Get shorty

Jun. 17, 2014 @ 08:59 AM

Some things just aren’t worth the darn effort.

Like spending 30 minutes blowing out your hair, then walking outside into a downpour.

Or cleaning the minivan right before picking up eight 5-year-old soccer players after a big game and ice cream party.

And, this may be sacrilegious, but pork ribs. There’s too much work, for too little food. For me, the pay-off just ain’t there.

But beef short ribs are a completely different story.  When well-cooked, you get all of the unctuous, falling-apart goodness without the bird-size nibbles of their porcine cousins. They’re a big hearty piece of meat that never leaves you frustrated, hungry, or laminated in sauce from head to toe.

And they possess the versatility of a Swiss army knife. They shine in such varied dishes as beef stew, enchiladas, and even hamburgers, when ground.

In your grocer’s meat department, you’ll usually find them in one of three states.  Boneless; they are separate, about 2 inches square, and 4-5 inches long. Bone-in, they come two different ways. One type’s a large piece, a little bigger than boneless.  Usually there's one bone per piece. Then there are long, very thin strips with multiple bones. I’ve never bought these, because the amount of meat is relatively low. 

Ribs are full of connective tissue so they have to cook low and slow, but this melted tissue is what gives all ribs their finger-licking heavenliness.

I have two different ways to cook them; braised, and in a pouch.

Braised Short Ribs

2 pounds short ribs, bone-in or boneless

1 pound sliced mushrooms

1 yellow onion, chopped

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 bay leaf

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons tomato paste

½ cup Sherry 

2 1/2 cups low-sodium beef stock

1 tablespoon horseradish

Splash of soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

Salt and pepper

½ cup roux made of 50/50 butter and flour cooked slowly until peanut butter-colored (optional)

1 cup pearled barley or brown rice (optional)

Preheat oven to 275.  Heat a Dutch oven on medium-high.  Season short ribs with salt and pepper.  Add oil to pot and sear meat on all sides until amber colored.  Remove and set aside.

Cook mushrooms, onion, thyme, and bay leaf ‘til lightly caramelized. Add tomato paste, and cook until dry-ish and burgundy-colored. Add garlic and cook until fragrant.

Deglaze pot with sherry. When the sherry has evaporated, stir in stock, Worcestershire or soy, and horseradish. Bring to a boil. If using roux, add here, and stir until thickened and gravy-like, nestle meat back in, cover, and cook in oven until meat is completely tender and shreddable, at least 3 hours. Stir gravy and ladle over ribs to serve.

Using barley or rice instead of roux: Stir it in about an hour before ribs are finished.  When the meat is done, remove, shred or slice, and put back into pot. At the end, you will have a creamy, hearty pot of protein and grains.  Serve in a bowl.


Ribs In A Pouch

1 pound short ribs

½ onion, thickly sliced

4 cloves garlic, unpeeled and left whole

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 300.  Heat a skillet, add oil, season meat and sear on all sides.  Take a big piece of foil, layer in onions and garlic.  Lay seared meat on top.  Seal very tightly, and bake for 2 ½-3 hours or tender.

With the pouch cooked ribs, you can make sandwiches, or put the meat into a skillet, crisp it up, and use it to make some seriously yummy tacos. You can also paint them with bbq sauce and put on the grill or under the broiler until caramelized.

With short ribs, you get the all the tasty without the struggle of getting enough to eat from smaller pork ribs. Petey doesn’t buy into my philosophy, though. He’d pick for hours for a few meager bites of the stuff — he loves ’em.

I guess it depends on how much you really like the food.  I wouldn’t do it for ribs, but give me an artichoke, and I’ll work on it for days to get at all that delicious flesh.

Thanks for your time.


Debbie Matthews lives, writes and cooks in Durham. Her email address is