I mentioned on Twitter the other day that I took a shot at Bryan Voltaggio’s short rib dish from the Top Chef semifinal, where he braised them with figs and then used the figs in the finishing “glaze” (which may have been more of a sauce). Several of you asked for the recipe for it, but I wouldn’t say what I did was quite ready for the dish – I need to alter it and preferably make it twice successfully before posting it. However, since you asked, here’s a rundown of what I intend to do the next time.
The actual cooking of the ribs themselves went pretty well. I started with just over two pounds but probably could have gone up to three without too much alteration. I deboned them (but froze the bones to make a little stock later on) and trimmed the excess fat; seasoned them with salt, pepper, and crumbled dried rosemary (my own – fresh rosemary in a dry kitchen for a week is dry enough to use here); then browned them on all sides in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat.
After that, I drained all but about 2 tablespoons of the fat and sweated one diced yellow onion, two diced carrots, three diced celery stalks, a smashed and chopped clove of garlic, salt, pepper, and another pinch of rosemary, scraping the pan bottom as they cooked. So far, I haven’t deviated from my basic short rib technique.
Next, I returned to the ribs to the pan and added ten dried figs that I’d halved, a cup of red wine, about ¾ of a cup of chicken stock, and two bay leaves. I brought it to a boil, covered it, and stuck it in a 350 degree oven for two hours.
At about 90 minutes, I had to add more braising liquid to the pot as the pan was starting to get dry. Alcohol, of course, boils at a much lower temperature than water, and I managed to cook too much of it off too soon. Next time around, I’m going to drop the temperature to at least 300 degrees and start with three cups of a half-and-half mixture of red wine and stock. (For the wine, I went with a very cheap Italian merlot and it worked just fine, although it met my desire for a wine without too much character so well that drinking it was a somber experience.)
Even with the loss of the liquid, the ribs reached the desired fall-apart texture and they acquired a faint tangy-sweet taste from the figs and wine. I took the pot from the oven, cranked it up to 450 degrees, threw the ribs into a roasting pan, and browned them for ten minutes.
The lost braising liquid also meant that I didn’t have much of a sauce at the end of the braising process, and pureeing what was in the pot produced a paste that had exactly the flavor I was looking for – strong, hint of sweet, more than a hint of acidity, a little earthy, very savory – but the wrong texture, even after I thinned it out with some added boiled stock. Next time, I’ll strain what’s in the pot, pressing the solids, and then thicken what comes out with some of the pureed solids until I reach the thick but pourable consistency I want.
This method sits on an extensible foundation that looks like this:
- Trim, season with salt/pepper/herb, and brown
- Add aromatics with more of the same herb
- Braise in stock, wine, beer, or some combination of liquids
- Re-brown at a higher temperature
You can use just about any dried herb; I’ve done it many times with thyme and always had success. Too much alcohol in the braise will result in too little liquid before the process is through, so if you want to use wine (or spirits) cut them with stock or broth or even water if you must. (I admit to wondering whether ginger beer has too much sugar for this task, as Dark-and-Stormy Short Ribs sound, in theory, quite appealing. The resulting glaze would probably be to die for.)
Removing the bones before braising is the key to making successful short ribs in my experience. They cook more quickly without the bones, and removing the bones means there’s a lot less fat in the pan at the end of the braise – you don’t that fat in your sauce, and you don’t want the ribs to braise in that fat unless you’re trying to make a short rib confit. If you debone them, brown them, and don’t overheat them during the braise, your finished product should be very good even if you flub the details as I did.