Beef short ribs
There's something about wintry weather that makes hearty, heavy, beefy dishes seem just right. And there's nothing in the beef department much more hearty and heavy than short ribs.
These rib ends, cut from the breast and flank portion, sometimes come in long strips but are easiest to use when the butcher saws them into neat blocks for your convenience. Each 3-inch cube will usually contain a flat piece of bone, a chunk of dark, flavorful beef and a stripe or two of fat.
It is indeed a fatty cut, and for that reason I don't serve them often. But every now and then, there's hardly anything better than a bowl of long-cooked, tender short ribs (and a glass of hearty red wine) to warm a blustery night.
These naturally tough bits require long, slow cooking to bring them to tender perfection. Some recipes call for broiling or grilling (Korean cuisine brings this approach to its peak), but I find that braising - slow cooking in liquid - is the most effective way to turn leather into butter. The following technique, in which the ribs are first browned in oil (which is then discarded), then simmered with aromatic vegetables for a long time at very low heat, goes at least part of the way toward minimizing excess fat in an unavoidably fatty dish.
Don't under-buy when you order short ribs, by the way: Because so much of the portion is bone and fat, it takes about two pounds of ribs (six to eight pieces) to yield enough lean beef for a hearty dinner for two.
INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)
2 pounds (about 1 kilo) beef short ribs, cut into square pieces
1. In a skillet large enough to hold all the ribs in a single layer, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Peel and smash the garlic cloves and throw them in. When they're sizzling, add the ribs and sear until well browned on all sides. Discard the garlic and oil, and pat the ribs dry with paper towels.
2. While the ribs are browning, preheat your oven to 300F (150C). Peel and trim the onion and cut it in half, then cut each half into six or eight segments so it comes apart into squares. Peel the carrots and cut them into thick rounds. Trim the celery and cut it into slices.
3. Put the ribs in a dutch oven with all the chopped vegetables. Pour in the broth and season with salt and black pepper to taste (don't skimp on the pepper). Take care to taste before salting; if the broth was already salty, you may need no more. Bring to a simmer on the stove top, then cover and put it in the oven.
4. Cook for at least three hours, turning the beef and stirring occasionally, adding a little water if necessary. Keep an eye on it and reduce oven heat as necessary to maintain just a slow simmer. I ended up cooking it at a bare 180F (80C) for the last hour. Toward the end of cooking, add a dash of cumin, taking care not to overdo - you want to add just an elusive hint of exotic spice.
5. Serve at once if you like, but if you're scrupulous about fat, remove the beef (which will be falling-apart tender and coming off the bones) to a serving plate and remove as much fat as you can from the pan liquid and vegetables. Fluffy mashed potatoes make a great accompaniment, along with a green vegetable or salad.
WINE MATCH: A hearty red is called for, and a Syrah or Syrah blend would be just right. A rustic Languedoc red, Chateau de Lancyre 2000 "Hautes Terres" Coteaux du Languedoc, hit the spot for us last night.
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Favorite Weblink: The Cook's Thesaurus
In checking out beef ribs on the Web as I wrote today's article, I found my way back to an online favorite, The Cook's Thesaurus, a remarkably rich and utterly non-commercial site published by Lori Alden.
An online encyclopedia of food, neatly arranged and easy to navigate from indexes or search engine, it features clear, concise descriptions - with photos - of just about every imaginable food.
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