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Osso Buco Style Braised Short Ribs

What is it about the mere mention of certain savory foods that can transform a grown man (or woman) into an quivering puddle of desire?   Pork belly, Foie gras, short ribs…  SHORT RIBS!!!   Ooooh, short ribs!  Those beautifully marbled, meaty little slabs of beef have the power to bring even the most disciplined among us to our knees.

Short ribs can be prepared in a number of different ways.  However, if you want yours to be those meltingly soft, falling-off-the-bone tender kind of short ribs that dreams are made of, you need to cook them so that their connective tissue breaks down in just the right way.  And, that means braising, baby!

I wasn’t even thinking about making short ribs the other day when I turned a corner at the market and got a load of these beauties.

Come to Mama!

Anyway, I couldn’t pass them up, and bought way more than Mr. SGCC and I could possibly eat.  Luckily, one of the many virtues of braised short ribs is that they are even better the second or even third day after you make them.   It’s a win-win.  While short ribs can hold up to the boldest of flavors, I wanted to keep things relatively simple and a little on the lighter side – if that’s even possible with short ribs.  So, I decided to try them “osso buco” style.  Osso buco is a Milanese dish consisting of veal shanks braised with vegetables, white wine and stock.   It is traditionally served with saffron-infused risotto alla Milanese.  In my grandmother’s Italian kitchen, osso buco was considered pretty standard fare.  After all, it’s nothing more than a slow-cooked Italian stew designed to stretch inexpensive, flavorful cuts of meat a long way.   The concept and cooking method of both short ribs and osso buco are similar, so why not mix and match?

To make these “osso buco” style short ribs, the first thing you need to do is chop up a bunch of onions, carrots and celery.  You’ll also need some pancetta, which is salt-cured pork belly.  Pancetta is basically Italian bacon without the smoke, and is commonly used in Italian cooking as bacon would be.  I found this pancetta at Trader Joes’s already diced up into perfect little cubes.  Since these short ribs take several hours to prepare, I’m into saving time wherever I can.  Don’t judge me.

So, let’s make some short ribs!

First, dig out your biggest, baddest Dutch oven and heat a little olive oil over medium heat while you preheat your oven.  Sauté the pancetta until it starts to get a little crispy.  Then, strain it out of the pot and let it drain on a paper towel lined plate.

Lightly flour the short ribs and brown them on all sides in the Dutch oven.  You’ll probably have to do this in batches, so that the short ribs don’t get crowded.  Crowded short ribs don’t brown – they steam.  You don’t want that.

When the short ribs are nice and browned, remove them to a platter and dump your chopped vegetables into all of that meaty goodness left  in the Dutch oven.  Sauté the veggies until they soft and crisp-tender, scraping up any browned bits in the bottom of the pot.  The scraping part is very important!  Those browned bits are like gold.

Swirl a little tomato paste and a pinch of cinnamon into the vegetables and let them cook together a for a few minutes.  Yes, I put cinnamon in my osso buco.  It is actually one of the ingredients used in the original version of the dish, and I like it.  I sometimes also add a touch of cinnamon to my tomato sauce.   Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it.

Add the short ribs and pancetta back into the pot with some white wine, and mix it all up as best you can.  Bring the wine to a simmer and keep on simmering until it’s been soaked into the other ingredients and has reduced by half.

Then, add enough chicken stock to barely cover the short ribs and toss in some fresh herbs.  You could use beef or veal stock as well.  I always have chicken stock laying around, so I used that.  Make sure to mix everything well.    Bring it all to a boil, cover and pop the Dutch oven into the oven for a nice long braise.  You’ll want to check under the lid every so often in case too much liquid has evaporated.  If so, just add a little more stock or water, and keep braising.    This is where the magic happens, people.

After about two and a half hours, the short ribs should be soft and succulent and barely clinging to their bones – like these.

Oh, baby!

I served my short ribs with the traditional Risotto Milanese, but you can use pasta, polenta or even mashed potatoes.  All you really need is something to soak up all of that heavenly, meaty gravy.

Trust me.  It doesn’t get much better than this!