Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Cinnamon and Cocoa Braised Short Rib with Mashed Potatoes and Poached Tomatoes

There was a time several years ago when I watched a lot of cooking shows on TV.  This was back when Food Network had shows like Molto Mario and when Good Eats was picking up steam.  Bobby Flay grilled on his rooftop back then instead of just challenging John Doe's to cooking competitions in backyards and more or less embarassing them in front of family and friends.  Since then, Food Network has strayed away from the shows that really held my attention, and instead of changing their programming back from cake shows, sugar challenges, and the occasional Iron Chef America and Chopped (still good!), they decided to invent a new network called the Cooking Channel.  I was excited about it at first, but the truth is that it seems to get the runoff from Food Network and it's not that interesting.  One show that has caught my attention a couple of times is Chuck's Day Off.  I hadn't heard of Chuck Hughes before, but he did just beat Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America last week, so that's cool.  I caught the end of one of his shows on the Cooking Channel where he made this short rib that I was totally mesmerized by.  It's not your standard short rib recipe - it uses red wine for the base, but the addition of cocoa, cinnamon, and star anise really transform the sauce into something else entirely.  I looked up the recipe on my phone and kept it open in a tab for months before finally getting around to making it yesterday.  It was fantastic.  A rich thick sauce with a sweet short rib and poached tomatoes to counter the richness of the potatoes and sauce.  Definitely one that I will keep around for a while.

Cinnamon and Cocoa Braised Short Ribs with Mashed Potatoes and Poached Tomatoes

Ribs:3 large onions, coarsely chopped
3 to 4 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
4 large carrots, peeled, trimmed and cut into 2-inch chunks
2 beets, peeled, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes
3 heads garlic, cut in half
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
6 beef short ribs
Coarse salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
Canola oil
2 (750 ml) bottles red table wine
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 cup brown sugar
Handful peppercorns
1 to 2 tablespoons butter, a nub

Oil-Poached Cherry Tomatoes:
1 to 2 cups good olive oil (enough to just cover tomatoes in pan)
Pinch coarse or kosher salt
2 sprigs fresh herbs
1/2 head garlic, sliced in half
4 vine stems of cherry tomatoes

For the Ribs:
Start by salting the ribs well and then dredging them in flour, shaking off excess.  Preheat the oven to 350┬║.  Prep the vegetables by chopping the onion and celery and place them in a large bowl.  Peel the beets and carrots and chop into 1" pieces.  Add the star anise, cinnamon, thyme, and rosemary.  Slice the garlic heads in half, add the root end to the bowl and discard the rest.  

Heat the oil in a dutch oven over med-hi heat until hot.  Sear the ribs in batches until brown on all sides and set aside.  

Add the vegetables and turn the heat to medium.  Cook the vegetables until caramelized.  Add the short ribs back to the pot, as well as the sugar, cocoa, and peppercorns.  Pour wine on everything to cover.  You may need less than 2 bottles of wine, but if you need more, just top it off with water.

When the liquid comes to a boil, cover the pot and transfer it to the oven to braise for about 3 hours.  Halfway through I flipped the ribs to make sure they were evenly cooked.  The short ribs should be fork tender and the bone should slip out easily at this point.  I removed the ribs and strained the liquid, which will become our sauce.  Slice off the little connective-y piece from the bottom of the short rib where the bone was, it doesn't really need to be there.

To finish the sauce, pour the strained sauce into a saucepan or frying pan and reduce it by half.  It should become thick and almost the consistency of chocolate syrup.  I skimmed a lot of the gunk that gathered on top during this process.  When it is reduced, check for seasoning and add salt as needed, and then add 1 tbsp of butter and swirl it around.  That will give it the final sheen that really makes it look fantastic.

For the green beans:
Well, here is my big misstep in this recipe.  The original recipe tells us to just saute the green beans in butter/olive oil and shallots.  That would go on the short rib with the tomatoes and everything would be great.   While planning this out ahead of time, I thought that the buttery green beans + oil poached tomatoes + creamy mashed potatoes would just be too much fat.  I decided that pickled green beans would probably cut through all of the richness and end up contributing much more to the dish.  I was totally wrong about that - I feel like the pickled green beans, while good on their own, conflicted too much with the cinnamon and anise in the sauce and were detrimental to the dish.  On top of that, the reason that I decided to pickle them was to contribute some acid to the dish, but I was too dumb to realize that I was poaching TOMATOES for the dish, which are pretty much the most acidic thing out there that isn't vinegar.  I would have been better off with just the regular green beans.  Here's the recipe anyway..

1 lb green beans, woody end trimmed
1 tbsp peppercorns
1 1/4 c water
2 c white vinegar
1 garlic clove, smashed
2 thai chiles
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp salt

Blanch green beans in boiling water and then cool in an ice bath.  Place the green beans in a large mason jar.  Heat all remaining ingredients in a saucepan until salt and sugar are dissolved and then pour over top of the green beans.  Let cool and refrigerate for several hours.

For the tomatoes:
approx 12 cherry tomatoes
1 c olive oil
2 cloves garlic
2 sprigs thyme

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat until hot.  Be careful that it doesn't reach the smoke point.  Add the garlic and thyme and let sit for a few seconds.  Add the tomatoes and poach just until they plump up and start to burst.  Remove and set aside.

Make your favorite mashed potatoes recipe and then get ready to plate..

Place the potatoes down with a short rib on top.  Spoon the sauce over the short rib and potatoes, then place the green beans on top.  Add the tomatoes and serve.

Aside from my green bean misstep, this was a really successful dish.  The sauce was really fantastic, the short rib was sweet and delicious, and the tomatoes contributed an acidic touch to the dish.  The fact that this is a red wine based dish with two whole bottles is really mystifiying because the resulting sauce has very little actual wine taste to it.  The spices and sugar added to it transform it and make it taste like something new, which was really interesting to learn from this recipe.


  1. Sick! I have short ribs on my menu right now and my favorite part of short rib day is eating all of the carrots that have been braising in super rich beef stock for three hours. sweet, btytery, carroty, beefy delishusnuss. Looks killer, bro.

  2. so what else are you serving with your short rib? mashed potatoes are such an obvious choice but i can't easily think of another starchy accompaniment.

  3. Black trumpet mushrooms, cippolinis, and roasted squash- prune agnolotti. It's gross.