Ahhh Fall. Falling leaves, pumpkin-everything, hay rides, jackets, sweaters, the smell of a fireplace. Fall means cozy to me. What’s cozier than lovingly braised beef with creamy, warm polenta.
Short ribs are quite the thing now–they’re on menu after menu in restaurants. They can be pricey, but if you have the time, they’re so easy to prepare. I always look for thick, meaty short ribs–they can be quite fatty and be mostly bone, so be choosy when shopping. I recommend a nice Whole Foods or even better, a local butcher. Always trim excess fat off, but always leave some on. I’ve made braised short ribs a few different ways, and ideally you would make them a day ahead of time and reheat the next day. The reason being that short ribs give off a lot of greasy fat, so if left to sit in braising liquid overnight in the fridge, the fat rises and firms at the top–making it easy to scoop off the next day. The braising liquid also has time to thicken up and get more and more flavorful. That being said, I’m usually not patient enough and eat them the same night I make them and they still taste awesome.
When purchasing polenta, please try to get the good stuff–I love the extra fine white polenta made by Moretti. It’s $6 online and it will last you a long time if you keep it well sealed. I just used the last of a bag I bought a year ago. When cooking polenta and serving softly as a side dish or underneath a protein–never follow the polenta to liquid ratio–I always do WAY more liquid. I use about 1/4 cup of polenta to 2 1/2-3 cups of liquid to serve 4 people. If you want to make polenta that you will cool, cut, and fry/bake later, then follow the instructions on the package. In this particular preparation, I actually followed the brilliant method of making it in a slow cooker–amazing! I think this may be my only way of making it from now on.
Polenta is one of my all-time favorites and I’m always surprised it’s not served more in restaurants. The first time I had truly amazing polenta was at The Cookery in Dobbs Ferry, New York. The grains were so smooth and the overall texture so milky and buttery, it was heavenly. The polenta was served under a pork osso bucco with an apple/mustard relish. They still serve that dish and I can easily say it’s in my top-5 best meals evah. It’s that pork osso bucco dish that was my inspiration for this combination of braised short ribs with creamy polenta. The rich beef on the bone paired with the tang in the braising liquid on top of the velvety polenta is a marriage of the senses.
Braised Short Ribs with Creamy Polenta
- 5 pounds beef short ribs, bone on
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper (I like a coarse grind)
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 large onion chopped
- 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
- 1 celery rib, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, skin left on
- 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon tamarind concentrate (comes in a jar; slightly thicker than ketchup) or paste (comes in a block) NOTE: I substituted a mix of ketchup, lemon juice, and worcestershire for this and it turned out great.
- 2 fresh (or dry) bay leaves
- 1/2 cup Madeira NOTE: I didn’t have Madeira so I just increased the red wine to 1 1/2 cups
- 1 cup red wine
- 2 to 3 cups chicken broth
1. Heat the oven to 225 degrees. Season the short ribs with salt and pepper. Heat a large heavy Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add the oil, then the short ribs (add them in batches, if necessary) and brown on all sides. Transfer the ribs to a plate as they finish browning. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat.
2. Add the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic to the pot, reduce the heat to medium, and cook until the vegetables are soft and all the browned bits in the base of the pot have been loosened. Put the short ribs (and any juices that have collected on the plate) back in the pot.
3. Add the light brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, tamarind paste, and bay leaves. Pour in the Madeira and red wine. Add enough chicken broth to just cover the ribs. Bring the liquid to a boil, then cover the pot and transfer to the oven.
4. Braise the shortribs until they are very tender when pierced with a fork, about 4 hours (longer if the short ribs are big). Using a slotted spoon, transfer the shortribs to a plate. Let the cooking liquid settle; spoon off as much fat as possible (ideally, you’d do this over the course of two days and would, at this point, put the liquid in the fridge overnight and peel off the layer of fat in the morning). Set the pot on the stove over medium high heat. Bring the cooking liquid to a boil and reduce to a syrupy consistency.
5. Lay a short rib or two in each of 4 wide shallow bowls. Spoon over a little sauce. Serve proudly.
Serves 4 (you may want to double recipe if you have leftover short ribs)
- Vegetable cooking spray
- 1 cup milk
- 1 1/3 cups half-and-half, divided Note: I substituted with whole milk
- 2 tablespoons butter, divided
- 1/3 cup coarse polenta, or corn grits
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
- Special Equipment: slow cooker
Spray the insert of a slow cooker with cooking spray (for easier clean up) and preheat on high.
In a medium saucepan, add the milk, 1 cup half-and-half, 1 tablespoon butter, and polenta. Season with salt and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking constantly to keep the mixture lump-free. Boil for 2 to 3 minutes. Pour the mixture into the slow cooker and cook on high for 2 hours, stirring once or twice per hour. Once you are ready to serve, open the slow cooker and whisk in the remaining 1 tablespoon butter, remaining 1/3 cup half-and-half, and Parmesan.
Recipe courtesy Melissa d’Arabian