When the calendar reads February but the thermometer registers summery temperatures (at least where I live in sunny southern California), it’s hard to muster much enthusiasm for a long-cooked braise. Yet I still cannot resist the flavoring and tenderizing properties of tea as the liquid of choice to cook short ribs (or boneless chuck, brisket or rump roast; any cut of meat that benefits from being seared first and then slowly cooked in liquid for a couple of hours to become meltingly tender).  Mostly unsupervised, here is a dish that cooks lazily on the stove, perfuming the kitchen as it cooks, gaining in flavor when cooked a day or a couple of days before you wish to serve it. Cooking in advance also allows you to defat the resulting liquids in the pot easily since the fat will be solidified. Choose a tea with robust flavor that will translate into a hearty and complexly layered final dish. Or, if you’d like to add some smokiness to the braise, then pick your favorite lapsang souchong. Brew the tea first, taste to be sure it has been properly brewed, sieve out the leaves and then proceed.

Here’s the way to bring some wintry comfort into your life, despite what the thermometer reads.

Serves 4.

  • 4 lbs. Beef short ribs, bone in
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Olive oil, as needed, to coat the pan when searing the meat and caramelizing the vegetables
  • 1 lb. onions, peeled and cut roughly into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 lb. carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1 large fennel bulb (remove and reserve the fronds to garnish the finished dish, if you wish), outer leaves and core removed, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 Bay leaf
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled, finely chopped (optional)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 quarts brewed tea of your choice (I like a robust Kenya tea or, if I’m hankering for a woodsy smoky flavor, a good lapsang souchong)
  • Beef or chicken stock (store-bought or homemade) or water as needed, to ensure that the meat is partially covered during cooking

Liberally salt and pepper the ribs.

Use a cast iron saute pan or Dutch oven large enough to fit the meat in a single layer. Heat enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Over medium-high heat, sear the short ribs, turning them occasionally to brown evenly on all sides. Once browned, remove them from the pan and set aside.

Add more oil as needed to the pan and then sauté the onions, carrots, and fennel over medium heat to brown and soften, stirring occasionally. Do not burn.  Return the meat to the pan. Add the bay leaf and garlic, if using, and the brewed tea and enough stock or water just to cover the meat. Cook on medium heat, covered, until the meat is fork-tender and falling off of the bones (this could take anywhere from 1 to 1-1/2 hours, depending on the meat). Taste the liquid to check seasoning, adding more salt or pepper as you deem necessary. When the meat is tender, remove it and the vegetables to a plate and reserve,  leaving the liquid in the pan. Discard the bay leaf. Allow all to cool and then refrigerate the cooking liquid in the pan and the meat and vegetables covered. The next day or the day after, using a spoon, defat the cooking liquid, which should be solidified. When ready to serve, over high heat reduce the liquid by about half. Taste for seasoning remembering that when the liquid is reduced, its flavors and the salt will also be intensified so resist the temptation to add more salt at this point. Once you are satisfied with the flavor of the liquid, add the meat and vegetables back into the pot. Heat slowly until hot and serve over cooked egg noodles, rice or cooked farro, if you wish, with the liquid ladled over all just before serving. Garnish as desired with the fennel fronds, chopped.

Photo “Braised short ribs, fingerlings, fries” is copyright under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License to the photographer T.Tseng and is being posted unaltered (source)

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