Wednesday, January 23, 2002

Bone up on short ribs

A once humble cut emerges from the back of the meat case to star in upscale eateries

By Chuck Martin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A sure way to chase the winter blues: Slide a pot of beef short ribs smothered with vegetables, wine and broth into the oven. Wait an hour or two, breathe deeply.

        The wonderful, downright grandmotherly smell emanating from the oven will make you forget — at least for a while — the fact we haven't seen the sun much since October.

        Short ribs are rich, hearty, designed for cooking and eating in winter. Too bad most of us walk right by the homely cut in the meat case. There they are — wearing cellophane, looking bony and fatty at the same time, half buried under the rump roast, next to the chuck and bottom round.

    Steps for making best short ribs
    Trim excess fat from meat.
    Sear the ribs in a hot oven or on top of the stove. Pour off melted fat.
    Braise ribs with vegetables, wine and/or stock. Cover the pot and cook at medium to low temperature two hours or more, until ribs are tender.
    Cool cooking liquid or refrigerate overnight, then skim off any solidified fat.
    Strain cooking liquid and reheat with ribs, carrots, potatoes and other vegetables.
        “Short ribs are not a beautiful-looking cut,” says Richard Hoehn, co-owner of Bridgetown Finer Meats in Bridgetown. “But they are a hidden treasure.”

        Twenty years ago, short ribs were one of Mr. Hoehn's more popular sellers. Now, as in most small and large markets, they've been eclipsed by trimmed chunks of beef stew meat, top round and the rest.

        But there are signs humble short ribs are making a comeback, and surprisingly, it's with the hoity-toity crowd. Bon Appetit named short ribs “Dish of the Year” in this month's issue, and last year, New York super-chef Daniel Boulud put shredded short ribs in his now famous DB Burger (along with ground sirloin and foie gras) at DB Bistro Moderne in Manhattan. Mr. Boulud has the nerve to charge $27 for the massive sandwich, but people are buying it.

        Closer to home, David Cook, chef-owner of Daveed's in Mount Adams, debuted short ribs on his upscale-casual menu last year. His dish of beef ribs, pulled from the bone, with porcini mushrooms and sweetbreads sold well, but the chef says servers had to sometimes convince customers short ribs aren't just “pot roast.” Mr. Cook, however, needs no convincing that short ribs are a very special cut.

        “The fat melts away and tenderizes the meat,” he says, “making it moist and flavorful. And the ribs pull all that wine in during the braising.”

        This month, Mr. Cook will offer braised short ribs again, this time with rich rutabaga and black truffle puree.

        Imagine that — lowly rutabaga and short ribs on the plate with exotic, expensive black truffles.

        John Kinsella, head of the chef-technology program at Cincinnati State, remembers short ribs as a mainstay on the lunch menu at the Hilton Hotel, downtown, in the mid 1970s, when he was chef there.

        “We had to leave the beef on the bone, though,” he says. “People wouldn't eat the ribs without seeing the bone.”

        Bone or no bone, Mr. Kinsella says you don't have to be a pro to master cooking short ribs. He recommends trimming excess fat from the meat, searing the ribs and then braising (simmering slowly, covered, with a little liquid) them with diced vegetables until tender. Cooked this way, the flavor from the bone and the fat in the ribs create an extraordinary sauce best served with potatoes, noodles or another starch.

        Although preparing short ribs isn't difficult, it does require a little time and patience — perfect for a winter afternoon, when the weather's cold and miserable.

        Cook short ribs the right way, and the delicious aroma and flavors might make you stop pining for spring — at least for a day anyway.

Short Ribs Recipes

        In this basic recipe, from The America's Test Kitchen (Boston Common Press; $29.95), the ribs are oven-roasted at high heat to cook off much of the fat.

        To make cooking easier, turn this into a two-day process: Roast and braise the ribs the first day and refrigerate overnight. The next day, skim the fat from the sauce, prepare the garnish and warm the ribs. (You could omit the garnish and serve the strained sauce and ribs with sauteed carrots, onions, potatoes or noodles.)

Short Ribs Braised in Red Wine with Bacon, Parsnips and Pearl Onions

       6 pounds beef short ribs, trimmed of excess fat
       Salt and pepper, to taste
       3 cups dry red wine
       3 large onions, chopped
       2 medium carrots, chopped
       1 large celery rib, chopped
       9 garlic cloves, chopped
        1/4 cup all-purpose flour
       4 cups chicken stock or broth
       1 14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
       1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary
       1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
       3 medium bay leaves
       1 teaspoon tomato paste
       6 slices bacon, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
       8 ounces frozen pearl onions (don't thaw)
       4 medium parsnips, peeled and cut diagonally into 3/4-inch pieces
        1/4 teaspoon sugar
        1/4 teaspoon salt
       6 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

        Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Arrange ribs bone-side down in large roasting pan and season with salt and pepper. Roast until meat begins to brown, about 45 minutes. Drain off all fat and liquid. Return pan to oven and continue to cook until meat is well-browned, another 15 to 20 minutes.

        Transfer ribs to large plate and set aside. Drain off fat to small bowl and reserve. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees. Place roasting pan on two stove-top burners set at medium heat. Add wine and bring to simmer, scraping browned bits with wooden spoon. Set roasting pan with wine aside.

        Heat 2 tablespoons reserved fat in large Dutch oven or pot over medium-high heat. Add onions, carrots and celery. Saute, stirring occasionally, until vegetables soften, about 12 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in flour until combined. Stir in wine from roasting pan, chicken stock, tomatoes, herbs, bay leaves, tomato paste, salt and pepper, to taste. Bring to boil and add short ribs, completely submerging meat in liquid. Return to boil, cover, place in oven, and simmer until ribs are tender, about 2-2 1/2 hours. Transfer pot to wire rack and cool, partially covered until warm, about 2 hours.

        Transfer ribs from pot to plate, removing excess vegetables and loose bones that may have fallen away from meat. Strain braising liquid into medium bowl, pressing out liquid from solids. Discard solids. Cover ribs and liquid and refrigerate separately overnight. (Can be refrigerated up to 3 days.)

        To make garnish and finish dish: Cook diced bacon in Dutch oven over medium heat until just crisp. Remove with slotted spoon to drain on paper towel. To pot, add pearl onions, parsnips, sugar and salt. Increase heat to high and saute, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 5 minutes.

        Spoon off and discard solidified fat from braising liquid. Add braising liquid to pearl onion mixture and bring to simmer. Submerge cooked ribs in liquid; return to simmer. Reduce heat to medium and cook, partially covered, until ribs are heated through and vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes longer. Stir in bacon and adjust seasoning. Divide ribs and sauce among bowls, sprinkle each with 1 tablespoon minced parsley, and serve. Makes 6 servings.

        Grilling short ribs, as in this recipe from Cucina Simpatica (Harper Collins; $25), cooks off excess fat and gives the beef a slight smoky flavor. The braising produces a generous portion of flavorful sauce, perfect for serving on pasta.

Grilled and Braised Short Ribs of Beef

       4 tablespoons olive oil
       4 carrots, scraped and chopped
       2 cups chopped fresh fennel
       4 large onions, chopped
       2 to 3 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
       6 to 8 large garlic cloves, peeled
       1 teaspoon kosher salt
       6 pounds short ribs
       1 bottle dry red wine
       6 cups canned tomatoes in heavy puree
       3 cups chicken stock

        Preheat charcoal grill, setting grill rack 10 inches above coals; or preheat oven broiler.

        Heat olive oil in large Dutch oven. Add chopped carrots, fennel, onion, jalapenos, garlic and salt. Saute, covered, over low heat until vegetables are soft, 20 to 30 minutes.

        While vegetables are cooking, sear ribs over the charcoal fire or under the broiler. Take care not to char or burn the beef. Transfer ribs to platter.

        Add wine to cooked vegetables, and reduce over high heat until most liquid evaporates, 10 to 15 minutes. In batches, puree vegetables with tomatoes and return to Dutch oven. Add ribs and stock. Bring to boil, cover and simmer over low heat until meat is fork tender, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Makes 6 servings, with plenty of sauce left over for another use.

        The thick “English-style” short ribs are the most common cut in the meat case. But for this recipe, from How to Cook Meat (Morrow; $35), you need the thinner “flanken-style” ribs because the beef is grilled briefly — not braised.

       Korean-Style Grilled Short Ribs with Ginger, Chiles and Quick Kimchee
        1/4 cup soy sauce
        1/4 cup rice vinegar
       1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
       1 teaspoon minced garlic
       1 tablespoon minced fresh chile peppers
       1 tablespoon sugar
        1/2 cup Napa cabbage sliced 1/4-inch thick
       1 cucumber, peeled, seed and thinly sliced
        1/2 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and thinly sliced
       1 medium carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
       2 1/2 pounds flanken-style beef short ribs, 1/2 to 3/4-inch-thick (see note)
        1/3 cup soy sauce
        1/2 cup lime juice
       1 tablespoon minced garlic
       2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
        1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro
       2 tablespoons minced fresh chile peppers
       3 tablespoons freshly cracked white or black pepper
       1 teaspoon ground coriander

        To make kimchee, combine soy sauce, vinegar, ginger, garlic, chiles and sugar and whisk together in small bowl. In another bowl, toss cabbage, cucumber, red pepper and carrot together. Add just enough of dressing to moisten vegetables and mix well; refrigerate.

        Place short ribs in large bowl. Combine remaining marinade ingredients and pour over ribs. Cover and refrigerate 1 to 3 hours.

        Prepare grill. Remove meat from marinate, drain and blot dry with paper towels. When coals are very hot, place ribs on grill and sear well on one side, about 3 minutes. Turn and continue cooking to desired doneness, about 3 minutes more for rare. Remove meat from grill, cover loosely with foil and allow to rest 5 minutes. Serve ribs hot with kimchee. Makes 4 servings.

        Note: Ask your butcher for this thinner cut of ribs, or substitute “Western-style, boneless” chuck “ribs,” top round steak, flank steak or New York strip.


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