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Merlot Braised Short Ribs

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Short ribs, coming from the “short plate” (lower middle rib area) on a steer, contain a considerable amount of connective tissue and tendon that can result in tough and chewy meat if not prepared correctly.  There are, however, a number of ways to prepare and cook these tasty (and less expensive) cuts of meat to ensure they finish tender and juicy; braising is one of those.  Simply find a combination of liquid ingredients and spices or herbs that will complement the signature beefy flavor of the short ribs, and cook “low and slow” for several hours until things are ready to fall off the bone.

Another trait of short ribs is the noticeable amount of fat that is usually present between the different layers of muscle.  When cooked for a long time at low temperatures, this fat will melt to add flavor to the meat.  On the barbecue, the excess will simply drip off and collect in the drip bucket.  When braising, however, the excess will become part of the stewing liquid and will result in too  oily of a finished meal if not removed before serving.  For that reason, we turned this recipe into a two-day process – completing the primary cooking on the first day, followed by an overnight stay in the refrigerator to separate and solidify the extra fat, and then finishing up the cooking and preparing a stew from the braising liquid on the second day (or even several days later).

Gather Up:

  • 5 lbs of grass-fed beef short ribs
  • 6 oz pearl onions, peeled
  • 2 large celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 large parsnips, peeled and chopped
  • 1 shallot, peeled and chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 4 large dried ancho chiles, ground into powder (about 4 tbsp)
  • 1-1/2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 375 mL merlot (save the rest for having with the meal)
  • up to 4 tbsp butter (as needed for cooking)
  • about 1 quart beef stock (as needed for cooking)
  • 1 head mashed cauliflower for serving (not pictured)

I started out by smoking the ribs on the grill for 30 minutes at 170 degrees to add some more depth to their flavor.  This is purely optional, but I would certainly give it a try.  After that, take an oven-proof stock pot (with a lid) or dutch oven – large enough to eventually hold all of the ribs – and melt 2 tablespoons of butter in it over medium-high heat.  Sear the ribs, working in batches and adding a little more butter if needed, until all the sides have been browned.  Move to a plate when each batch is done.  While this is happening, you can also get your other ingredients chopped and prepped.

Once the meat has been seared, move on to briefly sautéing the veggies and garlic using another tablespoon or two of butter.  Cook until the outer layer of the pearl onions are just starting to appear soft.  Remove to a bowl and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Deglaze the stock pot with the wine for a minute or two, then add the cocoa and chile powder.  Boil for about 4 to 5 minutes to reduce the liquid roughly to half, then remove from the heat.  Place the ribs in the stock pot and add beef stock to cover (you can use a little water if needed, if the quart of stock isn’t quite enough).  Place in the oven, covered, for 2 hours.  After 2 hours, stir the veggies into the pot and place back in the oven, covered, for an additional 30 minutes.

It should come out of the oven looking something like this.  You can see the sheen of melted fat on the surface.  Let it cool on a hot pad until it can be put in the fridge without fear of shocking and shattering a shelf (if you have glass shelves) and then leave it chill overnight.  You can even leave it in the fridge up to a couple of days if you need to.

The next day, you should be able to easily remove the solidified (and hardened) fat from the surface of the pot.  In this case, we’ve easily got a solid 3/8″ thick “crust” on top that can be easily broken off and discarded (or rendered and clarified for other uses if you like).  After removing the fat, place the pot back on the stove and heat, uncovered, on medium heat until it starts to simmer.

Continue to simmer for another 30 to 45 minutes until the liquid is reduced to a stew.  Near the end of simmering, prepare the cauliflower as well.  Separate the ribs onto a serving plate, and the liquid and veggies to a serving bowl.

To serve, I prefer to trim the rib away from the bone and slice to make eating easier.  Grab a couple good spoonfuls of mashed cauliflower and veggies from the stew, then drizzle the sauce from the stew over everything.  Some coconut creamed turnip greens along side finish it off.  Dig in!