Now consider the short rib. You see it all the time, in stews and in braises, sometimes in sandwiches, sometimes smoked, but always essentially the same in theory: soft and rich, fork tender, bursting with beefy taste. Few things have gladdened my cholesterol-ridden heart more than the growing popularity of this cut over the last few years. It’s a part of the animal that used to get ground up into hamburger far too often, but which is cheap, packs a huge flavor wallop, is intensely marbled, and which you can do a lot of things with.
This last part is often overlooked when people talk about cuts of meat. Ribeye steak or tenderloing are expensive because of their texture and, at least in the former case, because of their flavor. But what can you really do with them? A ribeye steak HAS to be cooked as a steak; there’s nothing else you can do with it that wouldn’t be wasteful and idiotic. What are you going to do, stew it? Stir fry it? Please. The same is true with the boring, overvalued tenderloing, which has to be seared off as steak if it’s going to have any value at all. What are you going to do with that one? Wrap it up in pastry crust with duxelles and truffles in a Beef Wellington? I didn’t think so.
But short ribs, because they are so cheap and hearty, and because of the way they fall apart after long braising – there are a million different things you can do with them. You can, as I do here, simply take the classic, old-school route and braise them with red wine; you can cook them with pepsi, or hoi sin sauce, or tomatoes; you can pull the meat and make banh mi with them or roll them in enchiladas or smoke them or grill them or even slice them thinly and sear them off in a hot pan.
But here’s the thing about short ribs: the one thing you can’t do is overcook them. It’s easy not to do this when you are cooking in what I think of as real time: that is, when the whole process happens before your eyes. A person cooking short ribs in a pan won’t stand there and watch them shrivel and burn. But a person who leaves the short ribs in a dutch oven, or a crock pot, or even a heavy pot on top of the stove, will. What’s more, since those short ribs are likely to be covered with liquid, he or she will make the mistaken assumption that they can’t dry out.
But they can. It’s counter intuitive, like the fact than an animal could live its whole life in the ocean and still be capable of drowning, but short ribs and dolphins have that much in common. Half of all the shot ribs I see, even in good restaurants, have been murdered. They are a crime scene. The collagen and fat that are the ribs whole reason for being, from a culinary point of view, are leached out into the fluid and one is left with only a dessicated pile of muscle strands. Because the are covered with liquid – and what’s more, liquid that now contains everything good the meat once held – its zombie-like characteristics are masked. But eat a short rib done right, and the way it just melts in your mouth, and you’ll see how right I am. In that sense, it’s not important in this recipe that I used wine and not something else. What’s important is that you cook the ribs long enough to soften, but not enough to dry out.
Watch Josh make wine-braised short ribs!