Let us now braise inexpensive cuts: Oven-braised Asian Short Ribs

by Terry B on December 16, 2009

Slow oven braising and plenty of garlic, scallions, star anise and pan-Asian ingredients turn inexpensive beef short ribs into a tender, exotic main course. Recipe below.

braised-asian-short-ribs

The first time I tasted steak I was in college. Cheap cuts of meat were what we ate in my working class family when I was growing up. Chuck roast, pork steaks [as opposed to the leaner, more costly chops], beef stew, burgers made from fatty ground chuck… We also occasionally had short ribs, but only as an ingredient in a beefy vegetable soup.

I relate this personal history with cheap cuts not as a tale of woe and deprivation. These cuts are often more flavorful than their pricier brethren and probably largely responsible for my love of all things meaty. But they’re usually tougher than the more expensive cuts too. I remember many happy, chewy meals.

Braising takes care of the toughness issue. Slow, moist cooking breaks down connective tissue and melts some of the fat also present in most inexpensive cuts of meat. The result is wonderfully flavorful, juicy meat that is almost falling-apart tender.

Quicker cooking foods, such as chicken, fish, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, can be braised on the stove top in a covered pan. But for roasts and other cheap cuts, oven braising is the best choice. Even with the lowest possible flame on your stove, at least part of your pan will be hotter than the 300º to 350ºF heat of the oven. And it will likely be concentrated in the center of the pan, directly under the meat. Oven braising surrounds the covered pan, applying even heat from all sides. So everything cooks evenly at a much gentler temperature, and the meat doesn’t dry out.

Slow braising also allows the meat to become suffused with the flavors of spices, herbs, seasonings and braising liquids. And during the long cooking process, flavors that may seem alarmingly big at the start—one ingredient for these short ribs was six cloves of garlic, for instance—become muted and subtle. In the end, no one flavor dominates. Instead of a “wow, I-can-really-taste-the-ginger” dinner, you’re more likely to have a “this-is-delicious-what’s-in-it” main course.

As winter settles in here in the northern hemisphere, braising offers another benefit. For two or three hours, the oven makes the kitchen the cozy, warm center of the house or the apartment—to me, that’s always a good thing.

Just about a year ago, as it happens, I did a wine-braised French take on short ribs and served them over puréed cauliflower. Last weekend when beautifully marbled short ribs seemed to jump into the grocery cart at the store, I decided to try an Asian spin on them. For the most part, the various recipes I looked at for inspiration didn’t settle on any one Asian cuisine. Neither did I. I used Chinese hoisin sauce; Japanese soy sauce and rice vinegar [although versions of the vinegar are found in most Asian kitchens]; star anise, native to China and Vietnam, but equally widespread in its use; and fresh ginger, used not just throughout much of Asia, but in West Africa and the Caribbean as well.

Oven-braised Asian Short Ribs
Serves 4

3-1/2 to 4 pounds bone-in short ribs
freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
6 scallions, cut into 2-inch sections [reserve the green tops of one]
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh minced ginger
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup reduced sodium soy sauce
2 cups water
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
5 whole star anise

cooked white rice
zest of 1 orange
reserved green onion tops, sliced

Special equipment: Parchment paper, cut to fit just inside the pot

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Trim any excess fat from short ribs, but don’t go crazy—fat equals flavor. Season generously with black pepper, but do not salt. Heat a heavy dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add oil and brown short ribs on all three meaty sides [but not on bone side] for about 8 minutes total. Work in batches if necessary, to avoid overcrowding the pot. Transfer ribs to plate with tongs. Reduce heat to medium and add scallions, carrots, garlic and ginger to pot. Cook, stirring frequently [you want to sweat the vegetables, not brown them], for about 5 minutes.

Add orange juice, soy sauce, water, rice vinegar, hoisin sauce, brown sugar and crushed red pepper flakes to dutch oven, stirring to combine. Scrape up any browned bits. Return short ribs to dutch oven, arranging in a single layer—it’s okay to crowd them together now. The liquids won’t completely cover the ribs—that’s perfectly fine. Tuck star anise in among ribs, submerging them in the braising liquids. Place parchment paper over ribs and braising mixture. Cover pot with lid and place in oven on middle rack. Braise until ribs are tender, about 2-1/4 to 2-1/2 hours, turning ribs once about halfway through cooking.

Remove from oven and transfer ribs to platter and tent with foil. [The slablike bones will likely have separated from the meat; you can discard them if you wish, but I prefer the look of the short ribs with the bone, so I reunited them when I plated the ribs.]

Strain braising liquids, pressing with a spoon to get as much of the liquids as possible. Spoon of some of the fat or use a gravy strainer—again, don’t go crazy here. Return braising liquids to dutch oven and boil over medium-high heat to reduce a bit to create a sauce, 5 or so minutes. To serve, mound cooked rice on each plate and spoon sauce over it. Top with a short rib and garnish with orange zest and scallion tops. This last step is key—the zest and scallion tops add a fresh brightness that balances the richness of the meat.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura December 16, 2009 at 3:53 pm

Terry I’m so excited to give this a try! I thought that I’d braised myself out, but I realize now that I’ve just been making the same braise over and over again…onions, carrots, celery, wine/beer and thyme. Delicious, but I’m over it. I’m going Asian thanks to your suggestion!

dani December 17, 2009 at 4:13 am

Beautiful photo again, Terry! I love the Asian flavors and the finish of the orange zest and scallion tops. My list of your recipes is getting pretty long. I bet I could go a month using just your recipes. That sounds like a good way to spend January – instead of Julie & Julia, it’ll be Dani & Terry! Does that meet with your approval?

Jason Sandeman December 17, 2009 at 11:46 am

I love this dish! I had this on my menu last winter, and I want to pass off a neat tip for you: If you puree an Asian pear into your braisage mix for braising, you will find that there is an extra dimension to level out the umami for the soy sauce. It ramps it up even further!

Nishta December 17, 2009 at 2:20 pm

I love short-ribs in the winter! They make the whole house smell amazing, and there’s something so comforting about “tucking into” a meal that’s been going all afternoon. Plus, having the oven on helps keep the house warm :)

There’s a bar here in Houston that just put a Chinese five-spice mulled wine…I think that would be perfect with this dinner. Weekend project!

Terry B December 17, 2009 at 3:24 pm

Laura—I hope you like it. You know, in a recent post on your blog, you talked about the kitchen being the warm, cozy spot in your apartment during winter. I thought of that when I was slowly braising these ribs.

Dani—Sounds good, but you can’t sit on the kitchen floor and cry, okay?

Thanks for the tip, Jason! The Asian pear sounds like a great addition. And thanks for stopping by—I’m delighted to have discovered your blog now. I will be back.

Thanks, Nishta! Yeah, in the winter, I find myself getting especially carnivorous and wanting roasts and stews and other slow-cooked meat.

Kim, Ordinary Recipes Made Gourmet December 17, 2009 at 8:39 pm

Wow Terry, that looks so juicy and yummy…I forgot it was just a photo! I want to eat it right off the computer screen! :D

las December 29, 2009 at 12:36 am

I made these and added a regular bosc pear to the braising mix. Wow. Great way to christen the new staub pot! The orange zest and scallions are also key. Terrific!!

Terry B December 29, 2009 at 5:36 am

Thanks, Kim!

Thanks, Ias! Aren’t Staub pots wonderful?

Kristin January 28, 2010 at 7:23 pm

This dish’s spectacular aroma is filling my kitchen as the short ribs braise in my oven. My stomach is growling in anticipation. My husband is anxiously awaiting his first bite of his two favorite things combined: asian-style flavorings and meat. I have a sesame ginger rice I might try (unless I get scared and just go the jasmine rice route). Now I wish I had come sugar snap peas to saute up quick and easy as a side dish. If this dish is as good as it smells, it will go into regular rotation in this house!

Terry B January 28, 2010 at 7:30 pm

Thanks, Kristin! And your exquisite description of your kitchen at this moment has my stomach growling in anticipation too. I hope you and your husband enjoy your meal.

Kristin January 28, 2010 at 10:54 pm

Couldn’t help but come back and post after eating these melt-in-your-mouth, slightly sweet, yet deliciously rich and savory short ribs. This dish was incredibly easy and turned out a wonderful dinner. Both my husband and I devoured every last bit (used 2 lbs of short ribs which was perfect for the two of us). The sauce was perfect drizzled over the top (okay…doused in the sauce..I admit it…and it was sooo good!). You were so right when you wrote “In the end, no one flavor dominates. Instead of a “wow, I-can-really-taste-the-ginger” dinner, you’re more likely to have a “this-is-delicious-what’s-in-it” main course.” This is going to the top of my short ribs recipe list. Thanks for such a beautiful, simple, and spectacular dish. I would proudly serve this to company or for just the two of us. I look forward to trying your other recipes.

oh…and just as an FYI – I found your site through TasteSpotting.com and am so happy I did.

Nelly November 10, 2014 at 12:36 am

Made it when I had friends over for dinner. It was so good. Omitted the brown sugar since hoisin was sweet enough. Meat was fall off the bond.is I’ll make this again.

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