Why do you cook? It seems like a stupid question — but really, take a minute to think about it. Is it because transforming raw ingredients is an essential life skill that you need to know, lest you go hungry and gradually waste away into nothingness? Knowing how to boil pasta might save you some cash in the long run, but with the amount of prepackaged foods available and the torqued-out convenience of a microwave, as long as you have digits prehensile enough to mash buttons in reasonable succession, you’ll get fed.
Is it because feeding someone a home-cooked meal, one that sprouted directly from your hands and wit, is some romantic gesture of supplication and nurturing? Probably not. By collectively eating ourselves to death we’ve bludgeoned the nurturing aspect out of food.
So, why then? What’s the point of spending hours reading recipes and how-tos and sweating dick over a bubbling stock pot if it’s all just a part of some uncomfortable anachronism? Because it’s fucking impressive, that’s why. Thanks to celebrity chefdom, irreverent food memoirs, and the thousands of cooks rocking tattoos, beards, and big-ass knives, knowing how to turn and burn a leg of lamb is suddenly a cool party trick to have up your sleeve.
Don’t dismiss that as a bad thing — embrace it. Ditch the spaghetti and cook something you know is going to turn heads. If you need any ideas, look up the menu of a buzzy restaurant, and start extracting adjectives, nouns, and foreign-sounding modifiers. Words like “braised,” “pickled,” “short rib,” “oxtail,” and “crudo” are good places to start. And since a pickled oxtail crudo wouldn’t work, lets fuck around with some short ribs, yeah?
What you need to get started: about two pounds of bone-in English-cut short ribs. Try to hand-select the biggest, meatiest ones in the butcher’s case. You don’t want to be left with all bone by the end of it. Liberally season up your ribs with salt and pepper, and sear them in a hot cast iron skillet, preferably a Dutch oven if you have one. After all sides of the meat are browned and some of the fat has rendered, throw in equal parts rough-chopped celery, onions, and carrot, about one cup of each.
Sautée your aromatics for about 10 minutes on medium heat, or until they’re tender and just starting to caramelize. Then, dump in a half bottle of red wine like cabernet or zinfandel — or more, you’re calling the shots here — and a few sprigs of thyme. Let the wine come to a boil and reduce by half, then add in about a cup of chicken stock.
If you’re using a Dutch oven or a similarly large heat proof dish, half-submerge the short ribs in the cooking liquid, cover, and throw in a 325 degree oven for three hours. If you don’t have a Dutch oven, transfer everything to a casserole dish and do the same thing. Read and react—that’s the name of the game. Be an athlete about it.
After three hours, the short ribs should be tender, but not completely falling off the bone — which is a good thing. Take the meat out of the pot and set aside, then dump the rest of the mixture through a strainer. Add the resulting wine, stock, and animal fat mixture, perfumed with the herbs and stuff, to a small pot and reduce by half, until some of the collagen from the short rib bones start to naturally thicken the sauce. Season with salt and pepper as you see fit.
Heat your oven to 450 degrees, brush the short ribs with some of the reduced braising liquid and throw them back in the oven for 5-10 minutes, just to caramelize the sauce and add some much-needed texture.
Serve them on top of some sort of pureed starch, and garnish with extra sauce splattered around the plate like it rained from the sky and conveniently landed on your plate. Restaurants call that style of plating “rustic.” It’s impressive as shit.
Still hungry? Check out other installments of Bite Club here.
Photos by All photos by Josh Scherer