Braising is not only a succulent way to enjoy tough cuts of meat – it’s also economical. The tougher cuts like shoulder, short ribs and even beef cheeks are less expensive than the fancy-schmancy tenderloin or New York strip, and often offer more flavor. You just have to know how to treat them in the kitchen.
For ease of reading, I’ve boiled down the musts to a handful of steps. The ones chefs live by when braising those oxtails for you are as follows…
Season well & sear it right. While I don’t condone consuming more salt than recommended, home cooks tend to under-season meat before they cook it. Be generous – you should be able to see ample salt and pepper on the raw meat. And even though a braised dish is cooked over low heat for a long time – first searing (cooking over high heat) the meat in a small amount of oil adds a rich flavor to the dish you can’t get anywhere else.
Choose your liquid wisely. When braising or cooking a stew, your best bet is a low salt and organic or well-made stock-in-a-box. Because let’s be real, who simmers their own beef or veal stock at home? The answer is no one. I recommend the Kitchen Basics brand veal stock for braising meat. A dry red wine like Merlot, Zinfandel or any Spanish red can also add beautiful dimension to your dish. Equal parts wine to stock is my favorite ratio.
Low temperature, long time. After searing all sides of the meat over medium-high heat, it must be covered with wine and stock almost to the top, and cooked at a low, steady temperature. The oven is your friend here, no higher than 325° F.
Let it be. The meat that is. Once it is fork tender and almost falling off the bone, pull the meat gently out of the liquid, and let it cool to room temperature while you simmer the remaining liquid to make the sauce. This allows the meat to retain moisture, structure and that succulence you just spent two hours creating.
Strain and simmer. Don’t even think about getting rid of the leftover liquid – this is gold! Full of flavor and ready for reducing. Once the meat is out, simmer the stock over medium-high heat until it reduces by about half or a little less. Then strain out the vegetables, and keep it warm over low heat, simmering even more if necessary for your desired consistency.
The last step is to reheat the meat – but do so by warming it in the oven (or heaven forbid the microwave) in a decent amount of stock or sauce. If sent in alone, the long-cooked meat will dry out before you can say “braise”. And beware – if you follow these steps – keep an eye on the leftovers. This is the third time I’ve attempted to complete this post… on two prior occasions my leftover short ribs saved for photography disappeared mysteriously from the fridge.
- Short Ribs
- 3 pounds beef short ribs, seasoned generously with salt and pepper
- Canola oil, for searing ribs
- 2 carrots, peeled and rough chopped
- 1 yellow onion, rough chopped
- 2 stalks celery, rough chopped
- 2 tsp whole black peppercorns
- Veal stock, Kitchen Basics recommended
- Dry red wine, Merlot, Zinfandel or Syrah/Shiraz recommended
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 garlic cloves, smashed
- 1 star anise
- Salt and black pepper, to taste
- 1 cup corn meal or polenta
- 1 Roma tomato, seeds removed, small diced
- ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, grated or shredded
- 1 Tbs sour cream or créme frâiche
- ¼ cup green onions, sliced thin on a bias
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Crispy Sweet Potatoes
- One sweet potato, peeled and sliced thin (pictured below)
- Canola oil, for frying
- Preheat oven to 325° F. In a large pot or dutch oven, sear meat on all sides over medium-high heat until dark brown. Be careful not to burn. Set aside.
- In same pot, add celery, onions and carrots and cook over medium heat in same oil until brown and softened. Add about a cup of wine, and reduce by half scraping the brown bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Add short ribs back to pot, and add wine and stock to come just up to the top of the ribs. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook in oven until meat is fork tender and almost falling off the bone, between 1½ and 2 hours.
- Remove meat from pot and remove bones if desired. Simmer braising liquid until it begins to thicken slightly. Strain out vegetables and spices and return sauce to stove in a clean pot over low heat. In a baking pan, drizzle ribs with sauce, covered with foil and reheat in oven at 375° F. Serve with sauce, Parmesan polenta, and crispy sweet potatoes, if desired.
- For extra short rib flair, reheat the ribs in stock until almost serving temperature. Then remove them from the sauce, baste with barbecue sauce, and broil on high just until barbecue sauce begins to darken in color.
- Method: Prepare polenta as directed on package. If no recipe or ratio is given, whisk course ground cornmeal into 4 cups of salted, boiling water or chicken/vegetable stock. Simmer over low heat for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring often. Add more water or stock if needed.
- If cornmeal is fine ground (more the texture of flour), whisk it first with 1 cup of cold water in a medium pot, then add 2 additional cups of hot or boiling water/stock. Cook over medium-low heat stirring often for 10 minutes.
- To finish polenta, stir in Parmesan, sour cream, diced tomato, green onions and plenty of salt and pepper.
- For crispy sweet potatoes, peel one sweet potato and slice as thin as possible crosswise. Slice the rounds into thin strips, and fry in at least three inches of vegetable oil at 350° F until golden brown and crispy.
- Drain onto paper towels, and season with salt.
Snap Shot: Sliced Sweet Potatoes