Why It Works
- The mixture of spices, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, orange juice, and orange zest infuses the beef with layers of flavor: not too sweet and not too spicy.
- Searing the ribs is a crucial step that improves and concentrates the flavor.
- A simple topping of orange zest and scallions brightens the deep, long-cooked flavor of the dish.
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.
The Long and Short of Short Ribs
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.
Seasoning and Searing the Meat
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 use 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, 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.
Serving the Finished Dish
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.
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 a romantic dinner? As good as they could be for your relationship, there's a small chance you'll end up falling harder for the ribs.
5 pounds (2.25kg) beef short ribs (see note)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons (30ml) neutral oil, such as vegetable or canola
1 large yellow onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
3 tablespoons peeled and grated fresh ginger (from about one 3-inch knob)
6 large cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon (12g) Chinese five-spice powder
Zest of 2 oranges, one in wide strips, one finely grated, divided
1/2 cup (120ml) fresh juice from about 2 medium oranges, divided
1/2 cup (120ml) Shaoxing rice wine (or dry sherry)
1 cup (240ml) low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup (60ml) unseasoned rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup (120ml) honey
2 tablespoons (30ml) sambal chili paste or Chinese chili-garlic sauce
1/4 cup (60ml) hoisin sauce
3 1/2 cups (830ml) homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock or water, plus more as needed
1 1/2 tablespoons (18g) cornstarch mixed with 1 1/2 tablespoons (20ml) cold water
3 scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced, for garnish
Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Alternatively, plug in a slow cooker.
Pat short ribs dry with clean towels. Lightly season short ribs on both sides with salt and more generously with black pepper. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add short ribs in a single layer, working in batches if necessary to avoid crowding the pot. Brown well on all sides, then transfer to a plate and set aside. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons (30ml) fat from Dutch oven.
Add onion, ginger, garlic, and five-spice powder to Dutch oven and cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until onions are slightly softened and fragrant, about 4 minutes.
Add strips of orange zest and 1/4 cup (60ml) orange juice along with rice wine or sherry, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, honey, chili paste, hoisin, and chicken stock or water. Stir to combine. Return ribs to Dutch oven along with any accumulated juices. (Alternatively, add ribs, vegetables, and liquid to slow cooker.)
If Using a Slow Cooker: Set slow cooker to high and cook until meat is tender and frees easily from bones, 6 to 8 hours.
If Using a Dutch Oven: Bring contents to a boil, cover, and transfer to oven. Cook until short ribs are tender, about 3 hours. Check periodically during cooking process and add more stock or water if needed. Remove lid during the last 20 minutes of cooking. The meat should be very tender but not completely falling apart.
When meat is cooked, remove ribs and keep warm in a serving dish. Strain braising liquid into a fat separator (or strain braising liquid, then spoon off as much fat as possible), then pour strained, defatted sauce back into pot. Discard aromatic vegetables. Stir in remaining 1/4 cup (60ml) orange juice. You should have about 3 cups (720ml) total braising liquid; if not, simmer until reduced to 3 cups. Whisk in just enough of cornstarch mixture to slightly thicken sauce, adding it in 1-tablespoon increments (you may not need the whole amount).
Return short ribs and reduced sauce to Dutch oven, coating short ribs well with sauce. Sprinkle with scallions and remaining grated orange zest and serve with mashed potatoes or polenta. Leftover ribs can be reheated before serving, or meat can be boned, shredded, tossed with braising liquid, and folded into tacos.
Dutch oven, slow cooker (optional), fine-mesh strainer
Make sure to get the English cut of short ribs, which leaves one large rib bone in each piece of beef; flanken-cut ribs should be avoided, since each piece of beef will have several cross-cut bones in it.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 4 to 6|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 63g||81%|
|Saturated Fat 28g||138%|
|Total Carbohydrate 41g||15%|
|Dietary Fiber 2g||7%|
|Total Sugars 29g|
|Vitamin C 18mg||90%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|