Because short ribs require long, slow cooking for tenderness and flavor, braising is the perfect technique for cooking them. Most recipes are quite easy -- once you've put everything on to simmer, the slow, moist heat does the work. We'll walk you through a basic recipe for braising short ribs in the oven, and then point the way to recipes for your stovetop and slow cooker, too.
Short ribs generally come from the chuck -- the shoulder -- of the animal. The ribs are commonly cut into 2-inch by 3-inch rectangles, giving you a cross-section view of the layers of fat, meat, and flat rib bones; however, you can also purchase boneless short ribs. Either way, short ribs require long, slow cooking for tender results. When shopping for short ribs, look for pieces that are meaty -- there should be more meat than fat, and the meat should cover the bone.
Braising is a cooking method in which the meat is browned in fat (such as butter or cooking oil), then covered and cooked on low heat for a long time in a small amount of liquid, such as broth, water, wine, or a combination of liquids. Through this lengthy cooking time, the fat melts away, the tough fibers soften, and the meat's flavors become richer and bolder.
What Pan to Use for Braising
There are pans made exclusively for braising. Known as braisers, they have shallow sides and wide bases; the latter allow the meat to have maximum contact with the heat source during the browning process. You can also use a Dutch oven or a heavy skillet with a tight-fitting lid. In fact, a key to success is the lid itself -- it must fit tightly enough on the pan to prevent the cooking liquid from evaporating.
How to Braise Short Ribs
This recipe, Braised Short Ribs with Orange Gremolata, is a classic braise: You brown the ribs, then cook the meat in a small amount of liquid that's flavored with vegetables and herbs. As a bonus, the cooking liquid becomes a pan sauce with just a few extra touches. If you like, you can top the finished dish with a gremolata, a traditional citrus-herb topper, to add a jolt of contrasting freshness to the long-simmered meat. This recipe makes six servings.
1. Prepare the Ribs
Start with 3 pounds of bone-in beef short ribs. Using a sharp knife, trim any excess fat from the ribs. Sprinkle the ribs with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
2. Prepare the Cooking Vegetables
Finely chop 3 medium carrots (1-1/2 cups) and mince 6 cloves garlic. Set aside. These will be used to flavor the cooking liquid.
3. Brown the Ribs
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat in a 4- to 5-quart oven-going Dutch oven. When adding the ribs to the pan, the oil should be hot enough to sizzle. Cook the ribs on all sides in the hot oil until browned. Avoid overcrowding the meat during this step -- depending on how wide the base of your pan is, you might need to brown the ribs in batches. (Overcrowded meat will steam rather than brown, preventing the desired deep-brown color from forming). Remove the ribs, set them aside, and drain off all but 1 tablespoon drippings from the Dutch oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
4. Prepare the Cooking Liquid
Reduce the heat to medium-low. Add the chopped carrots and minced garlic to the drippings. Cook and stir about 10 minutes or until the carrots are just tender. Return the ribs to the Dutch oven. Add one 14-ounce can beef broth, 1/2 cup dry red wine (or 1/2 cup additional beef broth), 1 teaspoon dried thyme (crushed between your thumb and forefinger to release aromas), 1 bay leaf, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bring this mixture to boiling.
5. Braise the Ribs
Cover the Dutch oven tightly and transfer it to the preheated oven. Bake about 2 hours or until the ribs are very tender, adding 2 cups frozen small whole onions to the pan during the last 30 minutes of baking.
6. Transform the Pan Juices into a Sauce
Transfer the ribs to a deep platter; cover with foil to keep warm. Skim the fat from the cooking liquid (use a large metal spoon to skim off the layer of fatty liquid that has risen to the top of the liquid). If the sauce is too thin, bring to boiling and cook, uncovered, about 5 minutes to reduce the liquid to about 2-1/2 cups. Whisk in 1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard and 1 tablespoon horseradish. Serve the sauce over the ribs. If desired, top with the optional gremolata, below.
7. Make a Gremolata
Stir together 2 tablespoons snipped fresh Italian parsley; 2 garlic cloves, minced; and 2 teaspoons finely chopped orange peel.