Typical of California this time of year, in one day we went from eighty degrees and sunny to forty-five degrees and rainy, with snow in the higher hills. And while the rain does turn the golden hills back to green, we will still take the warmer weather as long as we can get it. But one of the benefits of colder weather is that we get to make some more “wintry” dishes, and that often means braises and stews. And one of our favorite braises involves beef short ribs.
Short ribs are a cheap, flavorful and tender (if you cook them right) cut of beef from the rib/plate section of the cow. Short ribs are butchered a few different ways, but for braises the rectangular “English” cut is usually preferred. The longer, thinner “flanken” or “accordion” cuts are more commonly used in Korean-style preparations, which are fantastic, but for another post. The short rib pieces are anywhere from 1-3 inches across and 1-2 inches thick and will usually contain a section of the rib bone. As there is a lot of fat and connective tissue (along with a bone), the short rib has potential for a lot of flavor, but is likely to be tough unless cooked long enough, at moderate temperatures and in a moist environment. Sounds like a braise is in order.
Braising is a combination cooking method where meat is first browned in dry, high heat and then slowly cooked in a covered pot along with liquid. And if you just said “isn’t that just like a pot roast”, you are correct. The high heat provides tasty, browned flavors and texture, while the moderate temperature, moist cooking breaks down tough cuts of meat and builds a sauce. The addition of aromatics and herbs and flavored liquids like wine and/or stock make for very deep, rich flavors. And while braising takes time and has a few steps, it is an easy cooking method and has the bonus that most braises keep well and are often better the second day. If you cook for a hungry family or a crowd, braises should be in your toolkit. (It is worth noting that braised short ribs are a popular dish with caterers for all the reasons we just noted, delicious, low-cost and easy to prepare ahead of time.)