 to 3 minutes or so.
Add the wine and give everything a good stir, making sure you scrape up all of that brown goodness on the bottom of the pot.
Allow all of this to cook for about 5 minutes or so stirring often then add the ribs back into the pot.
Add the beef stock to the pot. The ribs should be almost completely submerged. If need be, you can add a little water or more beef stock if it's too low or just leave out some stock if there's too much liquid.
Tie the thyme and rosemary together using butchers twine and tuck it into the pot.
Bring it to a good simmer then cover the pot and place in the oven, and allow to cook for 2¾ hours. Then remove the pot from the oven and allow it to rest with the lid on for 20 minutes.
Carefully remove the ribs from the pot and set aside
Toss out the herbs and skim excess grease from the pot as necessary.
Cook the vegetables and sauce over medium heat until slightly reduced, about 15 to 20 minutes, adjust seasoning as needed, then add ribs back into pot just to re-warm them, about 5 minutes.
Serve ribs with as much of the sauce and veg as you like, over mashed potatoes, polenta, or whatever makes you feel good.
Note: you can also use an immersion blender to purée the veg as the sauce reduces, that's lovely as well.
I truly hope you enjoy these braised short ribs and if you do, please let me know. You can let me know if you don't like them too, I’m ok with that!
Until next time...