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Slow cooker short ribs with polenta

The Real Deal on Slow Cooker Short Ribs

Tender braised short ribs served in a succulent sauce over polenta is a wintertime favorite. But cooking the short ribs is not a “set it and forget it” type of thing.

These tough, sinewy and bony cuts take time and particular handling to bring out their best. That is, if, like me, you want lean meat chunks you can eat with a spoon.

Planning for Short Ribs

Like I said, short ribs need plenty of cooking time, but very little active work. The best plan is to start two days {and up to five} before you plan to serve them.

That way, you’ll never have to stress out the way Amanda Hesser did the first time she cooked short ribs {for a dinner party that included a chef, no less!}.

Here’s an outline of the steps so you can see why I recommend a minimum of two days. {Of course, if you start early enough in the day, you can certainly compress the steps}:

  • Deep, dark browning of the meaty bones. {If they’re not super meaty, use your short ribs to make bone broth or stock instead.}
  • Sufficient braising {cooking} time so the meat falls apart and off the bone.
  • Defatting the meat and the cooking liquids.
  • Reheating with a final seasoning and serving.

Now, let’s walk through each of these steps that I think are essential no matter if you’re using the traditional oven method, a slow cooker or an InstantPot.

In the recipe, I have included detailed instructions for each method so that you’ll end up with the most luscious bowl of red wine-braised short ribs to serve over this oven polenta. You can substitute oxtails since they require the same handling and cooking techniques.

Browning

One of the downsides of slow cookers I think is that they discourage the step of browning. The idea is that you can toss everything into the vessel, turn on the heat and come home to a hot meal.

You can get away with this when using other meat cuts or preparations, like this lamb stew. But it will not work for short ribs. Because if you want to cultivate braises and stews with the deepest, richest flavors, browning is a must.

This will take about 15 minutes on the stove top in a cast-iron pan. Or you can use a hot oven and roast the short ribs at 450 degrees F. Either way, be sure that you have seasoned them all over generously with kosher salt.

Braising {Cooking}

Here is the wonderful hands-off part that makes braising, aka slow cooking, the bomb. It simply involves cooking the meat in a flavorful liquid. Red wine is a classic–and for good reasons.

It’s not only very tasty, but the acids in the red wine help to break down the meat fibers. As does the tomato.

The timing will vary depending on your choice of cooking vessel. In the oven, I plan for a minimum of 4 hours; the slow cooker takes at least 7 and the InstantPot is the fastest.

The only clincher here is to be sure the meat has fully separated from the bones and fat layers. One test is to twist a fork into the meat and twist. If it breaks apart easily, it’s ready.

If not, put the lid back on and keep on cooking! It’s the perfect time to read a book.

Deboning & Defatting

This is where you’re going to get your hands into it all, so set your phone aside: it’s now time to defat the meat and the cooking liquids.

Use tongs to lift the short ribs from the cooking liquid and place them in a bowl. Take the pot with the cooking liquid and put it in a cold place–the fridge or outdoors if you’re in a climate with temperatures below 40 degrees F.

Browned short ribs

Once the short ribs are cool enough to handle {food service gloves are handy here} remove all the bones. Then, strip the fat from the meat.

I like to take my time here, going through each piece to be sure I’ve removed most of the visible fat, so I don’t encounter it later in my bowl. I also break the meat into chunks before adding them back into the cooking liquid

You can leave the short ribs in larger serving pieces or even make them into very small bits if you want them to blend into a sauce for pasta.

When the cooking liquid has cooled–in a few hours or overnight–you’ll be able to see the fat layer on top. Use a spoon to lift this off. You can save it for a cooking oil or feed it to your dog or discard it, if you must.

You can go right to the next step or let it sit in the refrigerator for up to three days. It will only get better.

Seasoning & Serving

This is the final stretch where you will simply reheat the short ribs in their defatted cooking liquid. Use low heat and bring the pot to a lazy simmer.

Now, dip your spoon in and taste the cooking liquid. Is it completely and utterly delicious? If yes, stop, your work is done.

If no, start with salt. Most lackluster braises usually lack a few pinches of salt and nothing more. This is also a good time to add chopped fresh herbs, like fresh thyme or parsley.

{If you want a power punch of bright herby flavors, consider making a separate herb sauce or gremolata.}

By now, you’ve probably decided how to serve your incredible red wine short ribs, but here is a fantasy list of possibilities:

10 Ways to Serve Red Wine-braised Short Ribs

  1. polenta
  2. mashed potatoes or root vegetable puree
  3. egg noodles or spaetzle
  4. toasted slices of artisan bread
  5. smashed baked potatoes or sweet potatoes
  6. braised cabbage
  7. wild rice, quinoa, couscous or any cooked grains
  8. as a meat sauce for pasta
  9. stuffed into pasta shells, ravioli, peppers or baked squash
  10. in a stew with white beans and greens

Now, as you take a bite of that tough meat turned tender, thank yourself for the time and attention. And savor the leftovers. You deserve it.

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What is your favorite way to serve a braise or slow cooker meat dish? Let me know in the comments below or tag a photo #lynnesforage on Instagram or Facebook.

Red Wine-Braised Short Ribs

Short ribs take time, but very little attention. I recommend planning two days in total before serving so that you can cook them as long as needed to become tender and then to defat the broth. This recipe includes instructions for traditional braised short ribs, slow cooker short ribs and Instantpot short ribs. You can substitute oxtails since they require the same technique for producing a luscious bowl of braised beef to serve over polenta (my favorite) or a host of other sides.

Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Keyword braised short ribs
Servings 6 people

Ingredients

  • about 5 pounds meaty short ribs
  • kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon avocado oil or other vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 cups dry red wine
  • 1 14-ounce can tomato puree
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 bay leaves

Instructions

For all methods:

  1. Season the short ribs all over generously with kosher salt, including the sides and the fat.

Slow Cooker Method:

  1. Heat a large cast iron skillet or enameled cast iron braising pot over medium-high heat. Add the oil and when it shimmers add the short ribs fat side down. This will render some of the fat and promote more browning. Use tongs to check for a walnut-brown color before turning. Continue searing and turning until all sides of the short ribs are deeply browned, about 15 minutes.

  2. Drain off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat and reduce the heat to medium. Cook the onions and carrots until the onions are translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook until it darkens in color, about 2 minutes. Add the wine and stir to release all of the browned bits from the pan.

  3. Transfer the vegetables and wine into the slow cooker pot. Add the tomato puree, stock, garlic, rosemary, thyme, black pepper and bay leaves. Nestle the short ribs into the liquids and cook on low for 7-8 hours.

Traditional Oven Method:

  1. Follow the slow cooker instructions using a large enameled cast iron pot with a tight fitting lid. After cooking the vegetables, add the tomato puree, stock, garlic, rosemary, thyme, black pepper and bay leaves. Nestle the short ribs into the liquid and bring to a simmer.

  2. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Cover the pot and braise in the oven for 4 hours.

InstantPot Method:

  1. Select the saute setting and the time for 20 minutes. Add the oil to the pot and, working in batches, sear the short ribs fat side down. This will render some of the fat and promote more browning. Use tongs to check for a walnut-brown color before turning. Continue searing and turning until all sides of the short ribs are deeply browned and set them aside. Add additional time to the saute setting as necessary.

  2. Drain off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat and cook the onions and carrots until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook until it darkens in color, about 2 minutes. Add the wine and stir to release all of the browned bits from the pan. Add the tomato puree, stock, garlic, rosemary, thyme, black pepper and bay leaves. Nestle the short ribs into the liquid.

  3. Secure the lid and pressure cook the short ribs for 45 minutes. Allow the steam to release naturally.

To finish the short ribs for all methods:

  1. Test the short ribs to be sure they are tender by inserting a fork into the meat and twisting. If it breaks apart easily, it's ready. Use tongs to lift the short ribs from the cooking liquid and place them in a bowl. Once the short ribs are cool enough to handle remove all the bones and trim the fat. Add it back into the cooking liquid. When the cooking liquid has cooled–in a few hours or overnight–spoon the fat from the surface.

  2. To serve, reheat the short ribs over low heat until gently bubbling. Taste for seasoning before serving as desired.

Comments

  1. Carol Stearns

    Great article

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