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I have a tendency of making the same pasta sauces over and over. I get stuck on pesto and cream sauces, and I forget there are tons of other sauce variations out there! It’s fine if Zac and I aren’t eating pasta frequently, but when we go on a pasta tear it gets a little boring. So I wanted to create a pasta sauce that was new and different, at least to us. It had to be filled with flavor, easy to freeze, and versatile enough to go from dinner on the couch to a homemade meal with friends. After a lot of trial and error, I created a short rib ragu that meets all those criteria and more!
Before I jump into the ragu, I want to share some of my tips for cooking the perfect short ribs. Short ribs can be intimidating sometimes, but I want to change that perception! A perfectly cooked short rib will melt in your mouth, but one that’s undercooked can leave you feeling disappointed and underwhelmed. Here are my guidelines for selecting and cooking the perfect short ribs.
Buy Quality Short Ribs
Short ribs are not a cheap cut of meat, so purchasing quality short ribs aren’t going to help keep your food budget down. But this is one of those cuts of meat where quality is important. Short ribs are fatty, and ribs that are of lesser quality tend to have more marbling and larger chunks of fat. Since we are cooking the short ribs for over 2 hours, all that fat is going to melt into your sauce. You’ll be left with less meat, and an oily sauce.
Instead, look for thick short ribs with balanced marbling. You need some of that natural fat for flavor, but not too much. Look for ribs that have been trimmed of extra fat, and don’t be afraid to ask your butcher for specific ribs in the case. Personally, I purchase boneless short ribs. I’ve found that they tend to have less fat, plus I’m not paying for the weight of the bone!
Use the Right Cooking Method – No Shortcuts!
How you cook short ribs is just as important as the quality of the meat. You can’t saute a short rib in a pan and expect it to be melt-in-your-mouth tender. Short ribs are at their best when stewed, braised, or slow cooked in liquid. These methods of cooking all contain higher levels of moisture, which helps to soften the tough connective tissues of the short ribs.
My short rib ragu walks the line between braising and stewing. The ragu starts with coating the short ribs in flour and salt, then searing on high heat. Searing creates a crispy brown crust, which gives the short ribs their first layer of flavor. They are then removed from the pot while more flavor is developed by browning the veggies, reducing the red wine, and adding fresh herbs. The short ribs are then submerged in the cooking liquid, and slowed simmered for 2 hours.
Be Patient – Cook Low & Slow
Patience is something I’m terrible at practicing, but this is one of those times I’m happy to take things slow. If you’ve ever eaten an undercooked short rib, then you know it’s a tough cut of meat. Short ribs need time for their connective tissues to break down, and the best way to ensure that happens is to turn down the heat and cook for hours.
When I’m cooking short ribs, my oven is never above 325 degrees. Depending on how many pounds of ribs I’m cooking at once, the time can range anywhere from 2 to 3 hours. My short rib ragu only uses 1 pound of short ribs, so the total oven time is closer to 2 hours. My preferred cooking vessel is an enamel coated, cast iron dutch oven. Cast iron is great at holding in heat, so your short ribs cook at a consistent temperature the entire time.
It’s easy to tell when the short ribs are finished. You insert a fork into the short rib and twist. If when you twist the fork, the meat shreds easily then the short ribs are finished. If the ribs offer some resistance or don’t shred at all, then they need to continue cooking. Return them to the oven and cook in additional 15 minute increments.
I hope all that knowledge on short ribs empowers you to give them a try! They are definitely worth the effort! My ragu is a great introduction to short ribs if you haven’t worked with them in the past. It is filled with bold flavors from red wine and fresh thyme, rosemary, and parsley. Cooking the sauce for 2 hours really brings the whole sauce together nicely; it’s even better if you make it ahead, and let it hang out in the fridge overnight. I only use 1 pound of short ribs in this ragu. The flavors of the sauce will remain the same if you wanted to use two pounds of short ribs. However with that extra pound of meat, I found that the consistency changes to more of a thick chili than a pasta sauce.
Ragu on it’s own is more of a rich dish, so I add gremolata and a dollop of mascarpone cheese to balance the richness. Gremolata is a mixture of finely chopped parsley, lemon zest, and garlic. It adds a bright, citrus pop of flavor to the ragu, and the mascarpone adds a lovely creaminess.
If you’re looking for some more holiday inspiration, check out my friend Kendell’s Advent calendar. It’s filled with tasty recipes for your holiday celebrations!
Looking for more recipe inspiration? Check out these tasty recipes below!
- Vanilla Bundt Cake with Cranberry Swirl & Orange Glaze
- Glazed Cream Puffs with Cranberry Buttercream
- Beet Ravioli with Spinach Ricotta
Short Rib Ragu
For the Ragu:
- 1 lb boneless beef short ribs
- 1 medium onion diced small
- 2 celery stalks diced small
- 2 carrots diced small
- 2 cups full-bodied red wine recommended: Cabernet Sauvignon
- ¾ cups beef broth
- 1 28 oz can whole tomatoes
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
- ¼ cup flour
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil divided
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 5 large stems of parsley
- 1 large or 2-3 small sprigs of rosemary
- 3 sprigs of thyme
- ½ tbsp dried oregano
- ¼ tsp crushed red pepper
- 1 tsp kosher salt divided
For the Gremolata:
- ¼ cup finely chopped parsley
- 1 small clove garlic finely grated
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- Pinch of kosher salt
For the Mascarpone:
- 2 cups heavy cream not ultra-pasteurized
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 lb Pappardelle homemade or store bought
- Short rib ragu
- Gremolata optional
- Mascarpone optional
For the Ragu:
- Preheat the oven to 325.
- In a medium bowl, combine the flour and ¼ tsp of kosher salt. Pat the short ribs dry, and coat in the flour and salt mixture. Set aside.
- Heat 1½ tbsp of extra virgin olive oil in a large dutch oven over medium high heat.
- Add the short ribs to the dutch oven. Sear until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. Flip and repeat on the other side.
- Once seared, remove short ribs and set aside on a plate.
- Turn the heat down to medium, and add the remaining 1½ tbsp of extra virgin olive oil. Add in the onions, carrots, and celery, plus ½ tsp kosher salt. Cook until soft, about 4-5 minutes.
- Stir in the tomato paste, and cook for 1 minute.
- Deglaze the dutch oven with the red wine. Simmer over medium heat for 7 minutes.
- Add in the beef broth, canned tomatoes, Dijon mustard, bay leaf, parsley, rosemary, thyme, oregano, crushed red pepper, and ¼ tsp kosher salt.. Stir to combine. *See note*
- Return the short ribs to the dutch oven, and cover in the sauce. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Cover the pot and cook in the oven at 325 degrees for 2 hours, stirring the sauce every 30 minutes. Short ribs are done when you can shred them easily with a fork. *See note*
- Shred the short ribs, removing any large chunks of fat, and return to the pot. Serve immediately, store in the fridge for up to a week, or freeze for up to 3 months.
For the Gremolata:
- Add all ingredients to a small bowl.
- Mix to combine.
For the Mascarpone:
- Add the cream to a medium sized pot, and bring up to 180 degrees over low heat. Simmer at 180 degrees for 3 minutes.
- Add in the lemon juice, stir, and continue simmering at the same temperature for 3-5 minutes.
- Once the cream coats the back of a spoon, remove from heat, and allow to cool for 30 minutes.
- Line a strainer with cheesecloth (about 3-4 layers), and pour the cream into the cheesecloth and strainer. Place the strainer over a bowl, and put in the fridge overnight.
- Mascarpone is strained when thick and creamy. It will keep airtight in the fridge for 1-3 days.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once boiling, salt the water.
- If you are reheating the ragu, heat covered in a medium pot over medium heat for about 15-20 minutes.
- Add the pasta to the boiling, salted water and cook according to instructions.
- In a separate large bowl, add your desired amount of sauce. Add in the drained pasta and toss to coat.
- Portion the sauced pasta to individuals bowls. Top with a dollop of mascarpone cheese and 1-2 tablespoons of gremolata, if desired.
- Tie the parsley, thyme, and rosemary together with a piece of twine. This will make it easier to remove the herb bundle after cooking.
- After cooking for 2 hours at 325 degrees, check to see if the short ribs are done by inserting a fork into one of the ribs and twisting. If the meat shreds easily then the short ribs are done. If the meat does not shred easily, continue cooking at 325 degrees in 15 minute increments until tender.
- Ragu can be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge for up to a week. Reheat covered in a medium pot over medium heat for 15-20 minutes.
- Freeze for up to 3 months.