At last we come to the piece de resistance of our three-recipe meal, Tom Colicchio’s braised short ribs from Think Like a Chef. Of all the dishes I attempted during the June Cookbook Challenge, this is perhaps the one of which I am most proud. I really feel like this was a high-quality dish that I executed properly from beginning to end.
As Elizabeth has noted from time to time, I’ve got something of a man-crush on Tom Colicchio. And although it predates our picking up a copy of his cookbook, every recipe we’ve tried from this book has only served to reinforce that feeling. This was no exception.
We picked up a small package of beef short ribs some months ago at one of the local farmers’ markets, and they had been tucked away in the freezer until we started attacking our stockpile in earnest for the Challenge. As soon as I saw them, I knew I wanted to braise them using this recipe. Although the recipe’s quantities are based on using four short ribs, I figured we’d have just as much luck with the two we had.
Step by step instructions and more photos after the jump.
I began by preheating the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Meanwhile, I heated two tablespoons of peanut oil over medium-high heat in a cast-iron skillet, letting it heat up until it began to shimmer. At that point I seasoned the two halved short ribs (four pieces total) with salt and pepper on the top and the bottom and seared them in the skillet on all sides until they were browned all over. All told, it took about 18 minutes to get a nice brown color on every side of each piece.
Once the ribs were cooked, they came out of the oil and onto a plate to rest while I cooked one peeled and chopped onion, one peeled and chopped carrot, and one peeled and chopped stalk of celery along with three unpeeled cloves of garlic and two sprigs of thyme for about five minutes while the veggies softened up.
I gave them a few more minutes and then added the short ribs back into the skillet. I poured in 1/2 cup sherry vinegar and roughly three cups of chicken stock, making sure to follow the instructions that told me to add enough stock to come up the sides of the ribs, but not over them. When this mixture came to a simmer on the stove top, I added in two sprigs of tarragon and two more sprigs of thyme, at which point I moved the skillet into the preheated oven.
The skillet would sit in the oven untouched for one hour, while I nervously wondered what they would look like. After that first hour I opened the oven to turn the ribs, and I was deeply concerned. Where four plump, juicy looking ribs had been just an hour ago, I was staring at dark, shrunken spare ribs that almost seemed to be more rib than meat. Could I have screwed something up? Missed a step? What the hell happened?
I knew I couldn’t pull the short ribs out yet…they’re a very tough cut of meat, which requires a long, slow cooking method to render it tender and tasty. That’s why they were so cheap for a long time (until some of the more adventurous chefs started messing around with braises measured in days instead of hours). Now, unfortunately, that secret is out and so the prices on short ribs have come in line with other secondary cuts of beef. Finally I decided to add some more braising liquid (additional stock) and trust in Colicchio’s directions as I set the timer for another hour and fifteen minutes.
When the time was up, I opened the oven to take out the skillet and saw something that was either great news or further evidence that something was horribly wrong: two of the four rib sections had actually cooked to the point that they had literally fallen off the bone. Could it mean that their connective tissues had given up the ghost and liquefied? Or had the meat simply shrunk to the point that it could no longer support the bone? We’d find out soon enough.
The ribs and some of the veggies came out of the skillet and onto a plate for a little while so I could turn up the heat and simmer the remaining braising liquid until it reduced a bit. At that point, I returned the veggies and ribs to the skillet along with eight jarred hot cherry peppers and brought the whole thing back up to temperature.
We each got two rib sections along with our warm zucchini salad and our mint and pea risotto, and it only took a moment to realize that Colicchio had steered us right once again. The beef was tender enough to cut through with a minimum of effort, and the rich, meaty flavor was no joke. This was the kind of thing you could order off a menu and walk away satisfied (too bad I had already used Colicchio as inspiration for my Foodie Resolution earlier this year). We couldn’t get over the tenderness of the meat, since its appearance had us preparing for overcooked beef with the flavor and texture of shoe leather.
As we jumped from meat to salad to risotto and back again, we found ourselves smiling in recognition of the fact that this was exactly the kind of meal we would love to get out of our cookbooks each and every time we turn to them. That’s not going to happen every time, of course, but it’s nice to know that it’s a possibility. Needless to say, these three books are all keepers…and I doubt we’ll be waiting that long to try some more recipes from them.