There are two things I will always try at a restaurant if they are on the menu: short ribs and duck. While neither one is all that difficult to cook, there are a few key factors that I look for in the dishes. For short ribs, they should tender, flavorful, but not so cooked that they completely fall apart on the plate.
The same holds true for duck legs, be it duck confit or slow roasted duck thighs. If they are serving duck breast, it should be medium rare. Even though most people think of duck as fatty and rich, the breast meat itself is fairly lean and, as a result, like beef tenderloin, can become dry and chewy if overcooked.
A couple of weeks ago, one of my friends invited me over for dinner to try out a new short rib recipe and never passing on the opportunity to try short ribs, I accepted.
His new recipe was Braised Catalan-Style Short Ribs, which to my surprise, were braised in white wine, instead of red wine and contained almost no tomato. Staying true to traditional Spanish flavors, notes of cinnamon, paprika and almonds were present in the final dish. And yes, they did pass the short rib test: tender, flavorful and not overcooked. In fact, they were so good that I had to make them for myself the following weekend.
Braised Catalan-Style Short Ribs
3 pounds bone-in beef short ribs
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Kosher salt and pepper
2 plum tomatoes, grated, using only the inner pulp
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 bay leaf
1-1/2 cups dry white wine
1-1/2 cups water
1 sprig fresh thyme
1/4 cup whole blanched almonds
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 slice hearty white sandwich bread
2 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons minced
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
fresh parsley, chopped
8-oz oyster mushrooms
Season the short ribs with salt & pepper and sear them in a heavy cast iron pot in olive oil. Get a little caramelization on them and then set them aside.
For the flavor base, we start with sofrito, which is a generic term for a cooking base in Spanish-influenced cuisine. For this dish, I started with olive oil, some of the beef fat, onions and the plum tomatoes.
Once the onions were translucent, I added the smoked paprika and cinnamon and toasted them for a minute or two until they became fragrant. Next, deglaze with the white wine, making sure to get all the brown bits of goodness off the bottom and sides of the pot (aka fond). Add in sugar, water, thyme, bay leaf and the seared short ribs.
Cook on medium-low heat for 4-6 hours. The short ribs should eventually be tender enough to pull apart with a fork, but not so cooked that they start to turn to mush.
While the short ribs are cooking, I sautéed the mushrooms in a little olive oil and finished with the sherry vinegar. The Picada is a thickening paste used in Spanish cuisine. Lightly toast the almonds and bread and combine with the garlic in a blender, or mortar and pestle if you want to be really authentic. Blend all the ingredients together then add in chopped parsley and olive oil.
During the last 10 minutes of the short ribs cooking time, add in the mushrooms and Picada to thicken the sauce and add the finishing flavor profile. Serve with roasted potatoes and a nice glass of Spanish Priorat.
Note: the short ribs are much better the second day, after they’ve had time to cool in the broth.
Want to learn more about the beauty of braising? Our Back to Braising class covers all you need to know about this slow and low cooking technique perfect for fall and winter.