Moving toward the light: Braised short ribs

Ignore the grey skies, never mind the cold stream of rain that trickles down your bare neck, go ahead and order those lettuce seeds—we are definitely leaning toward the light. It’s been a month now since the winter solstice, there are signs of light at 7:00 am and the shades don’t go down until 5:00 pm. 

It’s been our routine to celebrate this inexorable march toward spring with our Seventies friends but the weather is so often horrid with attending ice, snow, and miserable driving conditions that we no longer do that. But around the first of the year, my mind automatically turned toward menus, visiting, and friends, so last Sunday, before you could say “short ribs”, we had some people over for dinner. Ginny and Ron drove down from Vashon, Bill and Glenda walked over from next door, we turned on the fireplace and set six places around the dining table. 

The weather cooperated, the ferries sailed on time, the stars aligned, and we didn’t burn anything—a delightful time was had by all. As Ginny said, “What could be a better way to spend a rainy, cold Sunday than eating good food, drinking good wine, and watching a few football games with friends.”

We missed seeing our old Olympia friends—one pair in Australia, one pair in Palm Desert, and one pair hunkered down on Hood Canal building a new house—but we’ll hear their adventures in May.

The menu was hearty and comforting: braised short ribs, mashed potatoes, roasted butternut squash, Caesar salad, and lemon panna cotta with blueberry sauce. I learned about roasting butternut squash from Lara and may never cook it any other way again. Karen is master of panna cotta and gave me her recipe which I posted a few years ago. The braised short ribs are from Mark Bittman, but the mashed potatoes are all me.

Braised short ribs

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6-8 boneless short ribs 
  • 2 teaspoon kosher salt 
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper 
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seed powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced 
  • 1 large carrot, thinly sliced 
  • 2 ribs celery, sliced
  • 6 mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 cup crushed tomatoes
  • 4 cups beef or chicken stock 
  • 1 cup chocolate stout or other dark beer or red wine


Grind seasonings together, season short ribs on all sides. Wrap each rib in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. 


Preheat the oven to 325°. 


In a large enameled cast-iron pan, heat the oil until shimmering. Brown short ribs in two batches, until well browned, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate.


Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from the pan. Add the onion, celery, carrot, and mushrooms and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened, about 8 minutes. Add tomato paste, sauté 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Deglaze pan with beer/wine. Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Return the ribs to the pan, cover and braise in the oven for about 2-3 hours, until the meat is very tender.


Transfer the ribs to a platter and tent with foil. 


Using a slotted spoon, transfer the vegetables to a blender. Strain the sauce into a heatproof measuring cup and skim off the fat. Add the sauce to the blender and puree until smooth. Return the sauce to the pan with the short ribs and simmer until reduced to 3 cups, about 8 minutes. 


Season sauce with salt and pepper. 


Return the short ribs to the sauce and simmer 30-45 minutes over low heat. Serve ribs topped with sauce, mashed potatoes or soft polenta, and extra sauce on the side

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