As I write this, my husband and I are sharing a Fray Bentos pie, passing the tin (balanced on a plate) between us and sharing the same fork. I tell you this not because I’m proud of us – I’m really not – but just to demonstrate that I am both lazy and economical (he bought the pies upon finding them on sale at Morrison’s for a pound each, bearing them home in triumph. I let him enjoy it for approximately two seconds before observing that they are always available at Poundland). Anyway, this meal easy, inexpensive and gloriously delicious – it’s honestly once of the nicest dishes I can make. We made it recently for dining club with my siblings and my brother has asked me for the recipe almost daily ever since.
The only thing is that it’s tricky to get hold of short ribs – it’s an American cut, and I really don’t know what British butchers do with it. I hope that they keep them for themselves and make wonderfully flavoured, tender dishes almost sweet with beefy flavour – a sort of Masonic secret of butchery. I’d like to think so, anyway, definitely would hate to think that they just get minced. I always think it’s worth splurging on wonderful, grass fed organic British beef for this dish and I buy it from Frank Godfrey in Highbury, but I’m hoping to try Tom Hixson of Smithfield, which is rather less expensive. But from the supermarket, this also works well with beef shin or glorious, silky, collagen-rich oxtail.
Recipe: Short Rib Bourguignon
(I was going to write, heavily adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s recipe of the same name, but I feel I’d be dishonouring her by the comparison, since mine has a fraction of the steps and I am much less exacting about ingredients)
If you make this for 4 people, there should be enough leftovers to make amazing ragu to coat bouncy strands of fresh pasta, or else it serves 6, generously. If at all possible, it’s lovely making this the day before and chilling overnight (both you and the dish), which also makes the fat easier to remove. We served it with peas, (not very French) Yorkshire puddings, and roast garlic and bone marrow mashed potatoes.
1300g cut of short ribs, slice into individual rib sections (about 6) (or equal weight of beef shin, oxtail in the largest pieces possible)
150g bacon, chopped into lardons (or cheap cooking bacon is fine)
3 onions, peeled
2 carrots, peeled
1 stick of celery, optional
6 garlic cloves, peeled
1 bay leaf
Peel of half an orange, kept in as large a piece as possible, optional
About 100g chestnut mushrooms, washed and cut into chunky slices
1 Tbsp Balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp Oyster sauce
1 Tbsp concentrated tomato paste
About half a bottle of red wine
About 100ml homemade beef/chicken stock (I’d be reluctant to use a cube, especially if you have shelled out for top quality beef! Supermarket ready-made stock is fine, or ask the butcher for bones and boil them up with lots of salt and raw onion, ideally roasted hot and hard before this – if you have to, then I’d use vegetable bouillon powder made into stock according to packet instructions)
1. Heat a wide pan (ideally an ovenproof one you can cook and serve the dish in, like a cast-iron vessel) over a medium-high heat with a small amount of flavourless oil (or beef fat, if you have it) until it is shimmering and smoking
2. Meanwhile, pat the beef dry with paper towels and shake over some plain flour, and a generous seasoning of salt and pepper
3. Brown the beef on all sides (in batches, so they are not touching, otherwise they will steam). This takes a long time, at least a few minutes a side so up to half an hour in total. It is tempting to skip it, but don’t – this is by far the most onerous part of the recipe, and the browning you do here creates all those lovely caramelised flavours through the Maillard reaction. The beef should take on a deep brown, almost blackened crust, and smell amazing. Remove each cooked batch – I sometimes stack it all on the upturned casserole lid – they will leak some juices and you want to save every drop.
4. Whilst the beef is browning, chop the vegetables for the mirepoix (carrot, onion, celery if using and the garlic) or whizz them in a food processor until chopped finely (0.5cm pieces), but be careful not to reduce them to a mush.
5. After all the beef has been browned and removed from the pan, add some butter if you need to (but the beef should have rendered off enough fat) and fry the bacon, scraping the crusty bits from the pan so they don’t stick. Then add the chopped vegetables and cook over a medium heat until the onion is translucent and only taking on a bit of colour (we are all about the Maillard reactions!)
6. Add the beef back into the pan and cover with the braising liquid – add stock and wine in roughly equal quantities until the beef is just submerged. (If you don’t have an ovenproof pan big enough, use a normal pan or more than one). Add the bay leaf, tomato paste, oyster sauce, balsamic vinegar and orange peel if using, and stir in. Season with some additional salt and pepper.
7. Quickly bring to the boil and preheat the oven to 120C. When the liquid is boiling, cover the pot with a lid (or if using a non-ovenproof pot, transfer everything to an ovenproof vessel e.g. a roasting tin and cover tightly with strong foil, or a double layer of normal foil) and braise in the middle of the oven for 4 hours.
8. Check it – the beef should be very tender and collapse easily when encouraged with a fork. The interior should still be pink. Season the braising liquid to taste and skim off as much of the fat as possible. This dish is actually great to make a day ahead and then refrigerate, after which the fat can be lifted easily off the top.
9. To serve, reheat the dish on the stovetop and at the same time, fry the mushrooms in a little butter – I like to get them golden, almost burned. Maillard all the way! Then stir the mushrooms into the dish and remove the bayleaf and the orange peel.
You can also roast some garlic in foil and marrowbones (with oil and salt) for the last 2 hours with the beef. Maybe mash it into your mashed potatoes?
Bonus Leftovers Recipe: Short Rib Ragu
Shred the beef – slice it finely against the grain and this should be job done. Fry it in a saucepan until you get a bit of colour, and then add the remaining sauce/vegetables (if there is not much veg left, fry some chopped onions and garlic until soft and golden, then add the beef) Add a tin of chopped tomatoes and simmer until reduced. Season and serve with fresh pasta and grated cheese (also quite nice with peas added near to the end of the cooking process).