Slow cooking is as old as fire but the technique seems to be enjoying a new popularity. There are all sorts of clever (and often expensive) devices that will cook your dinner while you are at work or running errands, but you really don’t need those things unless you are amazingly busy and can only slow down long enough to wolf down your slow-cooked dinner (a bit ironic, isn’t it?). All you really need is a couple of hours, a sturdy Dutch oven, a warm stove and the right cuts of meat.
I’m a big fan of slow cooking in the traditional ways. I love to build a fire in my Weber smoker and smoke a pork shoulder overnight. There’s the primal appeal of maintaining the fire at just the right temperature (around 225 degrees) while the meat slowly breaks down into juicy, fall-off-the-bone goodness. But a simpler and just as effective way to cook slightly tougher cuts like lamb shanks and beef short ribs is braising the meat in a flavorful stock. Braising is incredibly easy and only requires a little patience. The results are amazing. Braising transforms a cheap, rather ordinary cut of meat into a rich, complex dish that seems to have required ten times the effort and expense.
The short rib braise here is reminiscent of boeuf bourguignon but I find it more elegant. If the ribs in the meat case look small, ask your butcher to cut some bigger ones so that two ribs per person are about right.
Braised Beef Short Ribs
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Bind 8 short ribs (about 2-2½ pounds) with cooking twine and season with salt and pepper. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Working in batches, brown the short ribs on all sides. Set aside.
Add about ½ cup each of chopped onion and carrot along with 2 peeled whole garlic cloves to the pot. Saute until the onions soften. Add 1 teaspoon tomato paste and 1 tablespoon flour. Stir to incorporate. Add an herb bundle of rosemary and thyme. Deglaze the pan with 1 cup dry red wine and 2 tablespoons of port. Reduce by half and return the ribs to the pan (it’s alright to layer the ribs). Add just enough beef or veal stock to almost cover the ribs, leaving some of the meat exposed. Bring to a simmer, cover and set the pot in the center of the oven. Cook about 2 ½ hours, turning the ribs once during cooking. When the ribs are falling off the bone, remove them and strain the cooking liquid. Return the liquid to the stove and simmer over low heat until slightly thickened, about 20 minutes. Remove the twine from the ribs and return them to the pot for 2 minutes and carefully toss to coat. Serve over warm, creamy polenta.
Serves 4 Wine pairing: A big, full-bodied red, such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Chianti