I’m super into braising things these days.
The process of it. The browning of the wodges of meat and their long, lingering time in the oven. (In a cast iron pot, not the slow cooker.) The way the house smells when you walk outside and then back in – I keep going out and coming in, just for the experience.
It feels like cooking. Bringing home an identifiable slab of meat, cutting and searing it (neither of which requires any particular skill), adding whatever flavours you like (balsamic! salt! thyme!) along with liquid and heat and allowing it all to do its thing – to break down tough connective tissues and melt into a delicious stew no different from those our ancestors cooked for their families in a pot on the hearth or over an open fire. Deep for a Wednesday night, I know.
Braising beef or bison short ribs is just like braising any other tough (read: flavourful) cut of meat. You salt and pepper the meat, patting it dry with paper towels if it’s wet. (This will help it brown, rather than steam.) Put a big cast iron or other ovenproof pot on the stove over relatively high heat, add a glug of oil and brown the meat on all sides, turning it with tongs. Onions and other veggies will help loosen those browned bits, which are essential to the flavour of the finished dish; a big splash of balsamic vinegar helps too. In this case, a wee vial of espresso balsamic from Soffrito.
The funny thing about a dish like braised short ribs is that they have this air of dining out in a fancy restaurant; it’s something you might plan to make for an elaborate dinner party or Sunday supper, when really they take about as much effort as a pot of spaghetti. If you plan to be at home for a few hours between school and dinner, you’ll have just enough time. (Or you could go the pressure cooker route. That would speed things up, but keep them dark and laquered, the way they get after a long stint in a slow oven.)
Look! Dark, sticky winter meat heaven. And a good excuse to make mashed potatoes.
Braised Bison Short Ribs with Espresso Balsamic
canola oil, for cooking
2 lb. bison or beef short ribs (about 6)
salt & pepper
1 small onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1/4 cup regular or espresso balsamic vinegar
1 cup red wine
beef or chicken stock (or more wine)
Heat a drizzle of oil in a heavy skillet or oven-proof pot set over medium-high heat. Season the ribs with salt and pepper and brown on all sides; set aside. Add the onion, carrot and celery to the pan and cook for a few minutes, until they start to soften and loosen any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Pour in the balsamic vinegar and cook for a minute, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
If you’re going to braise the ribs in the pot, return them to the pot with the vegetables. Otherwise transfer the veggies to a pressure cooker or slow cooker. Pour the wine overtop, and add enough stock to come about halfway up the sides of the ribs.
If you’re cooking them in the pot, cover and cook at 300F for 3 hours. In the pressure cooker, bring it up to temperature according to the manufacturers’ directions and cook for about 45 minutes; cool and release the lid. In a slow cooker, cover and set on low for 8 hours.
Strain the veggies out of the sauce or puree them right in the pot with a hand-held immersion blender; bring to a simmer on the stovetop and cook until slightly reduced, if it needs it.