Dinner for Two: Braised Short Ribs With Honey, Soy, and Orange

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[Photographs: Emily and Matt Clifton]

As a cooking couple, we're aware of a lot of the clichés that link food with romance. The way to a man's heart is through his stomach. The couple that braises together...stayses together. You know, the classics.

It is true that if you can work together and communicate well in the kitchen, if you can appreciate each other's skills and enjoy your combined successes, and if you can laugh at and learn from your culinary failures, your relationship probably has a pretty solid footing. It helps to have a recipe like this braised short ribs dish. There are a few steps to it, but nothing is time-critical, so you can hang out in the kitchen and talk about how your day was while you do the prep and get the ribs in the oven or slow cooker.

Short ribs are a beef cut that requires a long, slow cooking process. That's because the tough, collagen-rich connective tissue between the ribs needs to break down into tender gelatin. They are not a one-minute steak, but they do reheat well. That means you can get the prep done on a weekend morning, go off and enjoy your day, and come back to a nearly complete dinner.

When shopping, look for English-style ribs, which are cut parallel to the bone (resulting in one bone per piece), as opposed to flanken-style, which are cut across the bone, with three or four short sections of bone in each piece.

A lot of flavor combinations work well with beef, and one of our favorites is a Chinese-style mixture of soy, orange, and five-spice powder, which typically contains Sichuan pepper, star anise, cloves, fennel, and cinnamon. This imparts a balanced savoriness with warmth and sweetness, along with a deep and complex aroma.

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The first step in the recipe is to dry, season, and sear the ribs, giving them a fantastic brown crust that will enhance the flavor of the final dish. Since we use a Dutch oven for the braise, that's what we used for this step, too, although you could use a cast iron or carbon steel skillet if you plan to use a slow cooker later. Just don't crowd the pan, since you want to sear the meat, not steam it.

After the meat is browned, set it aside and sauté some onions, ginger, garlic, and spices until the onions are softened and the spices are toasted, which will take just a few minutes. After that, all the other braise ingredients go into the pot, including hoisin sauce, Chinese Shaoxing wine, orange juice and zest, rice wine vinegar, honey, chili sauce, soy sauce, and chicken stock. Then the ribs can go back in as well, ready for the long braise.

The oven method should have your braised short ribs ready in around three hours—check in at around two and a half hours to see how tender the beef is. You want it to be fork-tender and easily separable from the bones, but not completely falling apart. We like serving this over mashed potatoes, with a side of roasted carrots and shredded red and Napa cabbage, but it would also work well with polenta, or a grain such as farro or barley.

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The recipe itself serves four to six, so, if you're making a dinner for two, you're definitely going to have leftovers, which is a good thing. There's nothing wrong with reheating the ribs and sauce again, but we love to pull the meat off the bones, shred it, and fold it into tacos with shredded cabbage and pickled onions.

The only downside to making these ribs for Valentine's Day? As good as they could be for your relationship, there's a small chance you'll end up falling harder for the ribs.