Once a year or so, I experiment with cooking beef. I guess it’s a sign that I really am obsessed with learning more about cooking since I don’t eat red meat. Kurt does eat red meat, and he’s my audience and critic when I attempt one of these meals. This time, I decided I really wanted to watch the transformation of beef short ribs during a long, slow braise. I felt it necessary to stick to an exact recipe, so I presented a couple of options from different books to Kurt. He chose the red wine braised short ribs from Stir: Mixing It Up in the Italian Tradition by Barbara Lynch. It’s a fairly straightforward approach to short ribs as far as I know. For side dishes, otherwise known as my complete meal, I made the creamy mascarpone polenta also from Stir and roasted some broccoli and cauliflower with whole garlic cloves.
Lynch’s approach to the short ribs is to cook them even longer than usual at an even lower temperature. They can definitely be made in advance and simply re-heated for serving. In fact, that’s the best way to deal with the sauce. To start, the short ribs were seasoned well and then seared in a hot saute pan with canola oil. I knew not to crowd the pan, so I seared the ribs in two batches, and to my nose, my kitchen still smells like beef. Kurt doesn’t seem to mind. Once seared on all sides, the ribs went into a large roasting pan, and the sauce was started. In the same saute pan, onion, celery, carrot, and garlic were sauteed. When those vegetables were tender and browned, a bottle of red wine, thyme sprigs, bay leaves, peppercorns, whole coriander, and chopped tomato were added. That was cooked until reduced by half. Then, broth was added and brought to a boil. The whole mixture of liquid and vegetables was poured over the ribs in the roasting pan. The pan was covered with parchment and foil, and it went into a 275 F oven for five hours.
I can’t take much credit for the meat doing what it does in a flavorful braising liquid while being slowly roasted for hours, but it did indeed arrive at the falling off the bone state. I let the meat cool in the roasting pan until touchable and then transferred it to another large baking dish. The braising liquid was strained into a large saucepan, and some of it was poured over the ribs in the new dish. Both the ribs and sauce were covered and refrigerated for a couple of hours. That was just enough time for the fat to congeal on the surface of the sauce, and that makes it much easier to remove than skimming a warm sauce repeatedly. The de-fatted sauce was then brought to a simmer and reduced while the short ribs were re-heated in a 300 F oven. Just before serving, a tablespoon of butter and some thyme leaves were whisked into the sauce.
The ribs were well-received, and Kurt confirmed they were cooked to complete tenderness. Yes, they spend forever braising, and beef fat is a crazy thing to smell in my kitchen, but I had a new cooking experience and everything turned out great. That’s not the end of the story though. I have to tell you about the incredibly simple polenta. It was a basic polenta made with coarse ground cornmeal and milk. After the polenta was thickened and fully cooked, butter and mascarpone were stirred into it. That was it, but what a polenta it became. I’m told it worked well with the short ribs and sauce, and I can definitely suggest it along side roasted vegetables. The creamy richness of the mascarpone made it an amazing polenta. For this meal, we had slightly different things on our plates, but we both enjoyed a hearty winter meal with great flavor.