Braised Ribs with Whipped Fennel-Potato Mash
One of the tricky things about moving across the world is finding the right ingredients. The Italian’s longing for the perfect mortadella. The Israeli’s desperation for g’vina levana. The Australian’s hunt for vegemite.
I could go on and on about the things I can’t find in Australia, but here’s just a sampling: Jell-o pudding, edible cereal (no Cap’n Crunch! No Golden Grahams, Cinnamon Toast Crunch or Honey Nut Cheerios, for crying out loud!), sweetened coconut, bacon,* toffee chips (not that I’ve ever used them, it’s just nice to know they exist), half-n-half, raw pizza dough, cheez-its, goldfish, graham crackers, clamato juice….
And now, I have one more thing to add to the list: short ribs.
Craving something meaty and wintry for an upcoming dinner party – and having promised to mix up my repetoire – I came across this recipe and was totally sold. Braised short ribs it would be!
The only problem? I couldn’t find them anywhere. Planning to braise a few days in advance (to enhance the flavor), I went to my local butcher who had never heard of short ribs. Never a good sign. I feebly held my hands just so far apart and pointed to my ribs – short ribs – as if we weren’t speaking the same language. The shorter ribs….No?
So I went home and starting calling other butcheries, and decided to go to Meat Heaven (also known as Home of Kobe Steak) where they said they could cut me anything I wanted! Perfect!
Problem was, I didn’t really know what I wanted. Of course, I knew I wanted the short ribs, you know, the ones that are shorter. But when the butcher showed me the whole entire rib of the cow, I could only mumble something about marbling bone sticking out English-cut lots of meat no tendons and picked 8 ribs at random. To my credit, they looked a little short, there did appear to be some marbling, and the butcher who should know all sorts of bizarro foreign cuts of meat was looking at me like a poor, lost little creature who thinks that this cut really does exist.
Proudly hanging onto my beautifully butchered ribs, I marched out of there (but not before grabbing a Kobe steak – I couldn’t help it) and headed straight home to start the braise.
Though I know how to braise (it goes a little something like this: brown meat, remove, add veggies, brown, add liquid and meat, simmer for hours, strain, reduce, serve), I decided to follow Daniel Boulud’s recipe because 68 positive reviewers on Epicurious couldn’t all be wrong.
I went about preparing my vegetables…
…and flouring the meat…
…and deciding which wine I was willing to sacrifice to the short ribs gods…
…I browned those suckers….
….then I set them all a’simmer for 3 hours (there was some spillage)….
Then! The moment of truth! After all that time bathing in simmering wine, any reasonable short rib would be literally falling apart at the poke of a fork. My ribs? Not so much. They were extremely, distressingly fatty, and when I chewed a piece it didn’t seem to want to go anywhere.
Unfazed, I decided to veer away from the recipe: I removed the meat, threw away the bones, and picked out all the nasty tendon-ridden pieces. Then I strained out all the vegetables and icky bits from the liquid, put the meat back in the pot and left it on the stove overnight, planning to skim off the fat and continue the braise the next day. I wasn’t really worried, I had plenty of time! The dinner party was not for 2 days.
The next morning, the pot, predictably, looked like this:
I removed the fat and restarted the braise. After a few more hours? No change.
At this point, I started to get fed up. I had another dinner party to attend to and I couldn’t be wasting my time worrying about ribs! So I left the pot there, on the stove, and the next day, the day of the dinner party, I tried one last braise to no effect. Some googling confirmed what I already knew: these aren’t short ribs!
Silly thing! The butcher was right. They don’t exist in Australia. Cows are just made differently here.
By now, I was feeling a bit panicky. Dinner party was imminent and my meat was tough and fatty. So I made one of my favorite pastas and hoped the guests couldn’t detect the telltale aromas of a red wine and beef braise.
The next morning, pissed off at my lack of wherewithal with determining what cuts of meat actually look like, I decided to throw away the whole damn pot of meat. But then I remembered: the wine! So the pot sat on the stove for a few more days until, at the insistence of my neighbor who’d been hearing my bitching about this meat for days now, I decided to serve it as an appetizer. Stu would be making his awesome Mexican chicken with all the fixings, so, I figured, a few mouthfuls of tough meat couldn’t possibly ruin the meal.
I shredded the meat by hand and vigorously reduced the liquid until it was sticky, sweet and intense. 3 bottles of wine + 5 cups broth + my vengeance on the meat = 1/3 cup sauce. And what sweet, sweet vengeance it was.
To serve, I whipped up some fennel-potato purée (which I heartily recommend, by the way!) and plated it in little ramekins. I served a few shreds of the meat on top with a small spoonful of the heavenly reduction.
If you live in an area where short ribs are readily available, do not hesitate to make this recipe! If you, like me, do not, spare ribs are a sad but acceptable replacement if you, like me, have time to braise for days. Otherwise, ask your butcher for a cut of beef (preferably bone-in for flavor) that you can braise. Just don’t ask him for the shorter ribs.
* To clarify: Australian’s looove their bacon. But what they call bacon, I’d call Canadian bacon, less fatty, thicker and more like ham. In the US, bacon is made from pork belly whereas in Australia (and the UK) it’s made from the side of the pig, and sometimes has hardly any fat at all.
BRAISED SHORT RIBS
liberally adapted from Daniel Boulud’s Beef Short Ribs recipe
I’ll write out my changes as if I had actually used short ribs. Please don’t be frightened off by my refusal to accept the fact that I can’t tell a short rib from a spare rib. Make this recipe at least a day in advance; for best results, I’d say start making it 3 days before you plan to serve it.
3 bottles red wine
8-10 short ribs (on the bone if you can find them), trimmed of excess fat
Flour, for dredging
8 large shallots, peeled and halved
2 medium-sized carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
2 ribs of celery, roughly chopped
1 medium-sized leek (white and light-green parts), coarsely chopped, washed and dried (I left this out)
5 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
2 bay leaves and 2 thyme sprigs (if you have them)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 quarts beef broth (my pot couldn’t fit this much; I probably used half)
Pour the wine into a large saucepan cook over medium heat. When the wine is hot, carefully set it aflame. Let the flames die out, then increase the heat so that the wine boils; allow it to boil until it cooks down by half.
If you’re scared like me, just boil it vigorously while you cut up the vegetables and trim the meat until it’s reduced by half. Remove from the heat.
Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C. In your largest oven-proof pot, warm a few tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. Season the ribs all over with salt pepper, and dredge them in a bowl of flour to coat. When the oil is hot, slip the ribs into the pot and sear for 4 to 5 minutes on each side, until well-browned. Don’t skimp here! The browning is key! You’ll probably have to do this step in a few batches (I did 4 batches) because it’s unlikely all your ribs will fit at once.
Once you’ve browned the ribs, transfer them to a plate. Lower the heat under the pot to medium and toss in the vegetables and herbs. Brown everything lightly, 5 to 7 minutes, then stir in the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute.
Add the reduced wine, ribs and broth to the pot. Bring to a boil, cover tightly and place in the oven to braise for 2 1/2 hours or until the ribs are very tender. OR, if you, like me, don’t want to lift a million-ton burning hot pot out of the oven, just reduce the heat to nearly as low as it goes and leave on the stove, cover on.
At this point, you can totally turn off the heat and go to bed. Just leave the pot covered on the stove. In the morning, or whenever you come back to the recipe, skim off the layer of fat that will have formed.
Now, after letting the whole pot sit until it has cooled and you can easily scrape the fat off, remove the meat from the pot and set aside. Throw away the bones if you used bone-in meat. Pass the contents of the pot through a fine mesh strainer, and discard all the solids. Clean out the pot (so that there are no chunks of anything stuck to the side), put the sieved liquid back in, then boil uncovered until it has reduced to about 2 cups or however thick you want it.
At this point, you’re all done! You can put the ribs back in the sauce and wait a day or two before rewarming to serve, or you can serve them right away!
I recommend serving them in individual bowls on top of potatoes (such as my puré di patate or this fennel-potato mash), then spooning the hot sauce over the top.
4 large starchy potatoes, peeled and quartered
1/2 large fennel bulb, quartered
1 small onion, quartered
1 clove garlic, smashed
3 + cups milk
1/3 cup Gruyere cheese, grated (optional)
In a large pot, heat some olive oil over medium flame and place all the ingredients in except for the milk. Stir often, trying not to let the vegetables brown, for about 4 minutes. Add enough milk to cover the vegetables and set to a low boil. Leaving the cover just a bit off, boil until all the vegetables are very, very tender, about 30 or 40 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent the milk from sticking to the bottom.
Drain the vegetables and reserve the cooking milk. Put the vegetables back in the pot over medium heat and add a little bit of the cooking milk. Using a potato masher, hand-held blender or food processor, mix together, adding the cooking liquid until it’s really creamy and smooth. Don’t be afraid to add more milk than you think. Add some Gruyere or other cheese, if desired. Salt and pepper to taste. This can be made a day ahead and reheated before serving.