Perhaps it was the 18" of snow outside that was making my kitchen look appealing, but for this recipe we’ll be cooking indoors. But don't worry "low and slow" doesn't have to start and stop with your smoker. Braising is in fact just that - low and slow. Around my house it doesn't even have to be reserved for those brisk winter days. In fact, braising can be a great technique to add to your arsenal. Many of the cheap cuts you love to do on your smoker will benefit from the same low and slow magic we'll be doing here.
Braising typically relies on first, searing at a high heat to brown the surface and then finishing on a low simmer in a covered pot (e.g., a Dutch oven, crock pot). The key elements here are heat, time and moisture. These will break down the tough connective tissues in tough, inexpensive cuts of meat like short ribs, oxtail, pork belly or roasts.
My intent with this recipe was to keep it as simple as possible while providing a great depth of flavor. Think of this as a primer for braising. I’ve kept the ingredients list short and will also give you several alternatives that you may substitute. Once you’ve mastered the basics feel free to experiment with the ingredients and share your changes with me, but until then you can just focus on the technique.
For this recipe I use a 5 to 6-quart Dutch oven or thick-walled pan. I use a traditional stove-top Dutch oven. These are made without legs to use on the stove or in your oven. I prefer the one w/ a lighter, normal lid, but they also make one with a lid that can double as a skillet. They’re easy to take care of and become seasoned as you use them. Another good option for long cooks such as this is a quality enameled cast iron oven like a Le Creuset or Cuisinart. There are cheaper versions out there, but I wouldn’t recommend them. Cheaper ones tend to have problems with the enamel, while the better brands will literally last a lifetime.
1) Trim any large amounts of fat and wipe off any moisture from the outside of the meat. Moisture will prevent the surface from browning.
2) Liberally season the short ribs with the salt and pepper. On your stove, heat a little bit of the oil in the Dutch oven and brown the short ribs on each side (about 2-3 minutes per side).
3) Add half of the ribs and brown on each side, about 3 minutes per side. It's easiest to just do 1/2 of them at a time. Transfer the ribs to a platter and set aside.
4) Next, roughly dice the pancetta and cook for about 4 minutes until it is just barely beginning to crisp up.
5) Add the parsnips and sauté for 4-5 minutes. Then add the canned tomatoes and chiles, bay leaves, sugar and garlic and cook for another 2 minutes.
Carrots can be substituted for the parsnips, but don’t add the sweetness and, in my opinion, don’t add as much to the flavor.
You can substitute chipotles in adobo sauce in lieu of the canned tomatoes and chiles. Simmering for several hours will impart some of their heat, so start with 2 whole chiles for a little heat and anywhere up to half of a small can will work.
Other aromatics like carrots onions, celery, mushrooms, etc, are commonly added when braising. Keep it simple with the first try and just stick with the recipe.
6) Add the Chianti and beef broth and bring the heat to a boil to deglaze the pot. The cool liquids and the hot pot will release some of the browned bits (or fond) from the bottom of the pot. The brown bits contain an immense amount of flavor that we want worked into our sauce. This adds depth to the flavor. Use a spoon or spatula to scrap any of the reluctant pieces. Continue to boil for 3-5 minutes to boil off the alcohol.
A cherry-flavored juice and 2-3 tbsp balsamic vinegar could be added in lieu of the Chianti. I would recommend the Chianti though as it is a complex flavor to match. The alcohol in it will cook off through the boiling and the several hours of braising if that is a concern.
7) Reduce to a simmer and add the short ribs back into the pot along with any juices on the plate. The liquids in the pot should come up 1/2 to 2/3rds of the way up the ribs.
Is Your Oven Accurate?
Ovens cycle on and off to maintain temperature which should hardly even affect our Dutch ovens, but another down-side to ovens is that they also should regularly be calibrated. Unless you’re a professional chef, I don’t imagine you’ve ever checked yours.
America’s Test Kitchen says they’ve seen a 90°F range in ovens set to the same temperate (this includes both new and old ovens). A good oven rack thermometer like the Cooper Atkins HP 24 (for less than $10) is the thermometer that they recommend for quality and accuracy in determining the true temperature of your oven.
Transfer the pot to a 300°F oven. You could continue to use your stove, but your oven will be better as this will even out the temperature fluctuations (if your stove is electric) and will heat more evenly. Now, like I said I use a 300°F oven, but you may be interested to know that there are a few approaches here. In McGee's Science and Lore of the Kitchen he recommends starting at a very low temp of 200°F and increases it. America’s Test Kitchen also did several experiments to determine the best temperature before they settled on 300°F. Pick your poison – I prefer around 275-300°F with most meats.
Cook for 2.5 hrs before lifting the lid to peak. While it’s cooking you’ll enjoy the amazing aromas that will fill your home. This is one of my favorite reasons to bring a dish like this indoors. It may take anywhere from 2.5-3.5 hours to be fork tender depending on the meat tenderness and your oven.
Remove the ribs and loosely cover while preparing the sauce. You have a few different options here:
- To keep it simple you can just allow the ribs to rest before pulling/shredding and then dip them back into the sauce before dishing up.
- Alternatively, you can remove any fat or oil from the surface of the sauce, strain it and return it to the stove top to reduce it. This will thicken the sauce and concentrate the flavors. It may need additional sweetening or seasoning, so taste it before serving.
- Alternatively, you can prepare this dish a day in advance by transferring it to another dish and allowing it to cool before storing in the fridge. Before warming it, skim off any fat from the surface. Braised dishes like this will actually pull in some moisture and allow the flavor to develop as it chills, making them even better the next day.
With this dish I love to lightly season it and serve it over top of some stuffed pasta tortellini or ravioli. A little cheesy alfredo sauce, some green onions or lime zest for garnish and the flavor will amaze you. Enjoy.