Ribs are my favourite cut of beef, for roasting (US prime rib, UK standing rib/forerib), seared and juicy steaks (ribeye), braising (short rib/thin rib – although I’m also partial to shin and oxtail) and for low-and-slow smoked barbecue, narrowly beating brisket.
Until very recently, the best barbecue in London was available down the road for very reasonable prices at The Horatia, where Texas Joe’s had their residency. Their smoked brisket was a thing of wonder – tender and perfectly pink, with a smoky bark and a richly marbled interior. I can’t pass by the pub without thinking about it. Unfortunately, it’s on my commute, so this occurs at least twice a day.
How to cope, then, with the long winter of our barbecue withdrawal? It is still far too cold to barbecue outside and Joe’s haven’t yet announced their new location.
We did consider digging up our tiny lawn to make a pit for smoking meat. After all, the lawn is not in great shape and even at its best it doesn’t produce any food. But I don’t think lying in a hole full of charcoal and dead animal pieces would be as relaxing as stretching out on our tiny patch of looks-like-grass-from-a-distance. Also, neither of us has any experience with smoking…of any kind.
We do have a little barbecue which gets a fair amount of use in the summer but until recently we’d only ever barbecued short ribs by seasoning them and searing them over the hottest part of the charcoal until the internal temperature reaches 52C (8-10 mins) just like Kenji recommends in Serious Eats. After resting, the ribs are carefully carved against the grain, and the thin slices of very rare, charred meat served on their own, or wrapped in lettuce with an Asian-style spring onion/soya sauce/sesame oil dipping sauce. Short ribs served this way are juicy and flavourful (as well as being extremely easy to make and a terrific way of enjoying organic grass-fed, free-range beef), but not always as tender as I’d ideally like.
So after lots of tries and lots of tweaking, we ended up with this recipe – it doesn’t need any specialist equipment or weird ingredients (liquid smoke?! surely a contradiction in terms) and it transforms normal supermarket beef into something complex-tasting and juicy and can be made ahead. Slow-roasting mimics the smoking process (although without using nitrate-laced curing salt, it won’t have the same rosy hue as restaurant barbecue), infusing the meat with the flavours of the marinade, and a quick blast under the grill replaces the sear over charcoal for a fully indoor approximation on barbecue.
I used to only be able to buy short ribs from the fancy butcher (who would helpfully remove the bones and membrane) but they are increasingly sold in the UK, including at Waitrose (other supermarkets are available) and at the lower end of the spectrum of beef prices. I recommend removing the bones and tough membrane before cooking , but cooking them with the meat to provide flavour and heat conductivity. Otherwise it’s still pretty easy to remove them after cooking, but it slows things down when you probably want to be quick serving.
Recipe: Oven-Barbecued Beef Ribs
Serves 4-8 (assuming 1 short rib per person – but better to over-cater rather than under-cater, as I always say – the recipe is easy to scale up as long as you don’t run out of oven space, reheats beautifully, and to be honest we could all have happily eaten more!)
Alternative options for this recipe are to skip the marinade entirely, and also to miss the extra grilling at the end – they are still delicious.
8 short ribs, approx 1.8 kg total weight
3 onions, thinly sliced and (optionally) fried until caramelised and slightly charred.
For the rub (optional):
6 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp Maldon salt
1/2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp cayenne pepper or chilli powder/dried chillies
Grind of black pepper
Vegetable or olive oil, about 1-1.5 Tbsp
1. Preheat the oven to 110C. Remove the tough membrane from the underside short ribs with a small, very sharp knife. (this is a bit of a faff – alternatively, remove it after cooking, which is easier, but in my experience a more frantic time where you want minimal faff).
2. (If using the rub) Blitz the marinade ingredients in a food processor, adding enough oil to make a paste. (or just finely mince the garlic and combine the ingredients well in a small bowl).
Alternatively, if you aren’t doing the marinade, rub salt over all sides of the ribs and set aside.
3. Using a dutch oven with a lid, or if you don’t have one a large roasting tray. Spread the onions out in a layer and then the ribs over the top, and cover the whole thing with the lid (or for the roasting tray, tightly with extra-strong foil, or a double layer of normal foil).
4. Roast for 5 hours, until meat is extremely tender and barely resists a fork or skewer (unlike those in short rib bourgignon, they shouldn’t be falling off the bone – it’s a less moist cooking method). (80-90C on a meat thermometer).
If you are skipping the final glaze/grill, slice against the grain and serve.
5. To glaze/grill:
Remove ribs from oven and wrap in foil to cool for at least 10 mins. If over 40 minutes then wrap the foil-covered ribs in a tea towel). Reduce the cooking juices along with 1 Tbsp brown sugar in a small saucepan.
6. To serve, preheat the grill to 250c (or maximum), slip the bones out of the ribs and pat the meat dry with paper towels. Replace ribs on the rack in the roasting pan, glaze with the cooking juices and grill until they are crisp and blackened. (5-10 minutes). Slice the ribs against the grain (perpendicular to the direction of the rib bones) and enjoy.
I can’t pretend this is anywhere near as good as really good American barbecue, but it is much less sweet and salty, and it’s a good “80/20” substitute, i.e. the results are about 80% as good, and the process only 20% as hard, but that’s what we aim for at the Low-Ceilinged Kitchen.
Classic US barbecue style with sweet potato fries, coleslaw and beans
Asian-style with lettuce wraps and dipping sauce (soya sauce, black vinegar, sesame oil, finely chopped fresh chili and spring onion)
As a main course with the onions, dark leafy greens e.g. cabbage, cavolo nero, mashed potato and Yorkshire puddings, with gravy made from the cooking juices and 1Tbsp cornflour (make into a paste with a little cooking juice), thickened over heat.
Diced/pulled and left to reabsorb the cooking juiced it makes an outstanding filling for burritos instead of pulled pork.
The roasting juices make a terrific base for:
French onion soup thinly slice 4 onions and 3 cloves garlic, and cook gently in butter until softened. Add 1 Tbsp flour and stir until brown and nutty. Add an optional splash of sherry, port, or wine and add the reserved stock. Serve with cheese on toast.
Vietnamese pho for 2: Pour all the liquid into a measuring jug and refrigerate; the fat will solidify on top and can be easily removed. The remaining liquid should jellify in the cold.
Slice an onion, a few cloves of garlic and a knob of ginger. Fry in a little of the beef fat until slighty charred. Discard the rest of the beef fat (or keep in the fridge for roasting potatoes/yorkshire puddings) and scrape the jellified beef juices into the pan. Add water/additional beef/chicken/vegetable stock to make two bowls.
Serve with rice kway teow, lime wedges, fresh mint, beansprouts, spring onions and crispy onion. Top with leftover thinly sliced beef ribs.