When Chef Auguste Escoffier published his now legendary French cuisine bible, “Le Guide Culinaire,” in 1902, he reserved some serious praise for train de cotes, a.k.a beef ribs.
“This part of the carcase (sic),” he wrote, “is one of the finest joints for presentation and carving in the dining room.”
In Escoffier’s mind, short ribs were a luxurious secret weapon for wooing guests. More than a century later, local chefs are finally taking his advice to heart.
For years, American chefs tended to lump the rich, fatty, full-flavored and, frankly, ornery cut in with the similarly cheap meats likes oxtails, cheeks and tongues. Then came a renaissance, thanks to the nose to tail movement, and now something close to a short rib frenzy.
New food trends indicate short ribs’ popularity continues to heat up. Short rib volume in the food service industry was up a whopping 23 million pounds in 2017, according to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. That’s 116 million pounds of braised, barbecued, stewed, sous vide, and seared beef, which can help chefs dramatically raise the price of everything from sandwiches and pasta to porridge and poutine.
Due to the necessity of low and slow cooking “it is one of those things – whew, you gotta commit,” says Chef Alex Seidel, chef of Fruition Denver and Mercantile Dining & Provision, who has a braised short rib sandwich on his lunch menu. “It’s our number one selling sandwich.”
No longer an undesirable cut of meat and slow to cook, what accounts for this popularity? One word: versatility.
Chefs can charge top dollar for a piece of 12-hour braised, pressed and seared short rib paired with a vegetable and starch, and use the trim and leftovers at brunch or lunch in some hash, eggs Benedict, pasta or dumplings. It’s the ultimate economizer.
Even offering pricey prime short ribs makes sense when you can charge $38 for a 2-by-4-inch square of protein garnished with chanterelles, fermented napa cabbage, kale chips and red cabbage agrodolce puree. That’s an entrée on Executive Chef Jason Knibb’s dinner menu at Nine-Ten in La Jolla, California. He starts by searing off boneless ribs, then marinates them overnight in mirepoix, red wine and ruby port. A 3 to 4 hour braise in veal stock renders them tender, while their fattiness ensures they’re difficult to overcook.
They’re trimmed, squared off, portioned and bagged individually with the reduced braising liquid for convenient pickup.
Chefs should consider the advantages of using short ribs to gild other high profit classics, like soups and sides, which can keep carnivores coming back for more.
At Fruition in Denver, a short rib crowns a stone-ground polenta soup with preserved tomato jam and grana padana crisp, which delivers just as much full-bodied flavor as a traditional entrée.
PULL BEEF SHORT RIBS FOR PASTA
Similarly, at Nine-Ten, Knibb offsets costs by using the trim to stuff a ravioli appetizer plated with hazelnut cream, butternut squash, pomegranate seeds, hazelnut brown-butter crumb and fried sage ($16).
“Instead of staff mealing it, we put it to use on our menu,” says Knibb. “You have a lot of textures, flavor, richness and depth.”
It’s a dish that’s grown so popular he no longer uses just trim. He now dedicates short ribs for this top-selling appetizer alone.
Short rib is a long-running cool-weather crowd pleaser at Vinci in Chicago, where chef-owner Paul LoDuca braises boneless short rib meat with fennel, carrots, celery, onions, leeks, fresh rosemary and sage.
“It’s warming. It’s comforting. It really checks all the boxes,” says LoDuca.”
When the meat is tender, it’s cooled and pulled while the braising liquid is reduced to a sauce chunked with carrots and rutabagas. At pickup, five ounces of fresh pappardelle is tossed with 3 ounces of meat and finished with Parmesan and a butter mounted sauce ($19).
RICE PAIRS WELL WITH BEEF SHORT RIBS
Grains can act as a low cost “canvas” for braised short ribs. That’s how Chef Yia Vang of Minneapolis’ Union Kitchen describes the Hmong rice porridge mov kua dis topped with seasoned short rib. He cooks down sushi grade rice until sticky and stewy, garnishes with 2 to 3 ounces of pulled short rib braised in milk stout, lemongrass, ginger and dark soy. Each bowl gets a sous vide soft egg, scallion, cilantro, radish, and chilis, plus a bit of beef tallow and braising liquid that acts as the tare, or seasoning ($12). “It has a very rich flavor, but the rice porridge mellows it out,” he says. “You don’t have to make that many short ribs, so you can really cut (costs).”
At Cinderlands Beer Co. in Pittsburgh, Chef Joe Kiefer dry cures short ribs for 24 hours in rosemary, orange zest salt, peppercorns, and cardamom, sears them off, then braises the meat in the brewery’s milk stout, a rich braising medium rife with espresso, vanilla, and berry notes.
He makes a “risotto” with rye berries ($23), cooked in fortified stock, then finishes it with butter and smoked goat cheese, five ounces of pulled short rib, fennel, capers and castelvetrano olives. Using preserved blood oranges, thinly shaved fennel and red onion as a garnish, “you get this nice mix of tangy salty creaminess to cut through the richness of the short ribs,” says Kiefer.
SAVE BEEF SHORT RIBS FOR A SANDWICH
“Fine dining between the bun:” That’s what Alex Seidel of Denver’s Mercantile Dining & Provision calls the braised short rib sandwich on his market lunch menu. He adopts a similar philosophy on his dinner menu at Fruition: The meat is cured overnight in herbs and onions and seared in a rondeau, which is deglazed in red wine. Then it’s braised in a veal stock for four hours, trimmed, portioned and pressed. “We try not to shred it too much, but we break it down a little bit” It’s set on a baguette, with French onion jus, aged Gruyere fondue, and arugula, a hefty treat that Seidel has yet to finish himself.
Generously marbled with fat and connective tissue, short ribs are a barbecue staple that deliciously break down after a low and slow smoke. At the Currency Exchange Café in Chicago, Chef Lamar Moore builds a smoker by filling a hotel pan with cherry wood and oak and topping it with a perforated pan holding the ribs.
They go wrapped in the oven at 200° F for 90 minutes before he sears and braises them in red wine, chicken stock, mirepoix, garlic and red onion. A 5-ounce portion goes on buttered toasted brioche with a bit of the braising liquid, garlic aioli and pickled red onion ($10). To save on cost, Moore uses cheaper, bone-in ribs. “I want to be able rely on the bone for flavor and moisture and I can use the bone for stock for other recipes.”
BEEF SHORT RIBS LEFTOVERS
If a kitchen is serving short ribs as a main item, chances are the trim, leftovers or bones are working other dishes – sometimes in an appetizer or as a breakfast, brunch or lunch option that often outsell the originals. Check out these second-life short rib dishes for inspiration:
- Short rib hash, caramelized onions, peppers, over-easy eggs, $18 – Vinci, Chicago
- Short rib poutine, $12 – Currency Exchange Café, Chicago
- Fifty percent 50 short rib diner burger, $15 – Cinderlands Beer. Co, Pittsburgh
- Short rib benedict, English muffin, poached eggs, smoked tomato hollandaise, potatoes, arugula, $12 – Prohibition, Denver
- Short rib ravioli, hazelnut cream, butternut squash, pomegranate seeds, hazelnut brown butter crumb, fried sage, $16; short rib panini, aged cheddar, onion marmalade, $18 – Nine-Ten, La Jolla, California