Last winter, Niman Ranch had an online special for beef ribs, two packs per order. They weren’t short ribs, individual ribs with meat attached; it was a slab of meat with three ribs going through it, and not a lot of fat. There was one in a package and each package weighed just shy of a pound. I think they called them Beef Back Ribs. In any case, when it came to cooking them, I got busy doing something else, and then I lost the recipe that Niman was kind enough to send with the meat, so I stuck â€˜em in the freezer for later.
Later came last week, when in a confluence of coincidence our oldest son and his wife came to visit for a week and the New York Times ran a David Chang recipe for Braised Short Ribs. So I had more than two mouths to feed and the means to feed them. Hooray.
I supplemented the Beef Back Ribs on hand with 3 pounds of actual Short Ribs from Golden Gate Meats and was good to go.
What I mean is “good to go” equals meat, but for long braising, another key element is the pot. Over our many years of marriage, my wife and I have collected a number of Le Creuset pots and skillets. They’re made of enameled cast iron, and they’re the best, but expensive. We amassed our collection through gifts, keeping our eyes open for sales, and shopping the Le Creuset Outlet Store in Gilroy, CA. Just this year, our Whole Food Store had the 10-inch non-stick skillet on sale, and I snapped it up. We use it practically every day, as I’m sure you’ve seen in some of my pictures.
This picture is the 7 quart pot and it allowed me to braise these short ribs in the oven at 350 ° for three hours. As you can see, during this process a lot of the swirling around steamy goodness collected on the inside of the pot. After the meat moved on to the plate, that deep brown coating washed right off.
Cast Iron is a great conductor of heat, but its drawback is that it has to be seasoned with oil and the seasoning renewed from time to time. I have a well-seasoned cast iron skillet, handed down to me from my mother. I treat it right, and it treats me right and we get along very well together. Within the last few years, Lodge, a long time maker of cast iron pots and skillets from Tennessee, got sophisticated on us and first, started preseasoning their cookware, then got to enameling them. They’re still heavy and not cheap, but they’re less expensive than the Le Creuset, if not as handsome.
The ribs are braised in a liquid of apple juice, sake, mirin, sugar, soy sauce, pepper, garlic, sesame oil and water. That gets boiled, then simmered, to get all the flavors working together. The smell is sweet and pungent and I could imagine the meat taking a hot bath (very hot) in this liquid. While that simmered gently, I browned the ribs in batches, and then added coarsely chopped onions and carrots to brown along with the meat. That’s a sensual treat, the pot is sizzling and as the vegetables are stirred, they start to glisten with the oil and rendered beef fat as they brown. The experience seems very much “of the earth.” I piled up the ribs mixed with the vegetables, poured over the braising liquid, and added water to barely cover. I slipped the pot into the oven, and with three hours to kill, went shopping for ingredients for some bean soup which I would make later in the day; another earthy dish.
After three hours, the meat was falling off the bone ready, I took the meat off the bones (them bones were clean), cut the excessive fat off the meat (yes, short ribs are fatty), returned the meat to the pot and reduced the sauce to a syrupy consistency. While this went on, I cooked carrots and potatoes in butter in that 10 inch Le Creuset skillet until they were nice and crusty and tender and added those to the pot.
The beef and vegetables were portioned over rice and I served that rich dish with a bitter endive and greens salad, in cool contrast.
The thing about Braised Short Ribs is that all of the ingredients are down home and honest, nothing fancy, and you just go low and slow to a rich and unctuous conclusion.
Even for four hungry mouths, 5 pounds of ribs is a lot, and three lovely lunch portions were left, to be savored later.
Braised Short Ribs
New York Times, 11.06
Adapted from David Chang
Time: At least 5 hours. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.
1 1/2 cups pear or apple juice
1 cup sake
1 cup mirin
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup soy sauce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
10 cloves crushed garlic
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons neutral oil, like corn or grapeseed
4 to 5 pounds short ribs
2 large onions, peeled and roughly chopped
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
2 tablespoons butter
8 to 12 small potatoes, preferably fingerlings, trimmed
1/2 cup chopped scallions
4 cups cooked white rice.
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a saucepan, combine juice, sake, mirin, sugar, soy sauce, about 20 grinds of pepper, both forms of garlic, sesame oil and 1 1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil, then simmer.
2. Put corn or grapeseed oil in a large ovenproof braising pan or skillet over medium-high heat and add ribs, seasoning them liberally with salt and pepper. Brown well on one side, moving them around to promote even browning. Turn, add onions and half the carrots, and brown other side, stirring vegetables occasionally.
3. Carefully pour braising liquid over meat and bake, bone-side up and submerged in liquid (add water or juice if necessary), for 3 to 4 hours, until meat falls from bones. Cool ribs in liquid for 1 hour, then remove; strain liquid. At this point, ribs and liquid can be covered and refrigerated overnight.
4. Remove bones from ribs. In a pot, combine meat with braising liquid; heat to a boil then simmer, reducing liquid until syrupy. If it seems too thick, thin with a bit of water.
5. About 1/2 hour before you are ready to serve, put butter in a skillet and add potatoes and remaining carrots. Cook, stirring occasionally and seasoning with salt and pepper, until browned and nearly tender, about 20 minutes. Add to meat. Taste mixture and adjust seasonings if necessary, then garnish with scallions and serve on rice.
As a participant in this meal, I can verify that this short rib recipe WAS very good. Short ribs are very rich (lots of fat and lots of gelatin), and most recipes either go sweet or go sour to counter this. This is a sweet one, but the sake and mirin and soy sauce temper it nicely. Another good short ribs recipe I’ve had uses preserved lemons to go the other direction.
For the less foodie among us, it might be helpful to add a link to “mirin” to provide a definition (here’s one from wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirin) or to simply add a parenthetic at a convenient juncture to indicate that it’s a sweet, Japanese rice wine. Also might help to suggest a substitute for those readers who don’t live in a city with a neighborhood called Japantown or who simply have no idea where they would find the stuff (I would try warmed sweet vermouth). A lot of cooks get tunnel-vision when reading recipes which can cause them to simply skip over a perfectly good one when they see a completely unfamiliar ingredient.
Good comment, Brian.
I was out of Mirin and didn’t find it at either Safeway or Whole Food. I got it at The Big Apple, an Asian supermarket on Polk at Sacramento. This recipe uses a cup, but most recipes that call for mirin only use a tablespoon or two. The Kikkoman Aji-Mirin bottle is ten ounces and doesn’t go bad on the shelf, so if you cook Asian very often, it might be worth the trouble to get a bottle. Google “mirin” and you’ll find several sources.
As a substitute, sweet vermouth would be okay, or a sweetish white wine, such as Chenin Blanc or Muscat with some sugar mixed in.