If I had to list my top-ten cold-weather comfort foods, beef short ribs would rank first, second, and maybe even third, and I know I’m not alone. What makes this often-overlooked cut so remarkable is its dense, wellmarbled meat and its connective tissue, which softens as it cooks to help create a velvety, deeply flavored sauce. Just the mere suggestion of braised short ribs can elicit hushed groans of pleasure from anyone who has experienced their exquisite taste and tenderness.
The first thing you need to know about cooking short ribs is that they must be braised, an age-old technique that requires more patience than accuracy. The magic of braising (slowly cooking in a covered pot with a little bit of liquid) is that it transforms the tough, rugged texture of short ribs into fork-tender meat and creates a sumptuous sauce along the way. Attempting to cook short ribs by any other method, such as roasting or grilling, would leave them impossibly tough. For guidance on buying the best short ribs, see panel below.
While the braising technique ensures fall-apart tenderness, I use a few other tricks to boost the flavor of my short ribs. For instance, in the recipe Red-Wine Marinated Braised Short Ribs, I treat the ribs to an overnight soak in a spiced wine marinade, which leaves the meat deeply infused with flavor. In the Asian-Glazed Braised Short Ribs recipe, I rub the ribs with an aromatic blend of spices the day before braising. The spices permeate the richly flavored beef, adding a heady, exotic element to the flavor of the whole dish; then I paint the ribs with a sweet glaze and run them under the broiler just before serving. I also like to play around with how I finish braised short ribs; for instance, I create a rich ragù to serve over pasta (Short Rib Ragù) by shredding the cooked meat and adding it back into the sauce.
Whichever recipe you choose, here are a few braising pointers:
Choose a heavy pot with a lid (ideally a Dutch oven) that will hold the ribs snugly. They can overlap (you can also position them on their sides), but don’t stack them in a double layer.
Be sure the meat is thoroughly dried before browning. Wet meat will stick to the pan and won’t brown evenly.
Brown the ribs over medium heat; it should take 3 to 4 minutes per side. If the ribs brown too quickly over heat that’s too high, you could scorch the meat and the pan; brown the ribs too slowly and the meat will dry out.
Cover the pot with a sheet of parchment before setting the lid in place. The parchment reduces the headspace in the pot, which helps produce a more concentrated sauce. Extending the parchment over the sides helps tighten the seal of the lid.
Buying short ribs
English-style short ribs (left) and flanken-style short ribs (right).
Short ribs are the meaty ends of the beef ribs from the hardworking chest and front shoulders of cattle. The meatiest short ribs with the best ratio of fat and bone come from the chuck—the labels might say beef chuck short ribs or arm short ribs. Look for well-marbled, meaty ribs, firmly attached to the bone, and without a huge amount of surface fat.
You may find short ribs cut two ways: English style, which are 2- to 4-inch segments with one section of rib bone, or flanken style, which are 1-1/2- to 2-inch strips containing multiple bone segments. The recipes here were tested with English-style ribs, so I recommend that you use them, too. But if you can only find the flanken-style ribs, it’s okay—I use them interchangeably. Avoid boneless short ribs because meat cooked on the bone will provide the best flavor.
When trimming the short ribs, remove only the thickest layers of external fat. Don’t remove the internal layers of connective tissue or the ribs will begin to fall apart, and don’t remove the silverskin or membrane that holds the meat to the bone.