Monday, September 27, 2010

Port and Cider Vinegar-Braised Short Ribs

Tastes better in a well-worn Le Creuset
Last night it got down to 65 degrees, and outside, it was pure heaven. This rare evening chill was simply begging for something hot and bubbling on the stove, and I suddenly realized that it's been many months since I broke out my prized Le Creuset dutch oven, so with a topped off glass of wine in hand, I set out to simmer the night away.

I've always been a braiser. I simply love having something, anything, going on the stove for a long period of time. It gives me that granny-in-the-kitchen feel, like the way I remember spending many Sunday's after church. Whether it was a big pot of my mom's porcupine meatballs in tomato sauce or a cast-iron oven filled with dad's homemade beef stew or just a steaming skillet of country-fried beef steak 'n brown gravy, I spent many an afternoon impatiently peeking into a pot of something so deliciously braised, it just had to surrender its toughness and give in to falling off the bone.

By definition, braising is the process by which meat or vegetables are browned in fat and then finished in a liquid for a long period time until the meat/veggies become nice and tender with their fibers nicely broken down. I've braised oxtails, lamb shanks, venison, pork butts, ribs, you-name-it, and I've found this method of cooking to be one of the more foolproof ways to create a satisfying, comfort-laden meal that actually improves over time.

In fact, I often do my braising the day before and then reheat the contents of my dish on the stove just before serving. Something magical seems to happen to slow-cooked meat as it rests peacefully in the fridge overnight. The following day, an inherent herbaceousness is revealed that becomes just a little more pronounced with the marriage of wine, stock and mirepoix. Add on another day or two of fridge time and that pot of braised meat morphs into a shredded filler for a sliced-open baguette along with a sprinkling of blue cheese and a pile of sauteed onions.

When it comes to braising liquids for your meat, just about anything simmered in a combination of wine, herbs and stock tends to work, yet there are beaucoup recipes out there incorporating everything from coconut milk and star anise to coffee and orange zest. I admit, I am a bit of a purest when it comes to the meat braising process, since that classic combination of heavily reduced wine, lightly salted stock and fresh, hearty herbs lights my fire every, single time.

So, when I set out to create a slight variation on this holy trinity of braising liquid, I decided to go the savory/sweet route and incorporate ruby red port and honey alongside a splash of cider vinegar. To be honest, I wasn't sure how the cider vinegar would ultimately play out in the dish, especially simmering in tandem with three cups of wine, but to my dining pleasure and that of my husband's, the dish was nothing short of spectacular, and as expected by day three, was perfectly swoon-worthy smashed in between two pieces of crusty bread.

Port and Cider Vinegar-Braised Short Ribs

Nothing says Fall has arrived like a bubbling pot of beef ribs accented with ruby port, wine and zesty cider vinegar. Make this one pot wonder a day ahead and reheat it in order to maximize the dish's unique combination of flavors.

Serves 4-6

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 1/2 pound beef short ribs, cut into large chunks
1 cup carrots, diced
1 cup onion, diced
1 cup celery, diced
6 large cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup dry red wine
1 cup port
1/8 cup honey
4 cups low-sodium beef broth (or homemade beef stock)
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced
1 tablespoon fresh sage, minced
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, minced

Season short ribs with salt and freshly ground pepper. Preheat a large cast-iron pot to medium-high, and add butter and olive oil.  In batches, brown the ribs pieces well on all sides and then remove. Add carrots, onion and celery and saute until translucent. Add garlic and saute for another two minutes.  Return ribs to the pot.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Add cider vinegar, red and white wine, port and honey. Bring all up to a boil and cook a couple of minutes, taking time to scrape the bits and pieces off the bottom of the pan. Next, add the beef broth, rosemary, sage and thyme and boil uncovered for another 5 minutes. Reduce heat, cover your pan and place it in the oven. Cook ribs for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until they are tender and fall off the bone.

Remove ribs to a large sheet pan and return pot to the stove top. Boil the remaining liquid uncovered for roughly ten minutes until it begins to thicken a bit. Return ribs to the pot and skim off any fat.

Serve ribs and sauce alongside a classic risotto Milanese, polenta or roasted garlic mashed potatoes.

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