Let’s talk short ribs. Seems appropriate for a chilly Monday morning.
Short ribs are one of my favorite cuts of beef, and I’m always trying to come up with interesting and new ways to make them. They are affordable, easy to prepare (they just take time!), and full of unctuous, beefy flavor. My husband requests simple, red-wine-braised short ribs on the reg. They are one of his favorite dead-of-winter meals. And while I’m totally with him, sometimes it’s fun to shake things up a bit.
I’ve put them in a grilled cheese sandwich with figs (sounds weird, but I PROMISE it’s heaven) and I’ve even put them in an already-labor-intensive dish: lasagna. Totally worth it in the time, effort, and calorie categories. Most of the time, I do the standard shredded beef with sauce over pasta…that’s our go-to short rib meal. I took that idea this time and added some new flavors: chocolate and port wine. Sound weird? Hear me out.
Chocolate and slow-braising beef are actually not that weird of a combo. Google it. Lots of people have done this before. And with good reason. The chocolate doesn’t make the beef/sauce taste sweet at all. Rather, it adds an incredible DEPTH of flavor. It somehow seems to enhance the savoriness of the beef. The port wine, in this case, does the same thing. Beef braises can often be a bit unbalanced because they are lacking that little bit of sweetness to round things out. I usually remedy that with a couple tablespoons of brown sugar. The port and chocolate do all the work in this dish.
The sauce is velvety, rich, and coats noodles like a dream. It hits all the flavor notes: savory, slightly sweet, a little tangy, and abso-freaking delicious. It’s one of the richest tasting pasta sauces I’ve ever made. Tossing it with a long, thick noodle like pappardelle or tagliatelle is definitely the way to go. That type of pasta just belongs with savory meat sauces, if you ask me.
If you’re feeling brave (and I encourage this!), add some finely grated dark chocolate to the top of the pasta (along with loads of grated cheese) to really make the flavors pop. Again, it won’t make your pasta taste like dessert…it just adds a new and interesting flavor to the situation.
Secretly, I think I’m just excited that I was able to incorporate chocolate into my dinner. I win.
Chocolate & Port-Braised Beef Short Rib Bolognese (makes 4-6 servings)
For the Short Ribs:
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 strips bacon, chopped
2 lbs bone-in beef short ribs
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
½ cup dry red wine
3 cups beef broth
1 cup port wine
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 (14-oz) can diced tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper
Shaved bittersweet chocolate
Grated parmesan cheese
Chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley or basil
Cooked pasta (I like a thick, long noodle like tagliatelle or papardelle)
For the Short Ribs:
Place the olive oil in a large heavy soup pot over medium-high heat. Crisp the bacon in the oil. Remove bacon from pot and reserve.
Season the ribs with salt and pepper and then dredge in the flour. Add the ribs to the pot and brown on all sides, about 2 minutes per side. Remove the ribs and reserve. Reduce the heat to medium-low.
Meanwhile, place the onion, carrots, and garlic cloves in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add the vegetables to the drippings in the pan and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes or until softened. Add the tomato paste and red pepper flakes and stir to combine.
Deglaze the pan with the dry red wine, scraping up the bottom of the pot with the back of a spoon or spatula. Add the beef broth, port, brown sugar, soy sauce, canned tomatoes, bay leaf, and thyme. Dissolve the cocoa powder in a small bowl with a little bit of water and then add it to the pot as well.
Bring the mixture to a simmer and then return the ribs to the pot. Cover the pot and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 2 hours or until the beef easily shreds with a fork and is falling off the bones.
Remove the ribs from the sauce and allow to cool slightly on a cutting board. Continue to cook the sauce, skimming off any accumulated fat, until reduced by half. Whisk the butter and flour together in a small bowl until a paste forms. Whisk the mixture into the sauce. Check for seasonings and adjust as necessary. Remove the beef from the bones (it should just fall off at this point), shred with a fork, and return to the pot along with the crisped bacon. Toss everything to combine.
Toss the sauce with el dente pasta to coat and divide among serving bowls. Garnish with bittersweet chocolate shavings, grated cheese, and fresh herbs. Serve immediately!