By Riki Shore
Someone around here turned 40 last week (not me – that already happened!) and it was an occasion for special foods. I came up with a menu that was doable and delicious – perfect for a birthday, but also a great holiday meal.
Braised Asian short ribs, inspired by a recipe in Simple to Spectacular by Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Mark Bittman, were the centerpiece of the meal. Although the short ribs cook for 3 hours, it’s largely unattended time in the oven, which means you can be setting the table, wrapping presents, or prepping an appetizer.
We ate the ribs with steamed rice and a delectable creamed spinach dish (recipe to come later, I promise!). I made them a little less spicy than called-for so it would appeal to Stella, and omitted a few things in the long list of ingredients.
One thing you cannot omit from this recipe is the Szechwan peppercorns. Their flavor is too unique and not at all like that of any other peppercorn. Savory Spice Shop describes it like this:
When you bite into [one of these] you’ll taste an immediate citrus-like flavor followed by a slight numbing effect, which then bursts into a tingling sensation on the tip of your tongue. This sensation is caused by an enzyme that wakes up your mouth and intensifies all intermingling flavors.
Pretty convincing and, I can attest, accurate. These peppercorns aren’t all that expensive, and you can usually find them at spice shops and gourmet markets. It’s worth picking some up.
If you’re not eating rice, you could easily substitute a root vegetable puree or mashed potatoes. Any steamed greens would be delicious here.
And if you don’t finish the ribs, pack them with their juices in a covered container in the fridge for up to four days. Before reheating, skim away any accumulated fat from the surface. These are even better after sitting for a day or two – and they make a tasty lunch.
1/4 cup olive oil
4 pounds beef short ribs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large onion
4 garlic cloves
1/4 cup fresh ginger
2 tablespoons sugar
5 star anise
1 dried chile
2 tablespoons Szechwan peppercorns
20 cilantro stems
1 cup dry sherry
1/2 cup tamari
Minced cilantro leaves for garnish
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a Dutch oven on high. If you have a rack of ribs, cut between each bone to create smaller pieces. Brown the ribs well on all sides, sprinkling with salt and pepper every time you turn them. They’re done when the meat is well browned with some crispy streaks on the surface. Remove the ribs to a plate and turn off the heat.
3. Chop the onion and ginger coarsely (no need to peel the ginger). Peel and smash the garlic cloves. Using the same Dutch oven, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high. Add the onions, garlic, ginger and sugar, and cook, stirring, until everything is very soft and browned, about 15 minutes.
4. Add the star anise, dried chile, Szechwan peppercorns and cilantro stems to the pot. Cook for a minute, then add the sherry, tamari and 3 cups of water. Add the ribs back to the pot. They will not be entirely covered by liquid, but should be mostly covered. Cover the pot and cook the ribs in the oven until they are tender and the meat is falling from the bones. This will take about 3 hours; turn the ribs every 40 minutes or so during cooking.
5. Transfer the ribs to a plate and strain the cooking liquid. Serve the ribs on top of rice and pour some of the cooking liquid over everything. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve.