Cooking with beef short-ribs
Ah! such is our food world that the humble, even lowly, beef short rib — once destined for those beneath stairs, the dog or the mincer, is now on-trend, and even though the price per kilogram reflects this cut’s newfound stardom, beef short ribs remain good value for money. Mainstream supermarkets only occasionally feature beef short ribs so you’ll need to order from the local butcher — or one of the many online butcheries which also offer home delivery, as prices vary from $15-$23 per kilo.
Beef ribs may be sold as beef short ribs, also called short-cut beef ribs or square-cut beef short ribs, which look similar to pork ribs, but are far meatier. They will be neatly trimmed at each end and may be sold in one, four-bone-in piece or cut into single rib portions with each portion containing one bone. The thick layer of garnet-red meat that covers one side of the bone is well-woven with rich cream-hued fat — it’s essential for flavour, so don’t get paranoid and cut it off or out. Some butcheries will cut the beef short ribs across the bone, so that each long thick ribbon of meat contains four nuggets of bone at one end. This cut is often referred to as beef spareribs.
Whichever way you buy this beef cut, you’re investing in mouth-smacking deliciousness. Cooking beef short ribs is easy, but like good cheese it takes time. Ribs, like other tougher cuts of meat, come from the part of the animal that does all the hard work, getting most of the exercise and thus becoming high in collagen. Collagen is a long, inflexible protein that holds meat fibres together (skin is mainly collagen, as are the tendons that hold the muscle to the bone). The more collagen, the tougher the meat cut and beef short ribs contain collagen in bucket loads. They also contain fat, which is vital as it ensures the slow-cooked beef short rib is succulent.
To render beef short ribs tender and juicy they require cooking with moisture — marinade, water, stock, wine etc — to help melt and dissolve the collagen into gelatin and to help melt the fat. Once this happens, the fibres of the meat, which are now glazed with melted fat, can be pulled into juicy thick shreds whose unctuous texture and deep beefy flavour is divinely moreish.
Be careful not to cook at too high a temperature, as the meat fibres become stressed and will shrink in both length and width, leaving you with a chewy leather-strap-like rib, ideal only for the undersoles of shoes. Slowly and surely wins the praise.
Any fat that pools in the dish can be lifted off. A trick I use is to lift the meat from the cooking dish and set aside. Scoop off as much excess fat as you can, then throw in a tray of ice cubes, quickly swirl them around before using a holed spoon to lift them out. The fat will cling to the ice cubes. Reheat the sauce if required. Get the recipe