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Jan 6, 2011 09:36 AM

Help! Short Ribs Braising Question

Last night I made short ribs from Molly Steven's excellent book All About Braising. The ribs were well browned and then braised in beer/beef stock for 3 hours at 325 degrees.
While the flavors of the dish were great (I love Molly!) the meat itself was terrible - none of the cartilage (silver skin) or fat had "dissolved" into the sauce, so the ribs were very tough.
I know it was good beef: grass-fed short ribs from White Oaks Pastures in Georgia.
I have to conclude the problem was with the cooking method - did I not cook long enough? was the temperature too low? How long - and how hot - does it usually take to break down the silver skin and fat while braising short ribs? If anyone has advice, I would greatly appreciate it!

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  1. There are some who would disagree with me but my preferred way to cook shortribs is to brown them, add the braising liquid and then pop in a 180 degree oven for four hours. Three hours at 325 basically guarantees a tough piece of meat as the braising liquid will be brought to a boil in the oven. The tension of the proteins at that temperature essentially guarantees that the moisture will be driven out.

    The method I use has never done me wrong.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Ernie Diamond

      +1 - me, too. It adds a greater depth of flavour as well.

      1. re: Ernie Diamond

        Hi Ernie, I will try the lower temp and long time next. The braising liquid was definitely boiling - not rapidly, but it was bubbling - is that wrong?

        1. re: theamusedbouche

          A very slow simmer is what it needs; if it boils the meat can toughen.

          1. re: theamusedbouche

            you're treading a rather thin line. The collagens and collective tissues in the meat begin to dissolve when they reach 180-190 degrees, much above that, though and they start to really tense up, resulting in gnarled, dry gobbets of meat. Even if I am at a simmer, I panic. A low oven, several degrees below boiling is the easiest way to ensure that you will get the proper effect.

            You may then strain and reduce the cooking medium if you are looking for a richer sauce. Don't make the mistake of thinking that both need to happen at the same time.

        2. The temperature sounds perfect, and the timing should have been enough, but with some caveats. For example, if you started with cold ribs, that would alter the internal temperature. Did you bring the braising liquid to a simmer before you placed it in the oven or did you just pour the liquids in and start braising? Those would change the time a lot.

          To be honest, most braises do best when made the day before, or at least very early in the day. That way, if they aren't super tender, you can keep cooking them (they'll get there ventually), plus you can chill it to skim off some of the grease, and the flavors have a chance to develop.

          Do you have leftovers? I'd let them go in the oven for longer and see how they improve.

          3 Replies
          1. re: katecm

            Hi Kate, I followed Molly's directions to bring the braising liquid to a simmer first, and the ribs were browned and then put aside, so they were at least room temp.

            I do have leftovers - about 1/2 the recipe - I am wondering if I should just leave it in the fridge, or try to re-brasie it (can you even do this?? I haven never tried it)

            1. re: theamusedbouche

              Yes, you can continue to braise the remaining meat, and when you do, you will see that some of the advice given below could not be more wrong. Put it in the oven, covered, at 275, and go away for a couple of hours. Mash some spuds and put away your table knives.

            2. re: katecm

              Very good points.
              And if you dont see fat congealed on the top the next day, you know that the fat and collagen has not yet broken down. That happened to me once.

            3. You needed to cook it longer but not hotter. The meat needs to reach 180-200 for sufficient collagen breakdown but trying to rush it with higher heat will make for tough meat. Don't go hotter than 325 for the braising time; using a 25-50 degree lower temp is even better but takes longer. You cannot go by the time given in the recipe. Too much depends on the size of the pieces of meat, and how much fat and gristle they contain. After the first 2 hrs. keep testing at 30 minute intervals. You may need to add more liquid or lower the temp if the sauce is reducing too fast in comparison to the done-ness of the meat.

              1. First-you did nothing wrong in your cooking! Time, temp etc was all good, and well-guided with the likes of Molly. Now.....
                The silver skin needs to be trimmed and discarded-it will not melt into unctuousness like the connective tissue. You don't want the silver skin in any way, shape or form, no matter what cut or method of cooking.
                Same goes for grissly-fat and cartilage. It needs to go.
                The intramuscular marbling in the meat is what makes it tender. Your meat meat, like any other grass-fed beef, is likely less fatty and less marbled, hence, a tougher end product when braising.
                If you're new to cooking grass fed beef, and are not used to paying higher prices, you are probably surprised and a bit disappointed with the outcome.
                ps..totally disagree that you need to tinker with your time or temp. If that meat was not on its way to being wonderfully tender and delightful after 3 hours, it ain't gonna happen. Browning before? Sure, to intensify the flavor. If you didn't do this, it still woudn't account for your poor result here.
                Know what to look for in the beef you buy, relative to the way you want to prepare it.
                It takes a bit of experience an practice cooking with grass fed beef.
                You may fare better with grain-finished beef, or regular old feed lot beef for braising.

                5 Replies
                1. re: monavano

                  Hi Monavano,
                  Thanks for the info - I will be sure to trim off the silverskin stuff next time - I thought that WAS cartilage lol so shows how much I know!
                  I can't buy corn fed beef cause I feel guilty eating it :( Feedlot cows have a sad life. I will never be a vegetarian, but just cause I'm eating it, doesn't mean the cow had to suffer beforehand :)
                  I always use grass-fed beef cause I feel better about it (and I like the White Oaks Pastures guy, he has a cool accent and he looks like my father-in-law!).
                  I will investigate how grass-fed short ribs cook differently though - thanks for the input!!!

                  1. re: theamusedbouche

                    You could also inquire about corn-finished beef. Same human treatment-just fattened up a bit more before slaughter.
                    We have several in the VA region who finish on corn and sell in bulk.

                    1. re: monavano

                      I'm afraid I have to disagree. If there's a huge hunk of fat, I cut it off, only because that's more fat to skim off later. But otherwise, it should all melt into deliciousness (except that funky little piece that attaches the meat to the bone, which I can't stand, but which still becomes tender and edible. It just freaks me out).

                      1. re: katecm

                        I cut off hard, knobby fat like say, when I break down a large piece of chuck. That stuff takes forever to break down, so in the end, we both are on the same page ;-)

                  2. re: monavano

                    Spot on advise about trimming. I use time as a guide not an absolute. Two pieces of meat can good differently depending on their content of connective tissue.

                    I think McGee suggests starting cold and bringing it up slowly so there is a longer time (1-2 hours) at lower temps (below 120*f) which will weaken the muscle fibers before moving to the higher temperatures.

                    I personally don't cook at that low but do start out with liquid that is not up to a simmer before putting my braise in the oven.

                    Periodic checking for fork tenderness is advised near the projected time of completion if in doubt. You don't want to pull it too soon and you don't want to let it go way past it's point of being tender. It is also suggested that you let the meat cool in it's liquid before removing

                  3. Sounds like the temp was a bit low. Most recipes call for 350-375.
                    But it also depends on the meat and your oven. You don't want a rolling boil going on in there-but you do want it hot enough to break down the meat.