You may have plans for a candlelit dinner in a swanky restaurant this Valentine’s Day. As I write this, you’re dreaming of how you’ll woo your sweetheart through bubbling champagne in tall flutes, juicy bites of filet mignon, and the inevitable dessert that oozes dark chocolate as you and your special someone gaze into each other’s eyes. It sounds wonderful, but I’d like to propose an alternative. I’d like to suggest that you braise something.
Now don’t scoff in disgust at my seeming lack of romance. Braising, while not nearly as sexy-sounding as lobster poached in vanilla butter or dark chocolate molten cakes, is a culinary technique that practically guarantees a night of love.
For the sake of honesty, I admit that braising takes some upfront work. Not anything that is particularly demanding, but it’s going to take about 30 minutes to get things going. Men, this is a good thing. We women like to see a little effort. But as soon as you slide the pot into the oven, then the waiting game begins. Braising requires about 3 hours of uninterrupted cooking time which leaves a lot of free time on Valentine’s Day to pursue…well…other things.
As you snuggle up to your sweetheart on the couch with a glass of red wine, the oven, set to 350 degrees, takes over cooking and starts to fill your home with the glorious smells of meat slowly-cooking in a gently simmering broth. The aroma will result in multiple compliments of what a great cook you are (as you do nothing but sit on the couch) and will make you both very hungry (now, would be a good time for a little cheese and crackers).
With braising, the meat is ready when it is fork-tender; in other words, when it easily breaks apart when prodded by a fork. If braising short ribs, the meat will literally be following off the bone. At this point, hopefully your sweetheart will be so impressed by your romantic efforts that he or she will help with the final preparations. Have them cook some rice or mash some potatoes, as you skim the fat from the braising liquid and make the sauce. Pull out a salad from the refrigerator, uncork another bottle a wine, and don’t forget to light the candles. Take a bite, then pat yourself on the back. It’s official, you’ve braised your way to romance. Happy Valentine’s Day!
Tip for the Cook: Since Valentine’s Day falls on a weeknight this year, you may want to make this dish ahead of time so you aren’t eating at midnight. Fortunately, you can cook it a couple of days in advance. Simply remove it from the oven as directed and let it cool before storing in the refrigerator. When ready to serve, remove it from the refrigerator and remove the congealed fat that has risen to the top (see picture). Proceed to make the sauce as directed in the recipe.
Braised Short Ribs – Printer Friendly Recipe
4 very generous servings
Inspiration for this dish came from Dorie Greenspan’s recipe for “Braised Short Ribs in Red Wine and Port “in her fabulous cookbook Around My French Table. Greenspan’s use of star anise and fresh ginger to flavor the dish is genius.
8 (about 5 lbs) bone-in short ribs
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 celery stalks, trimmed and sliced
3 carrots, trimmed, peeled and sliced
2 yellow onions, roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 ½-inch piece of ginger, skin removed and minced
1 cup ruby port
2 cups fruity red wine
2 parsley sprigs
2 Turkish bay leaves
1 whole star anise
2 tablespoons minced, fresh flat leaf parsley
3 cups homemade or store-bought less sodium beef broth
Special equipment: aluminum foil, cheesecloth and twine
Place an oven rack about 6-inches from the top of the oven and turn the oven on broil. Place the short ribs, bone side down, on a large baking sheet. Season generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place the short ribs on the top rack of the oven and broil for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and turn the short ribs over using tongs. Broil for another 5 minutes then remove the baking sheet and set aside. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and place a rack in the middle of the oven.
Place a large Dutch oven (a large pot with a lid that is oven-safe) over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil then add the sliced celery, carrots, onions, garlic and ginger. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes or until soft.
Add the port and red wine and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and let simmer for 10 minutes. While it simmers, prepare your bouquet garni. Cut out a square of cheesecloth and place the parsley sprigs, bay leaves, and star anise atop it. Wrap the cheesecloth around the herbs and spices to form a pouch (see image). Tie the pouch closed with a piece of twine. Place the bouquet garni in the braising liquid then tie the other end of the twine to the handle of your pot so that it can be easily removed later.
Add the beef broth to the pot and bring to a boil. Cover the pot with a large piece of aluminum foil and then cover the foil with the lid. This step prevents liquid from escaping during the cooking process. Carefully move the Dutch oven from the stovetop to the middle rack of the oven. Braise the short ribs, uninterrupted, at 350 degrees for 2 hours. Carefully remove the pot from the oven and use potholders to remove the lid. Pull up an edge of the aluminum foil to allow some of the steam to escape. Return the pot with the hole for steam to escape to the oven (without the lid) and let the short ribs braise for 1 more hour.
Remove the pot from the oven and test the tenderness of the short ribs with a fork. The short ribs should easily come apart when prodded with the tines of the fork. If the short ribs aren’t tender, cover the pot completely with the aluminum foil, return the lid to the pot, and cook for another 30 minutes. Test again. If short ribs are tender, proceed to the next steps.
If serving immediately, remove the short ribs using tongs and set aside on a large platter. Remove the bouquet garni and discard. Skim off any fat (it will rise to the top) with a spoon and discard appropriately. Working in two batches, ladle the braising liquid and the vegetables into a blender and process until smooth. You can return the pureed sauce to the pot or if a smoother sauce is desired, send the pureed sauce through a strainer before returning to the pot. Season the sauce to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Return the short ribs to the pot. Cover and gently reheat (this won’t take long as short ribs will still be hot). Serve the short ribs topped with a spoonful of the sauce and garnished with minced parsley.
If making ahead, allow the short ribs to cool in the braising liquid and then store the short ribs and the braising liquid covered in your refrigerator (I keep them in the pot if space in my fridge permits it). One hour before you are ready to eat, remove the short ribs from the refrigerator. You’ll notice that the fat has risen to the top and congealed. Pull off and discard the congealed fat with a spoon or your fingertips. Place the short ribs and their braising liquid over medium heat and cover. Warm the short ribs, stirring them occasionally, until they have reheated. Continue to make the sauce as directed above.