A low and slow stint in the oven yields flavorful, fork tender meat that will warm your soul. Optional day-ahead prep offers added benefits and convenience.
Certain foods smell as good as they taste. And I’ve noticed that special memories are often tightly linked to the intersection of these two senses.
What comes to mind when you think of a campfire or charcoal grill–or holiday cookie baking? A fresh pot of coffee?
Whenever I smell pot roast or a beefy stew, I think of my grandmother. The unmistakable aroma of a tough cut of meat, slowly melting into tender perfection in the low heat of the oven, was often the first thing I noticed when I entered her house.
This usually meant that my sister and I had time to draw on the chalkboard at the bottom of my grandparents’ basement stairs (that was the only “toy” in their house, and we loved it) before enjoying a family dinner, which in addition to some aromatic entree, always included jelly bread. (As a side note, jelly bread was plain old loaf bread, un-toasted, stacked on a plate, and served with softened butter and homemade jam. It was an economical meal bolsterer and Depression-era holdover–and everyone adored it.)
When I think of the following recipe, I think of lazy Sundays and lingering around the dinner table with family. And while the ribs’ easy prep and hands-off cooking are as well suited to a weekend afternoon of sledding or football, the meal is no doubt special enough for company.
What’s more, the option to fully prepare the short ribs a day in advance offers welcome convenience and allows the flavors to develop. And there’s another noteworthy benefit, but more to come on that.
What exactly are beef short ribs?
Short ribs come from the beef chuck of a cow, and they consist of the ends of the ribs located near the breastbone. Depending on where you shop, you may purchase individual ribs, or you may see them as a strip of three or four ribs, which needs to be cut into pieces before cooking.
Like chuck roast or brisket, short ribs are a tough cut of meat that benefit from slow cooking over low heat. When cooked this way, the flavor concentrates, the connective tissue breaks down, and the meat becomes fall-apart tender.
Once considered a cheap cut of meat, these days short ribs garner top dollar at trendy restaurants.
As with other cuts of beef, the short ribs vary in thickness and length, so I find specifying a weight, rather than the number of ribs, is helpful in a recipe. More on serving size follows.
How do I serve short ribs?
A restaurant will typically serve a single rib atop a hearty spoonful of mashed potatoes or polenta. A shallow bowl is often used to contain a ladleful of the flavorful juices, which are ideal for mixing into the potatoes or grits–or sopping up with a crusty piece of bread. For visual appeal, some chefs serve the rib with the bone sticking up, but it will pull right out of the fork tender meat.
To enhance the flavor of the broth, vegetables like carrots, onions, and celery are often added. The veggies become quite tender, and some people discard them, but I like the color and flavor they provide. Alternatively, those who enjoy a thick gravy may enjoy the option of blending them into the pan juices.
A roasted green vegetable or fresh salad provides crisp appeal and rounds out the meal beautifully.
What is a typical serving size?
One meaty short rib makes a generous serving, although I have found that some people prefer two. Keep appetites in mind when considering the yield. And like many cuts of meat, size varies. Four pounds may yield six meaty ribs or eight somewhat smaller portions.
Wine or no wine?
Most short rib recipes call for wine, and while my recipe allows for it, it’s not critical. The flavor is not lacking in this rendition, which uses a mix of beef and chicken broth. I find the combination adds lightness and a hint of complexity to the pan juices. When choosing the wine option, it is briefly simmered to take the edge off before adding the broth.
What are the advance prep options?
With this recipe, I often employ the day-before approach. If you cook the ribs until they are fork tender, allow them to cool in the pot, and then cover and refrigerate overnight, the fat will rise to the surface and solidify as it becomes cold.
At this point, you can scrape the hardened fat off the surface and discard it very easily. The result will be no less flavorful (I actually prefer the sauce this way because it’s not at all greasy), and as a bonus, the flavors have a chance to meld. A win-win.
If you prefer to eat the ribs the day you prepare them, you certainly may–they will be delicious. In this case, you may wish to separate the fat from the sauce or skim what you can from the surface.
Can I thicken the pan juices?
There are several options with the sauce. You may strain it, season to taste, and serve as an au jus. If you enjoy a thicker sauce, I recommend pureeing the sauce, with the vegetables. (Do pick out the thyme stems and bay leaf first.) The vegetables add flavor and natural thickness and turn the braising liquid into a flavorful gravy. An immersion blender works well, or you can transfer in batches to a blender.
Beef short ribs are thick, rectangular pieces of meat, usually with the bone in. They are a tougher cut thanks to the connective tissue, but this melts away when cooked low and slow. The end result is flavorful, falling-apart tender beef.
After seasoning the ribs with salt and pepper, they are seared on the stovetop. This renders some of the fat and creates a golden brown crust.
A variety of vegetables enhance the flavor of the broth and can be used as an optional gravy thickener later.
The broth and herbs are then added and the ribs returned to the pot before transferring to the oven.
If you like the convenience of advance prep, you may cook the short ribs the day before you plan to eat them. The flavors will meld and continue to improve as the beef continues to soak in the braising liquid, and the fat will rise to the surface and harden as the liquid chills in the refrigerator. This makes it easy to remove the solid fat prior to reheating and better for those who are watching their saturated fat intake. If enjoying the same day as cooking, you can skim the surface or use a grease separator.
The exceptional flavor and aroma of these fork-tender short ribs take me right back to my grandmother’s kitchen. Once considered a cheap cut of meat, short ribs now garner top dollar at trendy restaurants but are easy to make at home. Serve with mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, grits, rice, or crusty bread for sopping up the juices.
Beef Short Ribs
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 2½ hours
Total Time: 3 hours
Yield: about 6 servings
If you like the convenience of advance prep, you may cook the short ribs the day before you plan to eat them. The flavors will meld and continue to improve as the beef continues to soak in the braising liquid. The fat will also rise to the surface and harden as the liquid chills in the refrigerator. This makes it easy to remove the solid fat prior to reheating and may be especially helpful for those who are watching their saturated fat intake.
4 to 4½ pounds bone-in short ribs, at least 1½ inches thick
1 teaspoon each kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium to large yellow onion, chopped
3 ribs celery, chopped
2 to 3 medium carrots, chopped
5-6 garlic cloves, lightly smashed but kept whole (more is fine for garlic lovers)
3 tablespoons (45g) tomato paste
1 (14.5-ounce) can reduced-sodium beef broth
1 (14.5-ounce) can reduced-sodium chicken broth*
3 sprigs fresh thyme (or a sprinkle of dried)
1 bay leaf
Optional for serving: a drizzle of red wine or sherry vinegar, chopped fresh parsley and or chives, finely grated lemon zest
Complementary side dishes: polenta, mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, rice, crusty bread, cauliflower, green and orange vegetables, salad
Preheat the oven to 300℉. Sprinkle the beef all over with the salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or ovenproof pot over medium-high heat. Half at a time, sear the ribs until nicely browned on both sides, about 6 to 8 minutes total per batch. (Helpful hint: This is a good time for a splatter guard if you have one.) Transfer the browned short ribs to a large plate and repeat with the remaining ribs.
Pour off all but about 2 tablespoons of the remaining fat in the pot. Reduce the heat to medium, and add the onion, celery, carrots, and garlic cloves. Toss to coat and cook until the vegetables are starting to soften but not browned, 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook, stirring regularly, until the paste begins to caramelize slightly on the bottom of the pot, about 2 minutes.
Add both broths and ½ cup water (this will make about 4 cups total braising liquid), scraping up any browned or caramelized bits on the pot. Add the thyme and bay leaf, and then nestle the short ribs back into the pot. The liquid should all but cover them. (It’s okay if the surface isn’t covered, but the ribs should be mostly submerged. If a good bit of the ribs are showing, add a little more broth or water.) Bring the liquid to a simmer, and then cover the pot and transfer it to the oven.
Cook, undisturbed, until the short ribs are very tender and fall off the bone easily, 2½ hours, give or take 15 minutes depending on thickness of ribs. At this point, the meat should pull apart easily with two forks and all but fall off the bone.
Day before prep option: At this point, you may cool the short ribs in the braising liquid and then cover and refrigerate overnight. The next day, the fat will have risen to the surface and hardened, and it can easily be removed and discarded. Warm the ribs in the liquid, covered, in a 325℉ oven for 30 minutes, give or take, or until just hot. Proceed with sauce options in the next step.
Serving and sauce options: Using tongs, remove the ribs from the pot. For presentation purposes, you may wish to keep the bone intact, but it’s not critical. If skipping the overnight cooling step, separate the fat from the sauce and strain out the solids, if desired. At this point you have a few options. 1) Simply season the “au jus” to taste with salt, pepper, and an optional drizzle of red wine or sherry vinegar and serve alongside the ribs. 2). Simmer the liquid to reduce/thicken it somewhat, and then season to taste. 3). Finally, if you prefer a thicker gravy, remove the bay leaf and thyme stems, and use an immersion blender (or transfer to an upright blender, being cautious to allow the steam to escape) and puree the vegetables into the liquid to make a smooth, thick sauce. Season to taste. If you have leftover gravy, it may be frozen for future use on a variety of meats, potatoes, etc. When plating, a dusting of fresh, chopped parsley or chives, a sprig of thyme, or a grating of lemon zest are all lovely options—although the ribs will be delicious without.
What to serve alongside? I love to serve the short ribs over mashed potatoes with a ladle of the sauce. The vegetables are well cooked, but we enjoy them, so I serve with the sauce. When eating, I peel off the fat cap (and don’t eat that) and then pull apart the tender meat. I enjoy a little bit of everything in one bite. Polenta or a baked potato are good options as well. I also enjoy a crisp green vegetable as a counterpoint to the richer meat.
*Instead of chicken broth, you may fill the beef broth can with red wine or a dry white wine (up to two cups). If using wine, add it after sautéing the tomato paste and before adding the beef broth. Bring it to a simmer for about 2 minutes to mellow the flavor, and then proceed with the beef broth, etc.
A few more things: •Instead of canned or boxed broth, you may use stock. If unsalted, simply add a little extra seasoning to taste. •For added depth of flavor, you may add ½ ounce dried porcini mushrooms, chopped, along with the thyme and bay leaf.