[Note: As we head into the cooler weather of fall, braising and slow cooker dishes have great appeal. This post was written May 20, 2012 and never before published. No idea why. Likely my head as well as my body has been consumed with gardening and thoughts of blogging are as elusive as the humming bird that graces my salvia plant.]
I breathe a sigh of relief when I see a magazine feature on a chef who notes that they have 600 cookbooks, as I think my collection is more in the 200 range. So that’s not so bad right?…but hey, who’s counting? Not me. In the last two or three years I’ve become a bit obsessed with braising and slow cookers, to the point where I now own two slow cookers (plus one of those mini fondue/sauce pots) and all the slow cooker cookbooks are starting to take over a shelf. There would be more cookbooks, but I like to think my tastes are discerning. My purchases focus on books that feature proteins with veggies and don’t have a ton of recipes for canned soup and rice dishes or slow cooker cake mix cakes (but I have made a berry cobbler and several puddings in the slow cooker that have been great). I’m so keen on finding new recipes for the slow cooker that I almost bought a book yesterday that I already had, which just shows that while one can have hundreds of cookbooks, one cannot really cook out of hundreds of books very thoroughly. Though, to my credit, as I was skimming through it, it DID look a bit familiar and quite delicious. It was a good pick.
So, inspired by recipes from Daniel Boulud’s “Braise” and America’s Test Kitchen “Slow Cooker Revolution,” here is my recipe for Asian Beef Short Ribs. The final flavors remind me very much of one of my favorite restaurant meals of my youth “Vegetables in a Clay Pot” from the West Bank Café, a Southeast Asian restaurant that features dishes from Vietnam and China, as well as others inspired by the region and its influences. Versions of the clay pot stews on West Bank’s menu (catfish, for example) are fragrant with star anise, spiced with ginger, all in a sauce base with the rich, tangy taste of soy sauce.
This recipe also uses a technique from ATK that removes the bones from the ribs and then “roasts” the bones in the microwave. I was skeptical too, but this is a great shortcut to get the bones and attached meat browned, thus adding that roasted caramelized flavor to the slow cooker, without the time and mess to brown the meat on the stove. You’ll need a microwave proof dish with a cover, or cover them with a paper towel while microwaving to reduce the oil splatter. It also allows you to remove some of the fat from the short rib meat – I’m not afraid of fat, but fatty meats like short ribs can seem even fattier when cooked in the slow cooker. The fat tends to stay in the meat and not render off as it does in oven cooking. Oh, and be sure to read through the recipe, I accidentally set fire to something again, always fun.
Slow Cooker Asian Beef Short Ribs
4-5 pounds of beef short ribs, cut “English” style in blocks with the large bones intact
Salt and pepper for the beef
1 medium onion, chopped in ¾ inch pieces
12 oz of mushrooms (Your choice, I like baby bellas/crimini, but the stronger flavored shitake would be good as well in this Asian dish), cut in quarters or thick slices*
2 star anise
Xanthan gum or another thickening agent for the sauce, optional
For the seasoning sauce:
½ cup soy sauce (I use tamari, a wheat-free sauce)
½-1 ripe pear (depending on your desired sweetness), peeled, cored, and chopped. Or you can do what I did and use two small snack bags of freeze dried pear slices.
5 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
2 teaspoons of garlic chili paste or some other spicy Asian chili paste (you can add more if you like it hot!)
1 cup of beef broth**, chicken broth, or lacking that, water
(If you don’t have a slow cooker, you can braise dish this in a dutch oven type pot in 275 degree oven for about 4 hours. You may need to check on the liquid periodically and add more stock or water if it gets too low.)
Remove the bones from the beef ribs as well as any excessive amounts of fat on the outsides of the rib meat. Place the bones in a microwave safe dish that can handle oil and heat (pyrex casserole dishes, or a microwaveable bowl, work great) and cook for 10-15 minutes until they are browned. You may need to do this in two batches if your dish is small. Salt and pepper the rib meat and toss in the slow cooker dish. Add the onions, mushrooms and star anise to the slow cooker. In a blender or food processor, blend the seasoning sauce ingredients until the pears, garlic and ginger are chopped fine and blended into the liquid (a few short bursts of power should suffice). Pour the seasoning sauce over the meat and vegetables, cover, and set the slow cooker for 9 hours. Resist the urge to open the lid.
When the ribs are done cooking, they should be tender and infused with flavor. At this point, you can skim the fat off the top and remove the bones. If you can bear to wait a day to eat it, you can refrigerate the dish, allowing the fat to solidify on top and making it easier to remove. Be sure to drain the sauce into a saucepan and reduce it by about half, as well as add some thickener to make it more of a gravy then return the reduced sauce to the meat and vegetables.
To serve: those of you eating grains, in particular rice, a sticky rice or even rice noodles would be a good addition. As for vegetables, some stir fried Asian greens like bok choy or water spinach would be a nice side, or a cool Asian cucumber salad in the summer.
*Diakon radish, my favorite potato substitute, would be a good addition to this dish as well.
**I learned the hard way today that you cannot thaw a “juice pack” type box of frozen beef broth in the microwave. Those suckers are lined with aluminum, which I think I sort of knew, but it became quite apparent when the edge of the box caught on fire in the microwave. Kitchen Mayhem almost had another toaster oven incident.