Beef short ribs: more comfort food

Beef short ribs have finally hit this side of the Atlantic judging from the article in this week’s Times Magazine.  I first came across them in the lucques cookbook, where they are amongst the signature dishes of the Los Angeles restaurant.  Then I started noticing them at every trendy new York bistro and it’s difficult not to fall in love with their rib-sticking comforting quality, especially when it’s chilly outside.

Over the years, I have experimented with several recipes for beef short ribs, from the original Lucques recipe to Thomas Keller’s higher-effort version.  In essence, the ribs just need to e braised for a long time in a Le Creuset pot for the meat and fat to break down into beefy yumminess.  But then, there are some optional steps you can add to further enhance the taste, just depends on how high-effort you are feeling that day.

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To marinate or not? If you have time, definitely yes!  Thomas Keller’s version has you sweating aromatics (diced onion, carrot and celery) before deglazing with red wine and stock and cooking off the alcohol.  This is the marinate which the ribs rest in overnight, infusing them with a richer and deeper flavour.

To brown or not? Contrary to conventional wisdom, browning meat is not for the purpose of “sealing in the juices”, but rather for creating that beautiful caramelisation which deepens the flavour.  You can skip this step if you are short on time or if you wish to have a lighter flavour.

To add tomato purée or not?  Tomatoes are a type of food with high levels of naturally occurring umami in the form of lycopene.  I often add some tomatoes to stews and braises for that added umami.  Again, not absolutely necessary, but definitely enhancing.

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If you included all of the three optional steps above, you should find yourself with a hearty and richly-flavoured dish.  Pair with some mashed potato or spaetzle and you have a perfect dinner for cold nights or times when you just need that bit more comfort.

Braised Beef Short Ribs

2kg beef short ribs (or more, this is a dish for bulk cooking)
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch dice
1 onion, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch dice
3 celery stalks, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch dice
500ml good-enough red wine
Enough water and/or stock to cover the ribs
2 tbsps tomato purée
A handful of thyme sprigs
salt and pepper to taste
Sautée the onion, carrot and celery in some oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat until onion turns translucent and vegies are “sweated”.  (You could do this vegie by vegie but I tend to be lazy) Throw in thyme sprigs and add salt and pepper.  Add red wine to deglaze and bring to a simmer to let the alcohol ‘cook off’.
Place ribs into a large enough plastic container and pour wine + veggies over.  Leave to marinate overnight in the fridge.
About 3/4 hours before you intend to serve the ribs, start heating the oven to 200C.  Remove and dry off the ribs as best as possible.  Heat some oil in a Le Creuset (or other stove- and oven-proof casserole) and brown the ribs (you may need to do this in batches).  When that is done, pour in the wine to deglaze the pan.  Add the browned ribs, vegies tomato puree and enough stock to cover the ribs.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Cover the casserole and transfer to oven.  The ribs should be pretty self-sufficient at this point, though not a bad idea to check it from time to time to make sure they haven’t dried out.
The ribs are ready when they fall away from the fork.  Having them sit overnight isn’t a bad idea either as that only deepens the flavour.
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