I have always loved the holidays and entertaining. Mulled Cider, cookies, cooler weather, seeing old friends….what could be better during the holiday season? Having kids has definitely changed my entertaining style. I used to spend two days in the kitchen crafting fancy hors d’oeuvres, perfecting dinner rolls and making a fabulous dessert. These days, simplicity rules, and the focus is on enjoying precious time with friends and family instead of burying myself in the kitchen—not that the kids would let me do that anyway!
My favorite dinner party recipe that I have served to rave reviews to both clients and friends is deceptively easy. It is red wine braised short ribs. Meltingly tender meat in a rich red wine reduction has seduced the pickiest eater. The first and most important part is to season the meat well with salt and pepper and then sear it to a dark brown. (You can ask your butcher to take the meat off of the bone for you or you can call ahead of time and place an order for boneless short ribs. The advantage to having boneless vs. bone-in short ribs is two fold. Boneless short ribs are less fatty, so you will spend less time de-fatting the sauce and they are easier to present and eat.) After browning the meat, remove it from the pan and add your aromatics—in this case a sliced onion, a diced carrot or two, a pinch of thyme, a couple of cloves of garlic and maybe a mushroom or two. Brown the vegetables slightly and then add the meat and accumulated juices back to the pan.
Now cover the meat with red wine. I find a heavier red such as a cabernet sauvignon or syrah to work best here. Pinot noirs are simply too light. An inexpensive jug wine such as Woodbridge or Sutter Home is fine. Bring the wine to a simmer, cover and place the entire pot in the oven at 350F for 2 hours or so—until the meat is ‘fork tender’. Fork tender means that when you poke a piece of meat with a fork and try to lift it up it will fall off of the fork.
Once the meat is tender, remove it from the sauce. Place the pot containing the reduced wine sauce on the stove top and taste it. Does it need more salt? Pepper? Is it a little too sharp? Or too thin? If the sauce is too thin, bring it to a simmer and reduce it until it just coats the back of a spoon. If the sauce is too sharp or ‘too winey’ whisk a tablespoon of butter into the sauce to soften the edges.
I love serving this with polenta and sautéed greens, such as kale or swiss chard. If it is a mixed group of omnivores and vegetarians, don’t fret! Bake a sweet potato while the ribs are braising and then serve it to the vegetarians along with the polenta and greens – a simple, yet delicious meal.
Red Wine Oven Braised Short Ribs
Preheat the oven to 350F
3 pounds boneless short ribs
2 Tbsp. oil
1 medium onion, sliced
2 carrots, diced
3 cloves of garlic, smashed
1 tsp. dried thyme
4 cups of dry red wine
2 Tbsp. butter (optional)
Salt and Pepper to taste.
1. Season the meat well with salt and pepper.
2. Heat the oil in wide, heavy bottomed soup pot over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers and is hot, add the meat to the pan.
3. Brown the meat well on all sides. It should be a dark brown. This takes the longest amount of time—15 minutes or so.
4. Remove the meat from the pan and add the onion, carrots, garlic and thyme to the pan. Allow to brown slightly.
5. Add the meat back to the pan with any accumulated juices.
6. Add the red wine, bring to a simmer and cover.
7. Place the pot into the oven and go do other things! Play with the kids—throw a load of laundry in….call your mom.
8. Check the level of liquid periodically. If the pan is drying out, add more wine or stock. The liquid should be simmering constantly. If it is not simmering, turn the oven temperature up.
9. Once the meat is fork tender, remove the pot from the oven and the meat from the pot.
10. Taste the sauce and check for seasoning. Add more salt and pepper if necessary. Whisk in the butter if desired.
11. Add the meat back to the pot.
12. Voila! You are done. This reheats beautifully and you can easily make this a day or two in advance.