Once the bargain of the butcher's bin, but now the darling of the fine-dining menu, beef short ribs distill all that is good about the cow in one meaty, marbled cut. Taken from the thick front chest and shoulder area, short ribs are just as tough as you'd expect. Braising is the only cooking method that helps them reach the pinnacle of tenderness. Braising is slow cooking maximized -- a heavy pot, a flavorful broth and a little time -- get short ribs from tough to tender more effectively than other cooking methods.
You need a heavy, insulated pan with a tight-fitting lid to braise properly. A baking dish or a stainless-steel skillet covered with aluminum foil gets the job done in a pinch, but nothing beats a Dutch oven for braising in the home kitchen. Dutch ovens, also known as casseroles, almost completely prevent steam from escaping during cooking, so you don't have to replenish the cooking liquid while braising, and their thick, cast-iron walls hold heat more uniformly and longer than other materials. You can also do every step of the braising process in a Dutch oven, from searing to saucing.
Oven bags have one advantage for the consolidating cook: You can marinate and cook in the same bag. Large oven bags hold around 8 pounds of uncooked food, enough for 6 servings of short ribs. You must add 1 tablespoon of starch -- flour, cornstarch or potato starch, for example -- to oven bags before braising in them to prevent bursting -- flour binds with the liquid and prevents excessive steam from building up. Add an extra 1 or 2 tablespoons of flour to set up for a sauce you can make after cooking.
No matter the cooking vessel, the braising technique is the same: Sear, saute, deglaze and braise.
Searing puts a caramelized crust on short ribs that you can't get from a moist-heat cooking method like braising.
Aromatic vegetables -- such as chopped leeks, garlic, onions, carrots, fennel and celery, for example -- need to be sauteed to give them life and bring out the best of their flavor and aroma.
Deglazing -- adding just enough stock or wine to a hot pan and scraping to lift the reduced bits of meat and vegetables, or "fond," from the bottom -- is needed to build a complete braising liquid and set up for a sauce later.
Finally, braising simply means cooking the short ribs in a covered vessel until tender; no maintenance needed.
Braised Short Ribs
Season the short ribs with kosher salt the night before, and, if desired, marinate them -- marinating is optional with braising, but it gives you a jump start on flavoring. Heat 2 or 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil in the braising pan on the stove with medium heat. If you're using an oven bag, use a saute pan.
Sear the ribs until golden brown all over and set them aside. Add 1 pound of aromatic vegetables to the pan for every 5 pounds of short ribs and saute them until golden brown; add more oil as needed. Pour about 1 cup of stock or dry red wine in the pan and scrape the fond from the bottom.
Finally, return the short ribs to the pan and add the braising liquid and spices: enough stock to almost cover them, and a bay leaf, black peppercorns and fresh herbs. Braise the short ribs until tender, about 5 or 6 hours; then simmer the liquid in the pan until it thickens to a sauce.
Korean-Style Short Ribs
Korean-style short ribs, or kalbi, are a mainstay of the cuisine's barbecue. Korean short ribs are seasoned in a salty-sweet marinade redolent of Chinese red-cooking components: 2 parts each soy sauce, sugar and Asian-pear juice, mixed with 1 part sesame oil. Additional ingredients include ginger and garlic. Marinate the short ribs at least 24 hours and broil them in the oven or grill them for 4 to 5 minutes for medium-rare, turning once. Serve over white rice.
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