Dish 18: Garlic Braised Short Ribs

Contents

Intro

The day I’m writing this post and cooking this week’s installment of the 26 Dishes is Sunday, November 3. In the U.S., today is the annual rite of passage known as Daylight Savings, where we turn our clocks back an hour and return to Eastern Standard Time. Many people don’t like this time of year because they don’t like leaving work and having it already be dark outside. 

Personally, I don’t mind “falling back” as much as other people maybe because as a morning person, I greatly enjoy waking up to more sunlight! That aside, many people view setting the clocks back as a sign of fall coming to an end or the beginning of winter altogether. While the latter season is many people’s least favorite season, it happens to be my favorite for a host of reasons, but that’s a song for another time.

One of the major reasons this is the case is because of the food. Light, bright, and refreshing meals of the warm summer months are replaced by hearty dishes meant to be enjoyed around a dinner table with friends and family. Winter meals are some of my favorite because many of them call for long cooking times either on the stovetop, or in the oven at relatively low temperatures – low and slow as the phrase goes.

Taking all of this into mind, this week’s recipe was one of those “fixed” dishes on my calendar that I knew needed to be made today. More than maybe any other dish on this 26-week adventure (my birthday dish included), I took the greatest care selecting the dish for today. It needed to be a welcoming one that put me in the right frame of mind for winter, one that stood in contrast to increasingly colder days and less sunlight.

Enter an obvious choice for this tall task: Garlic braised short ribs. This recipe has it all: chopped (not finely chopped or minced) vegetables, with beef and herbs slow cooked in an oven for 3-4 hours finished with fresh herbs which all adds up to a dish that’s very forgiving on paper. This particular recipe comes from the NYTimes Cooking team, and specifically someone who might be our house’s favorite chef/food personality, Alison Roman. Cooking something from her automatically means Katie will definitely have some of this, so I have that going for me from the outset! Oh, as for the garlic part of this recipe, two heads (not cloves, not teaspoons, or tablespoons, but HEADS) of garlic are used, and anything with that much garlic can’t be bad, right?!

Prepping the Dish

Energized with an extra hour of sleep, I woke up and during the course of making oatmeal, I set to work chopping the onion, carrots, and celery, the trinity of all soups and stews. Recognizing all of these were going to add flavor and not be plated, it was easy chopping these. I knew as long as they were the same size, they’d cook evenly and at the same time – just the type of prep you want to do over breakfast. It also allowed me to use one of the new mixing bowls from a recently procured mixing bowl set.

The veggie core of the sauce
Great, glorious garlic
The stars salted and peppered

Cooking the Dish

After Katie cleared the kitchen following her work-week meal prep, I grabbed my Le Creuset and got it ready to brown the seasoned short ribs. It took two batches to brown the short ribs, but it was worth not crowding the cooking area. My reward for this space was it made flipping the ribs a lot easier, but I was also left with a lot of fond, a critical component of this dish and in quantities that exceeded my expectations.

First batch browning complete
Batch 2. Note all the fond already present

After removing the ribs, I lowered the heat a touch and deposited the heads of garlic in oil. Seeing and smelling that much garlic cooking was nothing short of an early Christmas gift to myself. The onion, carrots, and celery were added and coated with the remaining oil and fat and spent a few minutes softening before some tomato paste was added for flavor and to thicken the liquid.

With the core of the dish browned and softened it was time to call Katie into the kitchen for what she’d been waiting for (no joke, she really wanted me to let her know when this was happening): the deglazing of all that fond. As she added the wine, I was quickly and easily able to scrape the bottom of the pot free of the fond, adding it to the liquid just before pouring in some beef stock and returning the ribs. Four sprigs of thyme were added to everything before the Le Creuset was tucked into the oven for its four hour nap.

One very fun thing about cooking this dish was how you could smell it changing. About 90 minutes in, I wandered into the kitchen for a glass of milk and I could still smell the alcohol from the wine. With 90 minutes left, the smell was all but gone and I knew that the alcohol was now completely cooked out and the sauce was going to have an hour to come together – perfect.

Overall Impressions

Before pictures and narrative, I’ll come right to the point: this dish is delicious – simple as that! 

Taking the lid off, I was greeted by a something that smelled sweet, rich, and hearty, and thickened noticeably. Removing the ribs from their liquid environment to a plate, I knew they were cooked perfectly, but for good measure, the meat fell off of two of the bones.

Yum!! Notice how much everything reduced

Naturally, I took a taste of the cooking liquid to see how that was. It was good, but quite fatty. This would be even more apparent when I strained all of this into a glass mixing bowl and could see what was at least ⅛” of fat on the surface of the dish. I anticipate being able to scoop the fat off after I refrigerate the liquid and scoop the solidified fat off the surface, but I really wish I had a fat separator so I could’ve enjoyed the sauce unhampered by the fat. Needless to say, my one and only complaint about the meal is this fat. (Note: as expected, the fat was easily removed the morning after.)

The strained sauce

Katie had the great idea to take a pair of ribs, shred them, and serve them with rigatoni and the sauce like a beef stroganoff. All of this was tossed together and topped with chopped chives, parsley, and lemon zest. The first bite of this immediately revealed how much those three garnishes add color, crunch and brightness to a heavy dish. They really transform this good dish into a great dish. Do not neglect these oft overlooked ingredients; they’re critical.

The unsung, but unforgettable, ingredients
A very good dinner

The rib meat was sweet, tender, and elevated by the sauce. I’m biased, but I really think this dish benefits from being seasoned with a few cranks of the pepper mill. This has the added benefit of seasoning the dish and making the fattiness of the sauce less obvious. Speaking of that sauce, going forward, I’ll portion out a little of the sauce and add some flour to it to see if I like it thicker or how it comes out of the oven.

Because of the sauce, this dish really shines by being paired with something to tackle that liquid. Serve this with a side such as a salad and or roasted potatoes, don a pair of LL Bean slippers and you’re well on the way to enjoying an exceptional dinner. Alternatively, something related to rigatoni, or a wide pasta such as tagliatelle will perform exceptionally well here too.

Final Word

“Whose woods these are I think I know / His house is in the village though.” These are the opening two lines of Robert Frost’s “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening.” For me, no words better capture winter better than that poem. In my head, I wanted to make a dish today that was the culinary equivalent of that poem. A lofty goal, but the garlic braised short ribs did not disappoint and met that goal. This dish is probably one that is better left over not only because it gives flavors more time to develop, but also because it allows you a chance to more easily skim the fat off the sauce.

An absolutely perfect Sunday afternoon recipe, especially one that sees daylight shrink by an hour, this dish needs to be part of your winter recipe arsenal. Don’t wait until there’s snow in the forecast to make this dish. Print it out the ingredient list, head to the grocery store, grab the ingredients and give it a try. Then when winter is in full swing, have three friends, family members, or a combination over and make this dish with the confidence of having already made it.

Take advantage of the four hours of inactive cook time to catch up with your guests, watch a movie, or play a board or card game – ideally in front of a fire and preferably a wood-burning one. Then plate and serve the dish, let your heart and soul fill with the comfort of this dish, smile, and think to yourself, “maybe winter isn’t so bad after all.”


Garlic Braised Short Ribs

Time: 4 hours Yields: 4-6

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 5 pounds bone-in short ribs, at least 1 1/2 inches thick
  •  Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 large heads garlic, halved crosswise
  • 1 medium onion (about 10 ounces), chopped
  • 4 ribs celery (about 8 ounces, chopped
  • 2 medium carrots (about 6 ounces), chopped
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 cups dry red wine (about half a bottle)
  • 2 cups beef stock or bone broth (use beef bouillon dissolved in water if unavailable; chicken stock will work in a pinch), plus more as needed
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • 1 cup parsley, coarsely chopped
  • ½ cup finely chopped chives
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 275 degrees. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season short ribs on all sides with salt and pepper. Working in batches, sear short ribs on all sides until deeply and evenly browned, 6 to 8 minutes per batch. Transfer browned short ribs to a large plate and continue with remaining ribs.
  2. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of remaining fat, leaving the good browned bits behind. Reduce heat to medium, and add garlic, cut side down and cook, undisturbed, until golden brown, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add onion, celery and carrots and season with salt and pepper. Toss to coat and continue to cook until vegetables are softened but not yet browned, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add tomato paste and stir to coat. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until tomato paste has started to caramelize a bit on the bottom and up the edges of the pot, about 2 to 3 minutes.
  3. Add red wine and, using a wooden spoon, scrape up any browned or caramelized bits. Let this simmer 2 to 3 minutes, just to take the edge off and reduce a bit. Stir in beef stock along with thyme. Using tongs, return short ribs to the pot, along with any juices that have accumulated, nestling them in there so that they are submerged (if they are just barely covered, nestle them bone side up so that all the meat is submerged, adding more beef stock or water as necessary to cover). Bring to a simmer, then cover and transfer to oven.
  4. Cook, undisturbed, until short ribs are meltingly tender and falling off the bone (you should be able to shred the meat with a fork), 3½ to 4 hours.
  5. Using tongs, remove the ribs from the pot, taking care (for presentation purposes, really) not to let the bone slip out and transfer them to a large plate. (While you could serve the short ribs right out of this pot, the vegetables have all given up their flavor and texture and aren’t worth much now, so feel free to strain the sauce for easier eating.) Scatter parsley, chives and lemon zest over the top of the short ribs. Separate the fat from the sauce, season with salt and pepper and serve alongside.