A slow-cooked stew of beef short rib in a tomato sauce with Oloroso sherry

A long, slow-braised short rib of beef isn’t a quick midweek meal, it’s great for a weekend cooking session when you want to get lots done for the week ahead. And it’s a slow, gentle cook – rib meat is the opposite of fillet steak and that holds true of the price as well; it’s a genuinely cheap cut of meat that rewards the patient cook.

The prep takes 15 minutes, the rest is just time. You can gussy it up for a dinner party (when we can all do that again, hopefully soon) and serve it with home-made pasta, or portion and freeze for quick midweek suppers with comforting mash and greens.

The sherry adds depth and sweetness – oloroso is dry and aged in wood for many years so it has walnutty, caramel notes. It’s relatively inexpensive, usually available in small bottles and it keeps forever (unless, like me, you love it poured over vanilla ice-cream in which case it disappears pretty quickly).

The other miracle ingredient in this are Chinese smoked black dates (Hei Zao 黑枣) dates – available in Asian supermarkets like Longdan or online from Sous Chef. The dates can be brewed for tea or added to soups, stews or rice to impart a smokey sourness – just remember to remove them before serving, or warn your guests as the pits are definitely a tooth-breaker!

I also tucked a dried Guindillas picante chilli into the pot – in my experience they aren’t very hot despite being billed as spicy – for even more flavour but any dried chilli, or a pinch of chilli flakes, would do.

The benefits of cooking this in advance are that cooling it overnight will allow you to skim the fat off the top when it’s cold, and while it tastes great on the day, it tastes even better the day after.

 

Ingredients

Serves 4-6

1kg beef short-rib on the bone

1tbspoon vegetable or olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 onions, roughly chopped

2 carrots, roughly chopped

2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped

4 fresh or 2 dry bay leaves

1 teaspoon dry or a tablespoon fresh oregano, roughly chopped

1 large sprig fresh rosemary, finely chopped

70ml Oloroso sherry (or you could use a dryish port from the back of your drinks cupboard or, at a push, a cream sherry)

1 400g tin chopped tomatoes (or 4 large ripe tomatoes, blanched, peeled and chopped)

2-3 dried black dates (optional, if you can’t get find them don’t worry)

1 Guindillas Picante dried chilli (or a pinch of dried chilli flakes)

A spoonful of honey or sugar to adjust seasoning at the end, if needed

Grated Parmesan and chopped parsley to serve.

 

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed casserole dish. Season the meat and brown on all sides to get a good crust. Remove the meat with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  2. Turn the heat down and add the onions. When they start to brown, add the carrots, garlic and herbs.
  3. Return the meat to the pan, turn the heat up and pour over the sherry. Give the pot a good stir, scraping the sides and bottom to deglaze, allow the sherry to bubble for a minute then add the tomatoes and 200ml water. Add the dates and chilli.
  4. Make a cartouche. Fold a square of baking parchment in half, half again and then again, until you have a funnel shape with a pointy tip. Cut a semi circle across the widest point, and open out the paper into a circle that should be roughly the size of your casserole dish. You can cut it down if it’s too large. This is an essential slow-cooking technique as the liquid stays inside the paper cover and rehydrates the dish, rather than evaporating and drying out.
  5. Place the cartouche on top of the beef, put the lid on and simmer gently on the hob for for 4-6 hours, or in the oven at 140C, turning the meat over occasionally so it cooks through evenly. The time will depend on the size of the ribs – mine were Flintstone-esque.
  6. At the end of the cooking time, the meat should be falling off the bone. You can remove and discard the bones, and cut the meat into smaller portions. If the sauce is too thin, remove the meat and veg, strain the sauce through a colander into a saucepan and reduce the sauce over high heat until you have the desired consistency. Return the meat and veg to the sauce and check the seasoning. Add salt and pepper as required. If it’s a touch bitter (if a dryer sherry has been used), add a teaspoon of honey or a pinch of sugar to adjust.
  7. Remember to remove the dates before serving, either as a delicious meat sauce with pasta such as pappardelle or rigatoni, or with creamy mash.

 

The smell of this cooking will drive you mad, make sure you have snacks to keep you going!