Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Short Ribs: Happy New Year & Happy Braising!

Short Ribs seared until dark brown, waiting to be slow cooked in tomato and citrus.

Picture this: me as a young chef, a vegetarian no less, the counter of a catering company in Boston spread before me with more than a dozen racks of lamb. I had marinated them the day before, and proceed to sear them off, a rack at a time in large skillets. Week after week I marinated, seared and roasted these racks of lamb and then watched people swoon over them at parties. Eventually, I broke down and tried one, and I have loved lamb (and meat) ever since. I could rarely afford to by racks of lamb, so I moved on to discover  braised lamb shanks, and years later beef short ribs.*

When the weather turns cold, I look for any excuse to turn the oven on for a prolonged period of time. I crave slow braised dishes with rich warm flavors, and want to eat more meat than in the warmer months. Lamb shanks, short ribs or inexpensive cuts of stew meat are top of the list. And while we are not big meat eaters in my house, everyone appreciates these slow cooked cuts that become tender and succulent, glazed with the well reduced sauce they are cooked in.

One important technique in cooking many cuts of meat is to properly sear it, giving it a nice browned exterior. For meat that is roasted in the oven or cooked in a frying pan this searing seals in the juices. For meat that is going to be slow cooked it also adds flavor to the sauce.

The keys to searing meat well are:
1. Have the meat closer to room     temperature than cold, 
2. Make sure the cut is dry (pat it with a towel).
3. Be sure that your pan is very hot. 4. Place the meat in the hot frying pan and don't move it until it starts to brown up the side and releases easily from the pan when touched. 

Flip, repeat and you are done. For short ribs you season and sear each rib and then place them in a pot of sauce in the oven or slow cooker for many hours, until the sauce is reduced, the ribs are tender and almost falling apart. For this recipe I cooked them in a tomato based sauce with rosemary, thyme, lemon and orange zest, and plenty of onion and garlic. Another wonderful version is a soy sauce base with star anise and rice wine vinegar.

The Ribs in the tomato and onion mixture below is pre-braising. Unfortunately, this meal got devoured before I had a chance to snap a pic of the final sincerest apologies.  I guess you'll just have to give it a try and see this one for yourself.

Beef Short Ribs with Tomato, Citrus and Rosemary

6 Beef Short Ribs, (bone in)
2 large onions, sliced
6 cloves garlic, minced or sliced
1 large can diced or pureed tomatoes
3 slices of lemon peel (no white pith)
3 slices of orange peel (no white pith)
2 sprigs rosemary
3 sprigs thyme 
Salt & pepper
Enough water, stock or wine to just cover meat.

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Pat meat dry. Season with salt and pepper. Heat a heavy bottomed frying pan until it is very hot on the stove top. Add a small amount of oil such as sunflower or canola and place the meat in the pan. Cook until the meat starts to brown and releases easily from the pan when touched, about 5 minutes. Sear on all sides until meat is well browned, but not burned. Remove from pan set on a plate or pan to rest. 
  2. Remove any burned bits from the pan. Add sliced onions, and a touch of olive oil. Saute until tender. Add garlic cook until fragrant. Add tomatoes and liquid, lemon and orange peel, rosemary and thyme stir. 
  3. Return short ribs to the pot, nestling them into the sauce. Add a cup or two of water, stock or wine to the mixture to cover or nearly cover the meat. Bring the pot to a simmer on the stove top. Cover and place in the preheated oven to cook until the meat is tender and falling from the bone, at least 1.5 hours, but up to 3 hours. Check once or twice to see how much liquid has evaporated.
Note: you can add carrots, potatoes or other vegetables to this dish as well. For the soy sauce version, you'll have to experiment or search online for measurements, but I made a delicious version a while back with soy sauce, rice vinegar, star anise, brown sugar, water, garlic and onions....wish I'd written that one down.....

Happy New Year, and Happy Braising!

* As you may have heard me say before, when I eat meat, I try and buy sustainably raised meat, so I know the animal wasn't raised in horrible conditions on a feed lot. Some grocery stores have sustainably raised meat, as do many farmers markets. I have come to value meat as an investment for my family. We don't have a lot of money these days, but good food is something I value (incase you hadn't figured that out), so I buy inexpensive cuts of meat at the farmers' market (CitySeed is my local market) or at local stores and freeze them for once or twice a week treats. Beans, eggs, nuts and yogurt make up much of the rest of our protein source. 

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