Hello and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes. Today we’re going to talk about a dish whose name gets tossed around in my household a lot, but that we don’t actually cook all that much. And we’re going to spend a little time talking about the economy of beef. Because I’m feeling particularly boring today, so I’m going to make you suffer as I twitter on about beef costs. Because there’s nothing you can do to stop me! MWAHAHAHAHA!!! Unless you just leave. Please don’t do that. It undercuts my entire evil scheme. Anywho, let’s talk about Beef Short Ribs, how the same name applies to two different cuts, and make a really tasty dinner for a crowd.
Short Changed At The Rib Rack
Here’s the secret to most beef cut prices: if there’s a lot of it on the cow, or it’s harder/longer to cook, that’s the stuff that sells cheaply. And that latter section is where you’ll find Beef Short Ribs. Beef Short Ribs come in two main distinct styles: “English Style” and “Flanken Style”. Flanken is a German and Jewish word, that translates to…”Flank”. Look, most English words were stolen from somewhere. This one just happens to be a little more blatantly obvious that usual. Anyway, if you don’t know, a creature’s “flanks” are, they’re the side between the ribs and hips. It’s a word we mostly only use when referring to animals (or in the military, for a slightly ominous symbolic connection.) IT’s right about where people get Love Handles.
Cuts from this area are usually pretty cheap, for a simple reason: the area is a mass of fat, long muscle fibers, and, if you go to the ribs, cartilage and connective tissue. Now, of the two, English cuts ALONG the rib, giving you a large chunk of meat (sometimes as much as 2 lbs per rib), while Flanken cuts ACROSS the ribs, giving you a thin strip of meat with cross-sections of bone in it. Flanken is the more common cut, because, and I honestly feel a little bad for writing this: It’s a very popular cut for Jewish stews and ceremonies. In what feels like a continuation of some sort of weird joke, it’s also very popular in Asia. And most of Eastern Europe.
Basically everywhere the grandmothers wear colorful headscarves.
As another interesting side note: English cut are actually getting more popular these days, with the huge “Dinosaur Ribs” showing up at Barbecue joints and Steakhouses around the country. Flanken isn’t as immediately impressive as a massive, two-pound eight-inch meat-bone, but they’re really satisfying when given time, and can be just what you want to warm you up on a cold winter’s night. We are definitely only talking about ribs, and not at all about Penises.
Especially since my math indicates for an eight-inch penis to WEIGH 2 ponds, it would have to have the density of…Huh. There’s nothing that matches that density. It falls irritatingly above the weights of most stones, but far below most metals. The closest values I can find are Basalt and…Dolomite.
Let’s leave behind the world of dick-density and powerful pimps, and return to our story about Short Ribs. Recently, I was informed that my parents actually used to buy short ribs very frequently, when they were a young couple making a living in Portland. The Flanken cuts could be had for somewhere in the range of $1.50 a pound, and my parents would take them back to their apartment complex and have a barbecue. This whole story came out as we stood in a butcher shop they used to frequent, marveling at how the cut had quadrupled in price since those days. Damn the punishing hand of inflation!
As such, to relive those early days, we decided just this last week to try them in a new use: Beer-Braised Beef Short Ribs.
Everything’s Better With Beer
I am, it’s sad to say, something of an enigma to my family. I spend hours alone, quietly reading or surfing the web in corners of the house, and then suddenly start screaming profanity as night falls (That’s when I do my online gaming. I have a very…vocal way of relieving my frustrations with my team-mates.). As far as appearances go, I only care about books, cooking, computer games, theatre, and sleep. And, to be honest, I don’t understand where the enigma comes in. That list there is roughly 65% of everything I like, so yeah. This, however, leads to difficulty when buying me souvenirs. My brother collects Shotglasses. That’s easy. My other brother does woodworking. Just find something cool made out of wood. But you may have noted the list of my interests is fairly…non-portable. And frequently perishable. We all know theatre is basically garbage after 4 hours in the sun.
As King of The Acting Hobos, it's a fact I know all too well.
So when my mother spent a month in San Diego, she ended up bring back two souvenirs for me: a half-gallon tub of Mexican candy. (Tamarind with Chile is great, and you’re wrong if you disagree) and “The American Craft Beer Cookbook”, a book only 80% as pretentious as that name implies. It’s a compendium of recipes from Craft Breweries, Brewpubs, and other such establishments around America, and as such, it hits a nice sweet spot for me. I’m planning on giving a more in-depth review, in the spirit of trying new things, later this month, so I’ll hold off talking too much about the book until then.
Fun fact: despite me spending quite a bit of time talking about English style versus flanken, this recipe uses NEITHER! Yeah, remember when I said there are two distinct main styles? There’s also just “Beef Short Ribs”, which isn’t as unified in definition, but is basically the mid-point between the two in terms of amount of meat versus connective tissue. The easiest way to understand it is to look at all three together.
"Hey, Jon, remember when we were good at visual design?"
"Remember when we decided to make this before we had breakfast, Asshole Jon?"
In any case, Beef Short Ribs is one of those “Busy in the Beginning, Frentic at the End, and boring in between” kind of meals. Also, You do about 30-45 minutes of prep, browning, sauté, wait around 3 hours, and then in the next 20 minutes have a lot of flailing to do. Is it worth it? Let’s find out.
Step one is to get your mise en place in place, and that’s fairly easy. Chop some carrots, onion, and celery, pop out a whole head’s worth of garlic, and trim the fat from your short ribs. Actually, quick note about that: The majority of my family are not fans of excessive fat or cartilage in our food. The quickest way to get me to gag is to introduce that slightly-rubbery texture of gristle into food I wasn’t expecting it in. I cut my steaks with such precision around fat lines that my family used to joke I’d become a surgeon with 3 years of medical school and 12 years practice cutting. So if you and yours want something with a little more texture, the last 20 minutes of this recipe will be a breeze, comparatively. So, yeah, you’ve got your veggies all sorted, right?
Is beer a vegetable?
Next step’s easy: grind up some spices, and rub them all over your meat. I was joined in the Kitchen today by site Alcohol Editor JJ Hernandez, who refused to help me cook at all until I verbally asked him “Please come film me rubbing my meat.” Always a helping hand. I attempted to kill him with the cork to the beer 10 minutes later, and almost shattered a ceiling light in the process. Now, once the meat’s rubbed up, you brown it. About 3 minutes a side, then load it all into a Dutch Oven.
But first, here is a picture of me...sigh....rubbing my meat.
After that, it’s pretty much “prep and dump”. You toss all the veggies into the pan you used to brown the beef, sweat them a few minutes, then they hit the pot. You pour a mixture of vinegar, beef broth, murderous Belgian Ale, and tomato paste into the same pan, simmer a bit, then boom, into the pot. Then the pot goes in the oven, and you do…whatever for the next 3 hours. I played a board game. Then I watched TV. Then I watched Youtube to kill time until the show I wanted to watch came on. Again, I really don’t know where people get this impression that I’m hard to figure you.
After 3 hours in the pot, your assembled ingredients look like this
Like a swamp of blood with islands of meat?
While that’s pretty appealing, my mom and I figured we could do better. For one thing, there’s at LEAST a cup of pure liquid fat in that bowl, as well as undissolved connective tissue, fat, and gristle on the meat. So my mom and I formed a team: we pulled all the meat from the pot, and she tore apart the meat while I separated the veggies from the liquids, then separated the liquids into fat and sauce, and tossed out the fat. We simmered the veggies and sauce while we boiled potatoes for mashing, and then tossed the meat back in to warm through. My mother insisted I had stolen the easy job, complaining that the meat was “boiling lava hot”, and then briefly shoving her hands into the (also boiling lava hot) veggies and sauce, in what I can only assume was either a sign of early-onset dementia, or the world’s least effective suicide attempt.
In the end, this was the bounty of our work:
With Magically appearing salad!
And we had a crap ton of it. 5 pounds of beef went into that pot. We had 4 servings that night, and easily have enough to serve the whole family as a complete meal again. As to taste: the rub consisted of mainly pepper and mustard seed, with some cayenne and salt. My mother was impressed by the burn of the spices. I was personally intrigued by the hints of sweetness from the honey, carrots, and tomatos. The biggest take-away was warmth: the sauce was rich, thick, and filled with ingredients that made it feel even more potent than it was. It was like the thickest Bolognese or Ragu I’d ever seen, but more beefy, more potent. We heartily recommend the dish, though we are discussing trying boneless short ribs for the next time, in the hopes we can skip the last 20 minutes of tearing out what we don’t like, and hopefully having less fat to drain off.
NEXT TIME: WE, STRANGELY, DON’T TALK MUCH ABOUT FOOD AT ALL. I KNOW. WEIRD.
Beer Braised Beef Short Ribs
2 tbsps black peppercorns
2 tbsps yellow mustardseed
2 tsp salt
½ tsp Cayenne pepper
5 pounds beef Short Ribs, trimmed of excess fat
3 tbspsextra virgin olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
1 head of garlic, cloves peeled and halved
2 cups beef broth
1 cup Strong Belgian Ale (such as Brother Thelonious)
1 6oz can of Tomato Paste
¼ cup red wine vinegar
3 tbsp honey
2 tbsp beef base
1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Pat the short ribs dry.
2. Grind the peppercorns and mustardseed together, in either a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. Add the salt and cayenne, and stir the rub ingredients together. Then, rub the ribs all over with the rub.
3. Heat the olive oil over high heat until slightly smoking. Then, add the beef, and brown on all sides, roughly 3 minutes per side, transferring ribs to a Dutch oven or pot when cooked.
4. Toss the veggies into the hot pan, and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and golden brown, around 6 minutes. Dump into the pot.
5. Deglaze the pan with the combined sauce ingredients, and reduce heat to medium. Simmer briefly, then add to the pot. Cover the pot, and place in the oven to cook for 2.5 hours, or until tender. (Ours took 3)
6. Remove the meat from the pot, and, if desired, remove bones and excess remaining fat/gristle. Skim fat from the sauce, and simmer until your desired consistency. Toss meat back into the sauce, to keep warm, and serve with a starchy side.