I'd written the opening of this blog post last year, and never posted it in time for Passover as I'd just had a baby, and blog posts were, honestly, not at the top of my priority list. I didn't really think much would overturn giving birth as the top game-changer in my life, but here we are in 2020 (that's 5780 on the Jewish calendar) and, well, consider life's fan officially hit with fecal matter. We're living during a pandemic, an actual plague, so you don't get more meta than celebrating Passover this exact week during this specific year.
|Passover Seder for 40, in more convivial times|
To be fair, I braise short ribs all through the autumn and winter. It is for me, in all its iterations, the classic comfort food dish that brings me back to my youth, when my Dad would request short ribs for a special cool weather dinner. My Dad loves ribs of all kinds, but especially meaty, fall-off-the-bone beef ribs. A rich red wine-beef broth braising liquid reminds me of childhood dinners. Fast forward to the graduation dinner prepared by our class in culinary school for our family and friends: my friend Courtney and I were on main course duty, and our main course happened to be Korean-style braised short ribs with a silky roasted garlic potato puree. I'm pretty sure that dish alone convinced my father that culinary school had been the right career move for me. And now, so many years later, I seem to return to slow-braised beef short ribs as a crowd-pleaser, but also as a kind of signature dish that impresses clients, and can be served to the strictest of kosher diners as well (assuming the beef ribs are kosher, obviously). And like most braised dishes, this kind of cooking is slooowwwww cooking comfort food -- what we all crave right now, and what we all have time for during lockdown, quarantine, shelter in place, pause, and every other form of social distancing we have to suffer through in the time of Covid.
This needn't be a meal for Passover, though it works well for a Seder main course. It's got a bit of the agrodolce or sweet-and-sour thing going on, which is a very historically Jewish way of preparing savory foods. Here, the touch of brown sugar or honey along with the wine and vinegar give it that depth of sweet-sour flavor. Coffee ramps up the rich bitterness, and the almond-dried apricot pairing is redolent of Mediterranean/North African and Sephardic flavor pairings. I like to serve it over a celeriac-potato purée, though for those non-kosher-for-Passover cooks, it's great over polenta as well. I served this to clients with some concia, a Roman Jewish sauteed zucchini dish. It works well here.
So, this Passover, whether you're celebrating it in traditional style, or making up new traditions in these unusual times, instead of fighting for the same old first cut of brisket like everyone else (#covidsedershortage), indulge your quarantine family with a more unusual main course for your meal. While the ribs are braising, you can binge-watch your latest distraction series. I suggest HBO's The Plot Against America (adaptation of Philip Roth's excellent novel, created by David Simon of The Wire fame), Netflix's insane docu-series The Tiger King, Unorthodox, and the always-excellent Ozark. And, as is the Passover tradition -- and extra called-for during this pandemic -- lots of good wine. At least 4 glasses is the rule!
Braised Short Ribs with Red Wine, Coffee, Apricots, and Almond
Approx. 4 lb. boneless beef short ribs cut into 3-in pieces
6 cloves of garlic, peeled but whole
1 red onion, cut into small dice
4 stalks celery, cut into small dice
3 TBSP flour
1 bottle dry red wine
2 cups beef broth
6 oz. balsamic vinegar
4 oz. espresso or strong black coffee of choice
3 Tablespoons brown sugar OR honey
1-2 bay leaves
½ pound baby carrots, peeled and diced
1 1/2 cups dried apricots, chopped roughly
1 cup roasted almonds, chopped roughly
fresh parsley, chopped
Salt & pepper to taste
- In a heavy-bottomed large skillet or roasting pan, heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the cooking vessel. When hot, take the pieces of beef, salt them, and place in the oil. Sear (brown) on all sides, turning as necessary. Repeat until all the pieces of beef are browned but not cooked through.
- Remove the beef from the pot and keep in separate bowl. Add onions and celery and garlic to the pan and cook in the remaining oil until they become translucent/tender. Sprinkle with flour and cook for another 3 minutes.
- Add half of the vinegar and half the bottle of red wine to “deglaze” the pan, scraping up all the brown bits from the meat. Add broth, espresso and brown sugar or honey. Cook another 2 minutes.
- Add the meat, and add the rest of the wine, with the bay leaf. Cover and place either in an oven (at 375 degrees F) or covered on the stovetop on medium heat for approximately 15 minutes. Lower the heat to medium-low (350 oven) and cook for another 60-75 mins, mixing to turn the meat occasionally.
- Remove from oven/stovetop and uncover. Add the carrots, apricots, almonds, and rest of the balsamic, and cover again. Put back in oven, or if on stovetop, cover and lower flame to low heat. Cook for another 45-60 minutes depending upon size of beef pieces. You want the beef to be very, very tender.
- Strain the meat and vegetables from the cooking liquid, reserving the liquid and placing it in a smaller pot. Return the meat and vegetables to the original cooking vessel. Heat the cooking liquid on medium-high and stir to thicken. Cook until it reaches desired consistency, tasting for salt and pepper, then pour back into roasting pot with stew and reheat all together. Stir in freshly chopped parsley just before serving.
*Delicious served over mashed potatoes or soft polenta.