Sunday, March 30, 2008

Braised beef short ribs in citrus chile sauce

Some time back I saw a recipe for steamed pork spareribs with black bean sauce I wanted to try. Except I didn't really read the recipe carefully and all that stuck in my head was "ribs."

I came home from the butcher's one day with beef short ribs, thinking I'd try that recipe. But, as in carpentry, where you measure twice and cut once, cooks aiming for a particular dish should read the recipe twice and shop once.

Happily, cooking is not exactly like carpentry. If you get the wrong ingredient, you just go in a different direction.

Beef short ribs are nothing like pork spare ribs. They're much tougher and meatier and pretty much demand braising to become edible. I looked through my assorted cookbooks and Epicurious and assembled a hybrid dry rub: about a teaspoon each of salt, cumin, oregano, fresh tangerine zest (courtesy of White on Rice Couple!), plus a half-teaspoon each of fresh ground pepper, cayenne, sweet paprika, coriander powder and a pinch more of dried orange zest.

Smeared it on the ribs and left them to soak it up for the next 24 hours. You can use less time (as little as an hour), but more is better. At least, that's what I told myself when I'd spent all afternoon running errands and then weeding and planting and suddenly it was getting dark out and how the heck did it get to be 8 o'clock already?!?

Here's the mise en place:
Beef shortribs cut in 2- to 3-inch pieces
One can of low-salt chicken broth (about 1 2/3 cups if you make your own. Good for you!)
One large onion, diced small or minced (depends on your preference)
A small can (14.5 oz.) of diced tomatoes
Two tablespoons of diced green chiles (I used the mild variety. You can also use chipotles in adobo or something spicier)
Six cloves of garlic, minced
A quarter-cup of orange juice. You could also try lime juice.

Sorry, I didn't arrange these in order of use, but by bowl size!

First you need to
brown the meat
on all sides in
a little olive oil
in an oven-safe pot.
You'll need to do it in two batches so you don't crowd the pot. You may also need to disable your smoke detectors if you do not have a really good stove hood. Be prepared to open your front and back doors and haul out your big box fan.

Better yet, sear the ribs on the grill.

Now's a good time to preheat your oven to 350.

Once the meat is browned and set aside on a plate, toss your onions and garlic in the same pan and saute them until they're soft. They might brown a little, too, since there are leftover spices in the pan. That's fine.
Pour the broth in and bring it to a boil, scraping up all the browned bits from the bottom, then add the OJ, chiles and tomatoes.

Put the ribs back in the pot with the meatier side down. This amount of meat fit perfectly in a 6-quart Dutch oven without being really crammed in. Put the pot in the oven, covered, for about an hour and a half.

What goes with a nice meaty spicy dish? Mashed potatoes, of course. I sweetened them up with a couple of parsnips.

This gave me a chance to try out the Oxo ricer I bought after the holidays for $5. It obviates the need to peel the potatoes, since the pulp mashes through but the skins stay behind. (Red potato skins aren't all that great in mash.) The parsnips' fibery bits also get left behind.

Once they were riced, I added half a stick of butter and a splash of milk, and just a little salt, and mashed them with a regular masher. They came out verrrrry smooth but not gummy.

Meanwhile, the meat came out of the oven and went back to the stovetop, where I tilted the pot and spooned out as much of the fat as I could, then let everything simmer for half an hour to reduce the sauce further and make the meat more tender. You could also add a few more fresh chiles at this point if you wanted to spice it up more.

This dinner needed something green besides chiles, though.

You know I like kale. Wild Oats had this pretty bunch of lacinato kale (a.k.a. dinosaur kale) and I couldn't resist, despite its not being as big as my head. I sauteed it with a little garlic and then let it simmer in water until it was thoroughly tender.

When the kale was done, I dished it up with some potatoes and a couple of ribs, and spooned the sauce over the meat and potatoes.

Mmmmmmm ... meaty! The ribs are really tender and tasty, and subtly flavored. You can detect the chiles and the citrus, but they're not overpowering. (I meant to garnish with tangerine slices, but forgot. Oops!) The potatoes are a nice mild and sweet foil for the meat.

The kale, though, was a mistake. It tasted fine, but was too heavy a green to go with this already hearty dish. A small salad would have been a better choice.

My timing is a bit off, since this is a good winter dish. I can maybe justify it by telling you that it did snow here last night. But save this thought for next fall when you're craving some hearty rib-sticking fare.


  1. I love ribs and this recipe looks delicious! Going to have to give it a try!

  2. Jeeze woman your passion for food is so real in your post. I am going to have shot at this recipe. Looks amazing.

  3. I love the way you describe going in a different direction with cooking. Totally! Half the time,when I get home with my ingredients for a variety of dishes for the week, I can't remember which recipe when with which ingredients! I always have to switch gears. Short ribs are soooo good, and the spices in this rub sound perfect.

  4. Those short ribs look good. The spice blend sounds pretty tasty.

  5. :-)

    it looks amazing!love that the veering off course took you in this direction.

  6. Hey Christine, MOB, Kelly and Kevin. Y'all try it! You'll like it!

    Kelly, I'm so bad about making shopping lists. I see recipes I want to try, and then three weeks later I'm in the store thinking, hmmmm, what was in that?

    Thanks for getting me started, Jaden.