A giant beef roast for the holidays is, for many, de rigueur. Standing rib roast with all the trimmings signifies extravagance, luxury and abundance.
I get it.
But for me, a humbler pot of braised short ribs is more celebratory. A roast is grand but one-dimensional. A braise is more complex – aromatic, succulent, deeply flavorful.
Everyone loves beef short ribs, and I find them to be one of the best cuts for braising. Because the meat is well marbled, a couple of hours’ slow cooking results in incredible juicy tenderness. You’ll need to talk to the butcher, since short ribs are rarely packaged for the grab-and-go bin. But every butcher shop has them.
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There are three versions. One is called English style, in which a meaty rib is cut to a six-inch length, weighing slightly less than a pound. Another version is flanken-style, about the same size, but cut crosswise, so each piece has three short pieces of bone attached. Both are good. There are also so-called boneless short ribs, which are fine, but bone-in is preferable, since bones add flavor. (If short ribs are not available, use a thick, bone-in chuck steak or blade steak and all will be well.)
The simple combination of beef with carrot, cooked rather plainly, is classic in French home cooking. It even has a name, boeuf aux carottes, which may sound elegant, but everyone in France knows it as a slow-bubbling, grandmotherly Sunday stew. There really isn’t much to it: beef, onion, carrots, a bundle of herbs (bouquet garni) and a splash of wine. As it cooks, mouthwatering hearth-and-home aromas waft from the kitchen. In France, it is usually made with boneless chunks of beef, but a rendition with short ribs works well.
Traditionally, the carrots go in the pot with the beef halfway through the cooking process. I like to cook them separately so I can use an assortment of different-colored carrots, from pale yellow to bright orange. This allows them to retain their color and adds a tasty, buttery gloss.
If you want to make a horseradish sauce to accompany this beef and carrot braise, here is a simple recipe. Put three tablespoons freshly grated horseradish in a bowl and sprinkle with a little salt and a pinch of sugar. Add a tablespoon of white wine vinegar and leave it for five minutes, then stir in a cup of creme fraiche. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper, and add a small dab of Dijon mustard and a speck of cayenne.
True, a horseradish sauce is more English than French, but never mind. It’s festive.
Red-Wine Braised Short Ribs With Carrots
Yield: 6 servings
Total time: 3 hours
5 pounds meaty beef short ribs, cut flanken- or English-style
Salt and pepper
1 large onion, peeled and halved
2 whole cloves
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups dry red wine
4 cups beef or chicken broth, heated
2 pounds small carrots, peeled and cut in 2- or 3-inch lengths of roughly equal thickness
1 medium leek, white and tender green parts, cut in 1-inch dice (about 2 cups)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon potato starch or cornstarch, dissolved in 2 tablespoons cold water (optional)
3 tablespoons chopped parsley, for serving
2 tablespoons finely cut chives, for serving
1. Season each rib generously all over with salt and pepper. If time permits, set aside for an hour to let seasoning penetrate meat.
2. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Put a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. When pan is hot, add olive oil just to film the bottom. Working in batches so as not to crowd pan, brown a few short ribs at a time on both meaty sides. Reduce heat as necessary to achieve browning gradually; it may take 4 to 5 minutes per side for well-browned ribs. This will guarantee dark, rich color for the sauce. Transfer ribs to a Dutch oven or deep, wide baking dish. Leave skillet on the heat.
3. Use a clove to pin a bay leaf to the rounded side of each onion half. Set the onion cut side down in the skillet and let cut side brown for a minute or two. Transfer onion to pot with ribs.
4. Add tomato paste and wine to skillet and bring to a simmer, stirring and scraping with a wooden spoon to dissolve all of the flavorful brown bits, then pour wine mixture over ribs.
5. Add broth to Dutch oven, cover and bake for 2 to 2 1 / 2hours, until meat is very tender when probed. Remove from heat, uncover and skim fat from surface.
6. Fill a large saucepan with well-salted water and bring to a boil. Add carrots and simmer until done, but not too soft, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain carrots, reserving 1 / 2cup of cooking water.
7. Return saucepan to stove over medium-high heat and add butter. Add leeks, season with salt, and cook, stirring, until barely softened. Add carrots and reserved cooking water. Gently combine, turn off heat and cover for 5 minutes.
8. Carefully transfer short ribs to a large, deep serving platter. Bring braising juices to a boil over high heat. If you wish to thicken the sauce lightly, add potato starch mixture and cook 1 minute more. Ladle sauce over ribs.
9. Transfer carrot and leek mixture, along with buttery juices, to a serving dish. Sprinkle carrots and ribs with parsley and chives and serve.