Help Wanted: Save Mario Batali’s short ribs

I never came across short ribs during my nine years in Australia, but since I’ve been back in New York, I’ve seen them constantly – maybe not as much as sliders, those mini burgers that have spread across NYC faster than swine flu – but they’re up there.

So when I spotted the “Short ribs in Barolo” recipe in Mario Batali’s Molto Italiano cookbook, I was kinda excited to give them a go – besides, I’m reading Heat and Bill Buford just went through these babies in detail in the last chapter. It being Father’s Day on Sunday, I though it was a beaut of a recipe to cook up for Dad.

Batali_FathersDay

I’ve been away for most Father’s Days for the past decade, so I needed to do something special. Plus my mother will only eat her meat well-done, so rather than suffer the indignation of slaughtering beautiful beef to death, a braise seemed like the perfect compromise. But all would not go according to plan…

Shortribs_cooking

So I prepared a home-cooked tomato sauce the day before, then bought a couple of pounds of quality, boneless short ribs from Whole Foods in Chelsea (love these guys – just about every other decent butcher in the city is closed on Sundays), and shlepped it all to my parent’s house in Jersey where I would put it all together. Which was fun, considering I’ve got a crappy electric stove in Hoboken in a claustrophobic kitchen. The folks, in comparison, have a massive six-burner stove with a big granite island in the middle, double ovens and so much storage space I’m constantly exploring cabinets searching for simple things like graters and peelers.

Before I go on to bore you with details, here’s the ingredient list:

  • 6 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 lbs boneless beef short ribs, cut into 3-inch cubes
  • 2 Spanish (red) onions, 1 carrot and 2 celery stalks, each cut into 1/2 inch dice
  • 4 oz pancetta, cut into 1/4 inch dice
  • 2 cups Barolo
  • 2 cup basic tomato sauce

Batali_shortribs_pot

The execution was straightforward enough: I browned the meat in a Dutch oven and removed it, then chopped the veggies and sweated them in the pan with the pancetta cubes, added the tomato sauce and the wine (top-notch gamay instead of the overkill of Barolo), and slow-cooked it all for an hour and 45 minutes. The recipe didn’t say whether or not to cover the pot, so I left off the cover, figuring all that the alcohol from the wine had to evaporate somehow.

And the result? Well I’d love to say that it was the best Father’s Day meal ever, but what came out of the braise were fairly chewy short ribs: the meat was far from being fall-apart, and there was so much fat present, we had to perform surgery to get to the meat. I figured much of the fat on the short ribs would render during the long cooking time, but it just wouldn’t go away. Someone call Jenny Craig.

Batali_shortribs

So I’m asking any of you keen home chefs or culinary pros reading Gosstronomy: where did I go wrong? I followed the recipe verbatim, with the exception of the wine, which shouldn’t matter too much, as long as it was a quality red (besides, in Heat,  Buford says Babbo uses a cheap merlot anyway). What’s the best call for getting fall-apart, beautiful, non-lardy short ribs? If not for the beautiful crusty bread from Wholefoods, the can’t fail parmiggiano mash potatoes, sauteed spring asparagus, and a good bottle of Chianti, I would’ve been sunk.

One hunch may be the cooking method. I spotted a different version of the same dish from the Babbo cookbook, which puts the ribs in the oven for two hours instead of into the stovetop Dutch oven. Another difference is that the Babbo recipe also calls for ribs on the bone, and adds chicken stock for more liquid. That may make a different, but I’m curious if any Gosstronomy readers have tried similar long braises and have their own thoughts and advice.

So got erudite recommendations to share? Post it in the comments, let’s fix this recipe by community and enter yourself into the Gosstronomy Cunlinary Hall of Fame.

Possibly.

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12 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Natasha Fatale on February 13, 2012 at 8:41 am

    I have made this dish several times and it’s garnered rave reviews each time. I have followed Batali’s directions and found a couple ways it works better at home. The short ribs ALWAYS need 1-2 more hours to become tender. You can allow that time or do what my Whole Foods butcher advised….USE TOP SIRLOIN. YEP. You might still want to go an extra few minutes, but your choice. Too much sauce? I think the recipe has you reduce it before serving, with meat removed. Unless Mario is in your kitchen, do the reduction while meat is still in the pan. Thirdly, I always add the pancetta a few minutes before adding the other vegetables-onions and carrots making certain they’re not leaving any rubbery edges. BTW: this is one dish worth buying a high quality cooking vessel for. You will thank me later. This is a great recipe…..especially on a cold night.

    Reply

  2. Posted by lin on June 4, 2010 at 6:46 pm

    The lid is the most important part of this recipe. The slow cooking method necessitates the heat remaining in the pot. You’ve got a good recipe that will give you a taste sensation. A trick to skimming fat is to drop ice blocks into the sauce, six is usually enough, the fat solidifies allowing good skimming without too much drama.

    Reply

    • Fascinating, Lin. I’ve never tried the ice block approach (we’re talking ice cubes, I’m assuming), so I’ll have to give it a go. Wonder if it works for fatty stocks as well. like pork stock.

      As for the lid, do you find you just like your lids to be tight-fitting, or do you do something else to make sure that no steam escapes?

      Reply

  3. Posted by Daniel on October 15, 2009 at 12:56 am

    I am attempting to make this little recipe myself later this evening. The one thing I noticed immediately was that you did not use a dutch oven. I am not a professional, but I have noticed a giant difference in the taste and quality of food if I did not use a dutch oven for a recipe when it was called for. It may not make a difference in this recipe, but I do know on other recipes (particularly gumbo) that the dish went from almost tasteless (using a stainless steel pot) to my goodness this is the best gumbo I have ever eaten (with a dutch oven).

    Anyways, good luck. I hope this helped.

    Reply

    • Thanks Daniel. I do have a large Le Crueset casserole dish sitting in boxes in Melbourne, but didn’t have one handy at my parent’s house that night. I’ll give it a go once we set up house here in Sydney and get the movers to bring up my kitchen gear from Melbourne. Yes, it’s hard living life on the run. I’m looking forward to being settled in one place for a while now.

      Reply

  4. Posted by Renee on August 3, 2009 at 5:14 am

    That is so funny.. I had the same problem when I first made short ribs in my own sauce. Now it’s pretty much mastered. I sautee the garlic and onions in the same pot in which I will then pour a few cans of crushed tomatoes and a can of tomato puree. I will add sugar to bite the bitterness and some merlot/cabernet whatever you choose. Basil and/or oregeno. I pound the short ribs and season them (in whatever you’d like) and then drop them in the big pot I am cooking it all in. I keep my crappy electric stove on low for 6-8 hours. It is an all day event, but the result is amazing! The meat is no longer even on the bone when it is done. I make sure to stir it every 25-30 minutes or so though.

    Hope this helped. Good luck with your cooking.

    Oh, and I live in NJ also. A young Mom who loves to cook. 🙂 🙂

    Reply

  5. Posted by Mark C on June 26, 2009 at 4:38 am

    Also make sure you skim off the fat off the sauce before serving as after cooking for 3-4 hours, the fat will have rendered out of the ribs but it be in the sauce.

    The sauce then transforms to a redwiney, beefy, tomatoey triumph rather than a sauce that coats your mouth with beef fat.

    Reply

  6. Posted by Jodi miller on June 24, 2009 at 7:14 am

    You have to cook the meat slowly, 3-4 hours covered in the oven!! Make sure there’s enough liquid to cover the meat!

    Reply

    • Yes, you needed to cook this 2.5-3 hours, covered in a 350 degree oven. I have done the same recipe and had great results. If you do the lamb shanks (same cookbook( try cooking them for 3 hours and see how you like them.

      Reply

      • Thanks Norm. It’s good to know about the lamb shanks too, and great timing, since they were the next on my list. I quite like the mix of orange and olives with the sauce. From being a food editor, I’ve seen lots of chef recipes get the methods or ingredients wrong – most chefs know how to cool by feel, not by precise measurement – but somehow I expected the Batali camp to have tested theirs a bit more extensively, given how much experience they have in consumer home-cooked recipes now.

      • Posted by Lizz on January 19, 2011 at 5:52 am

        OK Michael–your meat is not Mario’s meat even if it is from Whole Foods. Besides the comments above about cooking time and covering, I am guessing that Mario buys 4 lbs of meat from a purveyor you can’t access, to come out with 2lbs TRIMMED. Cut off all the fat you can. After you brown the meat, DISCARD most of the fat in the pan. There still will be plenty of flavor. I make this is a cafalon coated large wok so it takes a lot less oil and fat to get a good sear. The meat gives off lots of fat if you brown it slowly–drain it all off you only need a tiny bit for the onions and veggies.

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