Ras el Hanout Braised Short Ribs

Sunday, January 13, 2019

It took me a couple days to figure out how I wanted these short ribs to taste. My original idea involved a beefy, Moroccan spiced tomato sauce studded with briny olives. But after forgetting to buy a can of tomatoes, I pivoted to a sauce similar to the Spicy Braised Chicken & Olives recipe in my last digital cookbook, one that relied more heavily on the flavors of harissa and preserved lemons. As the first few ingredients sizzled away in my Dutch oven, I opened up the jar of harissa to discover that it had gone bad. By this time, I'd also started way too late in the day to let the short ribs braise in the oven for the requisite three to four hours. Not one to accept defeat after paying $5.99 per pound of short ribs, I transferred things over to the InstantPot, sans harissa. Now two ingredients short, I knew that the sauce would fall flat, but my plan was to tweak flavors after the meat was cooked. (Did I mention I'm attempting to stick to #Whole30? In any other scenario I would have just poured in half a bottle of red wine and called it a day.)

The short ribs braised beautifully, but as I feared, the sauce was missing its wow factor. It was also pretty soupy and needed to reduce quite a bit before I could determine how it would end up. This is a common challenge with pressure cooking, because the braising liquid doesn't evaporate and caramelize like it does when slow cooked in the oven. With sunset approaching, photography wasn't in the cards that afternoon. I decided to let the cooked short ribs chill overnight. It's a step that makes it easier to skim fat, so that's a benefit either way. The next day, I skimmed, strained and reheated the sauce. It actually wasn't as far off as I'd thought. A half bag of dried apricots and forgotten bottle of pomegranate molasses in the back of the pantry ended up saving the day. The reduced sauce finished to a tangy, savory seductive glaze. I didn't want to detract with a lazy sprinkle of herbs, so I grabbed my mortar and pestle and whipped up a quick batch of chermoula instead. The vibrant Moroccan sauce, which reminds me of chimichurri, works in much the same way as a gremolata would - adding a punch of garlic, herbs and citrus to wake up braised meats. The meal I sat down to eat for dinner today wasn't at all what I'd originally imagined - it was better. And since I ended up needing neither the tomatoes or olives, I tucked that idea away for a rainy day.

I'm really happy with the end result and glad I didn't rush to get it on a plate the first day. Slow cooking requires a good chunk of time but the rewards are plentiful. The long, gentle braise required to turn tough cuts of meat like short ribs into succulent forkfuls of tender beef can be meditative if you allow it to be. It's one of the reasons I'll always pull out my Dutch oven if given the opportunity to mosey around the kitchen for a lazy afternoon. Luckily, the InstantPot also comes in handy for quick therapy sessions; You'll find both methods in the recipe steps. (I'll interrupt here to let you know that you can skip down to the ingredients and instructions if you're eager to get to business. Some personal updates are below, for those who stick around to read them!)

This recipe utilizes many of the ingredients found in all three of my digital cookbooks. It had in fact, been one of my earlier ideas for a recipe to include in the last book. Last year, I planned to release Kitchenista Diaries: Volume 2 in the early fall, as a follow up to Volume 1 published in May. If you read the preface to that cookbook, you'll remember the challenges I was pushing through. I was finally able to get my laptop issues under control, after going without a computer for weeks at a time for repairs out of pocket, and eventually having to wipe it clean to replace the hard drive. I'm pretty good about backing up edited photos, but lost a ton of raw content that couldn't be recovered. I thought I'd be able to redo those shoots before the holidays, but my schedule said "nah." As if that wasn't frustrating enough, a brand partnership that would have funded the rest of my year fell through for the client. I'd already invested profits from ebook sales into getting a blog redesign that should have been ready by summer's end. After delays extending well into fall, the website designer ultimately never completed the work. These added up to major hits, and the refund I was eventually able to get via PayPal didn't make up for lost time and deferred 4th quarter business plans.

I relay all this not to complain but to be transparent in sharing that as a freelance content creator, sometimes shit happens that isn't at all in your plans. More often than not, it's pretty hard to recover a fumbled bag. But I decided to roll with the punches last year. I wanted to scream and vent and give up, but none of those things would have gotten my book finished, fixed my laptop, or solved my website issues. So instead I changed course. I hosted dinner parties in DC with my friends. I pursued and secured other brand partnerships. Opportunities for work related travel landed in my lap, so I said yes. I catered in Detroit, enjoyed food and fellowship with other black food professionals in New Orleans, and spent a week aboard the largest cruise ship in the world, creating content for Royal Caribbean. And in the tiny pocket of my life which I mostly keep to myself offline, I'm learning what it really means to forgive, mend old wounds, co-parent, and open my heart to love again.

2018 wasn't all bad, but it did require putting some endeavors on hold. Hopefully 2019 will turn out to be more like these short ribs, which I placed back in the fridge for a night in order to rework final recipe steps. In the end, the dish came together with a little finesse and thoughtful ingredient tweaks, so I'm putting that same energy into the new year. After a hectic and emotionally draining holiday season, I'm seeking the stillness I need to create in a meaningful way. I'm getting back to a routine in the kitchen, enjoying the rush of creative energy that tends to follow every drought. I'm still committed to publishing the Volume 2 ebook, but reworking the concept to make more sense for a winter release. More recently, I let go of a part time gig in order to carve out some necessary room for tending to my mental health. I'm also apartment hunting, because getting back to the sanity that comes with living in my own space is urgently needed. All of these things bring with them their own set of challenges, but I'm taking it all head on and continuing to make heart-centered decisions. It's the roller coaster I signed up to ride when I took this path, and I'm still very much grateful to be on it.

Ras el Hanout Braised Short Ribs

Ingredients for the short ribs:
4 beef short ribs, approximately 1 lb each, trimmed of hard fat
1 tbsp Kosher salt, more to taste
1 tbsp neutral cooking oil
1 onion, roughly chopped
8 cloves garlic, chopped
2" knob ginger, peeled and finely chopped
Rind from 2 preserved lemons, rinsed and chopped (discard flesh)*
2 tbsp ras el hanout*
2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
2 tbsp tomato paste
4 cups chicken or beef stock, preferably homemade
2 bay leaves
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 cup chopped dried apricots (or 1/2 cup golden raisins)
1/4 cup pomegranate molasses*

To make the chermoula:
2 cloves garlic, minced or grated on a microplane
Pinch of Kosher salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, more as needed
Zest of 1 lemon + 1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp ras el hanout
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
1 tbsp finely chopped parsley
1 tbsp finely chopped mint

Recipe notes:
  • Ras el hanout is a Moroccan all-purpose seasoning. It can be purchased commercially or made at home. The complexity will vary widely depending on the spices you have available to use, but anything in the ballpark will work just fine for this recipe. To try your hand at my version of the blend, check out the "Moroccan Rub" recipe in the Kitchenista Diaries: Volume 1 digital cookbook. I love the addition of rose petals for subtle fragrance.
  • Preserved lemons can be made at home, however they'll take 4 weeks to cure. If you don't already have a jar of preserved lemons on hand, check your grocer's international aisle or purchase online. As a last resort, substitute the finely chopped rind of a Meyer lemon.
  • Pomegranate molasses is made from reducing pomegranate juice down to a syrup. If you're following the Whole30 plan, be sure to choose a true pomegranate molasses made without added sugars.

Active Time:
 1 hour
Total Time: 5 hours (2.5 hours if using the InstantPot), with recommended overnight chill
Yield: Serves 4
Special Equipment: Large Dutch oven pot and fine mesh sieve or strainer. To follow the alternate instructions, you'll need an InstantPot or other electric pressure cooker. A mortar & pestle is helpful for the sauce but not mandatory.

Recipe steps, for oven braising:

1. Pat the short ribs dry with paper towels. Rub the meaty sides of the short ribs with 1 tablespoon of Kosher salt. If time permits, let them sit for an hour or up to a day in the fridge.
2. Over medium high heat, coat the bottom of a Dutch oven pot with the cooking oil. Sear all sides of the short ribs until browned and crusty; this could take up to ten minutes or so. Once the short ribs are browned, remove them from the pot and set aside.

3. Reduce heat to medium low. Drain off any excess beef fat so that only a tablespoon remains in the pot. Saute the onions for a minute until softened, then add the garlic, ginger, preserved lemon, spices and tomato paste. Cook for a couple minutes until fragrant, stirring frequently.

4. Pour all of the stock into the pot, scraping up any browned bits at the bottom. Drop in the bay leaves and stir in the lemon zest and juice. Bring the liquid up to a gentle boil. You can check for salt at this time. Preserved lemons are pretty salty and I found that the sauce didn't need much additional.

5. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 275°F. Once the braising liquid is boiling, turn off the heat and drop the short ribs back in. They do not need to be fully submerged. Cover the pot, leaving the lid slightly ajar. Transfer the pot to the middle rack of your oven.

6. Allow the short ribs to cook for 2 hours. Remove the pot from the oven and set it over the stove top. You can check on the progress of the short ribs; they should be starting to get tender. Baste the ribs with sauce.

7. Return the pot to the oven and cook for another hour, or until the short ribs are fork tender and just starting to pull easily away from the bones. Transfer the short ribs to a plate and set aside.

8. Carefully strain the sauce by pushing it through a fine mesh sieve using the back of a spoon. Discard the solids. 

9. For best results, return the short ribs to the strained sauce and refrigerate until completely chilled. This will allow you to easily scrape off the fat that will rise to the top and harden. If you don't have time, you'll need to skim off as much fat as you can with a spoon or sop it up with a couple slices of bread.

10. After the sauce has been strained and skimmed, it can be reheated in the Dutch oven pot. If you chilled your short ribs, allow them to come to temperature in the sauce and then set aside once hot.  Stir the apricots and pomegranate molasses into the braising liquid. Bring the pot up to a boil, then reduce and allow the sauce to simmer until it reduces by half, about 30 minutes. You're looking for a thick, glossy glaze. 

11. Do a final check for salt before serving. (If you have harissa paste on hand, a dollop stirred into the final sauce would add some nice heat.) Return the short ribs to the pot at the very end to reheat before plating.

To prepare the chermoula:
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl, incorporating additional olive oil if desired. The flavor will intensify after it sits for an hour or two, so prepare it while the short ribs are braising.

If you have a mortar & pestle at your disposal, the sauce will be a nicer texture and more intensely flavored by first mashing the garlic and salt into a paste, then incorporating the olive oil, lemon, spices and herbs.

Serving Suggestion:
I recommend plating the short ribs over a simple roasted butternut squash, sweet potato or cauliflower puree if keeping the dish Whole30 compliant. (Had I known the direction of the final dish, I would have opted for a nice cauliflower mash, as the sauce itself is on the sweeter side and so was the squash puree. I didn't mind at all, but I'm usually looking for more contrast in a plated dish.) If you're incorporating grains into your diet, couscous, rice or polenta would work really well. Serve with chermoula sauce drizzled over the top.

To convert for pressure cooking:
  • Follow Steps 1 - 4, using the Sauté function of the Instant Pot. Adjust to high heat when searing the short ribs. You can reduce the heat to cook the onions and other aromatics. 
  • After preparing the braising liquid, return the short ribs to the Instant Pot. Seal the lid and set the cook time for 40 minutes on high pressure. Press Start.
  • After cooking has ended, allow for 10 minutes of natural release. Turn the valve to release the remaining pressure manually. The short ribs should be tender; remove from the pot and set aside.
  • Carefully remove the base of the InstantPot to strain (and ideally chill) the sauce, following steps 8 - 9. You can return the strained sauce to the InstantPot and use the Sauté function to reheat, or follow the remaining steps in a sauce pan over the stove top.
  • Follow Steps 10  - 11 to add the apricots and reduce the sauce down to a glaze before serving.

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  1. Thank you so much for this recipe. I made a 1/2 version for New Year's Eve dinner for my husband and me. I had been looking for a Moroccan inspired beef short rib recipe since having it at a lovely restaurant. Your recipe did not disappoint and my husband said that it was better than the restaurant meal. I love that it was essentially made ahead of time. I used my stovetop pressure cooker and the meat was so tender! The flavours were amazing and the Chermoula on top was perfect!