Autumn in the Tennessee Valley brings with it a mixed bag of weather. The days can be as hot as summer, but the nights are typically cooler than those we experienced in August. The humidity is lowering, and the first signs of fall have appeared — leaves turning just enough to tease our senses and get our mouths watering for the flavors of fall.
It's just the kind of weather for braised short ribs. Beef is getting pricey in markets right now, so save this recipe for a time when you can sit back and really appreciate good company and a wonderful home-cooked meal.
The flavors are simple and heartwarming, yet complex and perfectly balanced. It's just the thing to set our palates on an autumnal course.
Use an inexpensive port in this recipe. When mixed with all the other savory ingredients, your guests won't guess. Save the good stuff for pouring and enjoying along with the ribs. Serve them with some good, made-from-scratch mashed potatoes and crusty bread to sop up the delicious sauce.
Savory Braised Short Ribs
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3-4 pounds beef short ribs, trimmed of excess fat
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, lightly chopped
1 cup diced onion
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup celery (about 3 large ribs)
1 cup diced leeks
4 large cloves garlic, lightly crushed and minced
1/4 cup ketchup
2 cups port wine
1 tablespoon sugar
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 cups water
Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat oven to 325 degrees. Heat the oil and butter in a large, deep cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Rub the ribs well with salt, pepper and thyme. Brown them on all sides, in batches if necessary. Do not crowd the pan. Remove them to a platter, and spoon off all but 3 tablespoons of fat.
Add the onion, carrot, celery and leeks to the pan. Saute until nicely browned over medium heat, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and ketchup, and cook until fragrant and dry, about 3 minutes more. Add the port, stirring and scraping the bits from the bottom of the pan, and bring it to a boil. Let it cook until reduced by half, then add the sugar, tomatoes and water; bring to a boil. Return the ribs to the casserole, cover tightly, and transfer it to the oven.
Braise gently until the ribs are tender, about 2 hours. After the first 15 minutes, check to make sure that the liquid is barely simmering. If it is bubbling too much, reduce the oven temperature as necessary for a low simmer.
When the ribs are tender, transfer them to a platter, and cover loosely with foil. Let the braising liquid stand off the heat for 3 minutes to settle. Skim off the excess fat from the surface, and return the ribs to the sauce, or serve it on the side for guests to ladle over them themselves.
A WINE FOR THE TIMES
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