For a recent dinner party, I thought a slow-cooker dish would allow me to have everything prepared well before our guests arrived. Michele Scicolone’s The French Slow Cooker provided the perfect recipe for a blustery mid-winter evening: “Short Ribs with Red Wine and Prunes.”
With a cooking time between 8 to 10 hours on low and our guests arriving at 6PM, I figured I’d have to get everything into the slow cooker by 8 or 9AM. So, with prepping the aromatics and browning two batches of ribs, I planned a starting time around 6AM.
Well, as the saying goes about “the best laid plans,” things went astray when I over slept and arose after 9 that morning. My only solution was to pass on the slow cooker and go with the tried-and-true enameled cast-iron Dutch oven for the braise. Fortunately, the internet provided some helpful guidelines for converting the recipe for the stove that suggested reducing the cooking time to approximately 3 hours at 325°F and increasing the amount of braising liquid by about a cup since there is more evaporation with an oven than with a slow cooker.
Given the reluctance of spring to appear in New York City and finding a $6.00 off a pound sale on short ribs at my local market, I chose to make a braised dish more suitable for winter. The recipe is from the New York Times Cooking website and its blend of spices and prunes with fennel and leeks made it most appealing for a chilly weekday night supper.
I had also planned to photograph the preparation of this dish, but just as I started to cook, our cable repairman showed up. What I thought would be a twenty-minute service call wound up taking almost three hours, including assisting the repairman with un-mounting a wall-mounted 55” television, which given the disparity in our heights (he stood 6’ tall and I’m 5’3”), was not an easy task. As a result, I had to rush to get the ribs into the oven for a three-hour braise so that we could have supper on the table by 9PM.
Despite the gloomy cold day and the cable madness, our day ended well thanks to this truly delicious braise. Although the recipe calls for a pressure cooker, the website gave options for a Dutch oven as well as for a slow cooker. I chose to braise the ribs in a enameled-cast iron Dutch oven in a 325°F oven for 3 hours.
If you’re not a fan of highly spiced food, you may want to reduce the amount of chipotle chile powder. I also found that the amount of liquid called for (1 cup of wine) resulted in a rather thick sauce. This amount may work for a pressure cooker, but if you choose to oven braise, I’d recommend at least doubling the amount of liquid.
2 teaspoons kosher salt, more as needed
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 to 4 pounds bone-in beef short ribs
1 tablespoon olive oil or other fat (like bacon fat or duck fat), more as needed
3 leeks, whites only, chopped
2 large fennel bulbs, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon chipotle chile powder
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup dry red wine
½ cup pitted prunes, diced
Fennel fronds or sliced scallions, or both, for serving
If time permits, rub salt, coriander and pepper all over beef and let marinate in refrigerator for 1 hour, or, ideally, overnight.
Set electric pressure cooker to sauté function and add oil (or use a large skillet on the stove over medium-high heat). Sear beef until evenly browned on all sides, about 2 minutes per side. You’ll probably have to do this in batches. Transfer to a plate as the pieces brown. Or if using a skillet, transfer them to pressure cooker
Add leeks, fennel and pinch of salt to hot pan and cook until soft, about 8 minutes, then add garlic, chile powder and tomato paste; cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Pour in wine. Add prunes and beef (or add prunes and fennel-wine mixture to the meat in the pot).
Cover, then cook for 35 minutes on high pressure. Manually release pressure. If sauce seems thin, pull out beef pieces and reduce sauce using sauté function. Serve with fennel fronds or scallions, or both, for garnish.
“Simply the best short ribs we’ve ever had” was all we could say after finishing these succulent and flavorful braised ribs. Although not typical summer fare, the short ribs looked irresistible when I saw them at the market and I thought we both could use a little comfort food.
For me, braising is the best way to cook this cut of meat, and the most convenient method is slow cooking. And for slow cooking, I usually turn to one of Michele Scicolone’s slow-cooker cookbooks. For last night’s supper, I selected her recipe “Beef Short Ribs with Mustard and Red Wine” from The Mediterranean Slow Cooker.
After browning the trimmed bone-in ribs well on all sides in olive oil, I removed them from the pot and discarded all but 2 tablespoons of the fat. I placed the ribs in the slow cooker and seasoned them generously with salt and pepper.
In the remaining fat, I quickly sautéed some chopped shallots and finely minced garlic followed by a generous amount of concentrated tomato paste. I decided to toast the paste for about a minute, which I believe gave the dish a deeper tomato flavor.
I deglazed the pan with some Côtes du Rhone along with several tablespoons of whole grain mustard. After bringing the contents of the pan to a simmer, I poured them over the ribs, tossed in a few sprigs of fresh thyme, and cooked the ribs on low for 8 hours. The recipe does call for skimming the fat from the sauce after removing the ribs from the pot. But, as you may have noticed in the first photo, I did a cursory job of this as we were so hungry.
I must admit that browning the ribs can make an oily mess on the stove, but it makes a big difference in the finished dish. The whole grain mustard adds a luscious complexity to the sauce.
A Google search will yield other versions of this dish by chefs like Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud. Scicolone’s recipe, however, delivers both a richness and a purity of flavor with a minimum of work.
I must admit that waiting for the ribs, as their aroma permeated the apartment, was torture, but the wait was worth it. Next time, I’ll just be sure to schedule my slow cooking for when I’m not at home for most of the day.