Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Not So Cheap Cuts: Short Ribs Braised in Port

                                     “Joy, health, love, and peace, be all here in this place.”

While the rest of you may have been busy stringing lights, festively festooning a fir, macerating mincemeat, filling the lawn with inflatable or plastic illuminated figures, lighting the menorah, spinning a dreidel, wassailing, caroling, rolling your struedels, well, you get the point, some of us have been busy working to make your holidays happen. Such is the day–to-day routine of working at a restaurant during the holidays, which has meant no time to work on this.
Now before you offer me a choice of cheese to go with my whine, let me say that it was a great holiday. Youngest daughter was home from college and her older sister and sister’s southern beau were here. The tree was decorated. A sprawling gingerbread chalet appeared on the dining room table. (This is the third year of gingerbread houses with the unwritten rule that each year has to outdo the previous creation). We had our Christmas morning champagne brunch, followed a week later by our new tradition (started at the same time that gingerbread villages began springing up) of New Year’s Eve dinner with guests. And more champagne at midnight.
Plus there was the snow that made the snowman possible. (They named him Bernard. No idea why).
So it’s back work. (Cue the short ribs).

Short ribs used to be among a group of cuts of meat often referred to as the “cheap cuts.” These were the ones that were seen as less desirable as others and therefore, at one time, they cost less.
Not so much anymore.
They may be harder to find because most people would rather pitch a steak on the grill. Or you can blame the chefs (“God made the food, the devil the chefs”*) who have turned to them for variety in their menus, which drove up demand (and in turn the price) over the past decade. I often have to try several places before I find them.
You can find them either on or off the bone. I recently saw mammoth-sized on-the-bone, grass-fed short ribs (with a correspondingly mammoth price). Boneless short ribs, also called “English” short ribs, are cut from the chuck. There is a variety called flanken style, which are cut across the rib, not down the length. They're not what I like to use but there are recipes that call for flanken style short ribs. Use what you can find. Short ribs on the bone should have a good portion of meat on them. Sometimes they don’t, so look carefully. You can also befriend the butcher in your local store who can get you what you’re looking for, too. But remember, they’re no longer “cheap cuts.”
Short ribs benefit from long, slow braising. After the initial preparation, the oven does the rest of the work breaking down the collagen and making the meat meltingly tender.

You can easily expand the recipe depending on the amount of short ribs you find by adding more vegetables and stock.

This makes four serving. Carnivores may see this as two serving.

Short Ribs Braised in Port or Red Wine
1½ pounds beef short ribs **
1 medium onion, halved and sliced lengthwise
3 to 4 carrots, cut crosswise into ½” slices
2 or 3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
1 Tablespoon all purpose flour
1 bunch of thyme (about 8 to 10 stems) tied together
2 or 3 bay leaves
1 & ½ cups port or red wine or a combination of both
1 cup beef stock
salt and ground black pepper
olive oil

1. Heat oven to 275 degrees. Place an ovenproof 4 quart Dutch oven over high heat. While pot is heating, pat the short ribs dry with a paper towel. Season the ribs generously with salt and pepper. When the pot is hot, swirl in 2 or 3 Tablespoons olive oil. Add the short ribs. Don’t over crowd the ribs; it’s better to cook them in two batches then all at once. Brown the ribs on all sides; this will take about 7 to 10 minutes. Remove the well- browned ribs from pot and set aside. Slide pot off the heat to cool for a minute or two before adding the vegetables.

2. Return the pot to the heat. Add additional olive oil, if needed. Add the carrots and onions, scraping the bottom of the pot to loosen any of the “brown bits” that accumulated while cooking the ribs; season with salt and pepper. After 2 or 3 minutes of cooking, add the garlic and continue cooking. After the onions have softened, move the vegetables to the outer edge of the pot and add the tomato paste. Stir and toast the tomato paste in the center of the pot for 1 to 2 minutes, then mix the tomato paste together with the vegetables. Add the flour and mix it into the vegetables. Cook the flour for a minute.

3. Add the port/ red wine and stir. Add the thyme and bay leaves. eturn the short ribs to the pot with any juices that may have accumulated. Add the beef stock and season lightly with salt and pepper. Bring the pot up to a simmer, cover it and place it in the oven and cook the short ribs for 2 ½ to 3 hours- low and slow. The ribs are done when the meat is tender, ready to fall of the bones. Remove from the oven.

This is a dish that is better the next day so if you can wait, refrigerate the cooled contents of the pot over night and reheat when you are ready. Taste for seasoning. When you reheat the short ribs you might want to add a fresh splash of port or red wine (about 2 or 3 tablespoons) and a little beef stock. Remove the thyme and the bay leaves before serving.

Short ribs are great with mashed potatoes or for a change, try soft polenta

Soft Polenta
For two servings-
1 cup water or milk
2 Tablespoons instant polenta
salt and ground black pepper

1. Place the water or milk into a medium-sized saucepan. Place over medium heat and bring liquid to a simmer. Whisk in the polenta one tablespoon at a time, whisking throughout. Lower heat and cook until polenta has thickened, about 3 to 4 minutes. If the polenta gets too thick, you can thin it with additional liquid. Season with ¼ teaspoon salt and ground black pepper to taste and remove from heat until ready to serve.  You can enrich the polenta with a tablespoon of unsalted butter and/or 1 tablespoon grated cheese (parmesan, cheddar, etc.).

                             “Old Christmas is past, twelve tide is the last,
                                    And we bid you adieu, great joy in the new.”

*from  Ulysses by James Joyce
** this is a perfect example of “recipe confusion.” It’s all a matter of what type of short ribs you find. Don’t worry if it’s too much. Leftovers are great.

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