November 19, 2002
Slow Cooked Short Ribs with Mushroom Ragu

Earlier this year, we were in Napa valley in California and ate at Tra Vigne. (We actually had the cookbook before we ate at the restaurant.) The main course I had was something along the lines of 'slow cooked short ribs over garlic and herb polenta'. Needless to say, it was delicious. The short ribs had an exquisite rich and beefy flavor and the polenta was smooth and creamy. Ever since then I've wanted to recreate those tastes, especially the richness of the short ribs.

This meal started out as one such attempt, but later on morphed into something else. I started cooking the short ribs (actually flanken) as in a braise. I browned the meat for flavor in a hot pot, added some liquid (beef stock in this case), covered the pot and let it slowly cook for a few hours. I didn't leave it as long as the pork belly, but long enough to melt off most of the fat and collagen. Looking at the meat after a couple of hours, I was a bit disappointed that it had shrunk significantly in size. The flanken at Tra Vigne was thick and succulent, perhaps as a result of shorter cooking, but certainly due to having been a larger cut of meat to begin with. Realizing that I would have to supplement the meat with something else, I cooked up a simple ragu of roughly chopped mushrooms and tomatoes. I thought that I had overdone it on the tomatoes, but I was able to tone down the almost overwhelming tomato flavor by adding some of the rich beefy braising liquid.

The braising liquid turned out to be the real star of this meal. Though it was a bit too salty at first, thinning it with water took care of the saltiness and doubled the volume of the tasty liquid. With the beefy liquid that I didn't put into the ragu, I made a gravy. (I must admit I wouldn't have thought to do this if not for a recent Good Eats show on gravies.) My only previous experience with making gravies has been at Thanksgivings past, watching or helping my mother frantically trying to thicken the drippings from the turkey before dinner. This time I did things the easier way and started with a bit of roux. After cooking the roux to a beige color, I slowly added the braising liquid, whisking all the time. What resulted was a smooth, thickened, buttery-rich sauce that tasted deliciously beefy. While the gravy wasn't a perfect accompaniment to short rib and mushroom ragu served over polenta, we poured it over the top anyway.